Four Famous Mezzos of the past

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Lebendige Vergangenheit

Gertrud Rünger was born in Posen in 1889 and studied singing with Hertha Dehmlow in Berlin. She started out as a choir singer at the theatres of Stralsund (1922/23)" and Erfurt (1923/24) where she also began to appear in small solo parts. As a soloist Rünger was engaged at the Landestheater of Gera (1924-26), from 1926 to 1928 at the Stadttheater of Magdeburg, from 1928 to 1929 at Cologne's Opera House and in Nürnberg from 1929 to 1930. During her engagement in Nürnberg the artist appeared in guest performances as Ortrud in "Lohengrin" and as Amneris in "Aida" at Vienna's State Opera in January 1930 and was immediately offered a contract by Clemens Krauss. When Krauss left Vienna in January 1935 Rünger followed him to Berlin where she remained until 1948. Had she, until then, sung mainly roles from the contralto repertoire - in Berlin her repertory covered the entire dramatic field. She enjoyed major success at the Salzburg Festival and performed in Amsterdam and Den Haag, at Covent Garden, at the Grand Opera in Paris, at Milan's "Scala", in Bucarest and in Antwerp; she sang at the MET in 1936/37, in 1938 at the Maggio Musicale in Florence and at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1942. She was a regular guest at Germany's Opera Houses in Dresden and Munich as well as at Vienna's State Opera. Gertrud Rünger also established herself as a renown concert singer. Having ended her stage career she became a singing teacher in Berlin where she died on June 11th 1965. All this singer has left us of her art are two commercial recordings made for "Grammophon"; her recordings for "Parlophon" have never been released. Luckily, several broadcast recordings have survived and were generally published. Among these the 3rd act of "Walküre" and scenes from the 2nd act with Wilhelm Rode as Wotan are of special interest. Friedel Beckmann was born in 1904 in Bochum where she grew up in a home filled with music and started to take singing lessons at the age of 17; private lessons, at first - later she became a student for 6 years at the Conservatory of Bochum where Clemens Pabelick and Clemens Glettenberg, among others, were her teachers. Glettenberg, who later taught at the Music Academy in Münster, arranged an audition for the then manager of the local Opera House, Rudolf Schulz-Domburg. He engaged Beckmann right off although she did not have any stage experience. In the course of not even two years the singer established herself as the leading contralto in the ensemble. Werner Ladwig, recently appointed director of the Opera House of Königsberg, engaged her in 1929. In the same season Beckmann signed a contract with Saladin Schmidt for Duisburg where she appeared from 1931 to 1934; from 1934 to 1938 she sang at the Opera House of Kiel. Director Wilhelm Rode brought her to the Deutsches Opernhaus Berlin in 1938 where Beckmann's career reached its zenith. In October 1938 Friedel Beckmann's first record •was published by Electrola: a 25 cm record containing two titles from "Mignon" which was introduced in the catalogue of new releases as follows: "Electrola proudly would like to introduce Friedel Beckmann, a highly talented, young mezzo soprano who has already enjoyed great success on many of the leading stages. A voice of the most beautiful sound whose deep feeling and excellent interpretation determine the value of her first recordings." An exclusive contract led to several other recordings in the course of the following years, among them were duets with Torsten Ralf, Helge Rosvaenge, Arno Sehellenberg and Wilhelm Strienz. Friedel Beckmann became internationally known through her partecipation in the recording of "Matthäuspassion" conducted by Günther Ramin. Elisabeth Höngen comes from Westfalen where she was born on December 7th 1906 in Gevelsberg. Her outstanding musicality became obvious very early - at the age of 15 she gave public performances as a violinist. Höngen studied at the Music Academy of Berlin where her vocal talent was recognized by the famous voice discoverer, Weissenborn, to whom the singer owes her solid training and her vocal technique. In 1933 she made her debut in Wuppertal and was brought to Dresden by Karl Böhm who was to become Höngen's mentor. When the conductor was appointed director of Vienna's State Opera in 1943/44 he was especially eager to obtain this singer's services for the Viennese Ensemble. He introduced her as Lady Macbeth infl. new production of Verdi's opera (with Paul Schöffler, Hans Hotter and Mathieu Ahlersmeyer altemating in the title role). The performance developed into a triumph for Höngen's interpretation of the "Lady"; public and critics were undecided what deserved more praise: her singing; her brilliant acting or her interpretation as a whole. As Amneris in "Aida" she was able to repeat this success and with the beginning of the 1943/44 season she became an official member of the then still existing Viennese Ensemble. Already in her first season Höngen interpreted nearly all important roles of her vocal field which included German and Italian but, with the exception of "Carmen", no French operas. Every debut in a new role was followed with the utmost interest. When she was cast as Amme in a revival of "Die Frau ohne Schatten" this ambiguous role became the performance's centre point. Höngen's psychologically studied and finely elaborated performance, her vocal stamina in this demanding role and her consequent observance of the musical line represented, with the words of Hofmannsthal, …