Christa Ludwig (born 16 March 1928) is a retired German dramatic mezzo-soprano, distinguished for her performances of opera, Lieder, oratorio, and other major religious works like masses and passions, and solos contained in symphonic literature. Her career spanned from the late 1940s until the early 1990s. She is widely recognised as one of the most significant and distinguished singers of the 20th century.
Ludwig was born in Berlin to a musical family; her father, Anton Ludwig, was a tenor and an operatic administrator, her mother, the mezzo-soprano Eugenie Besalla-Ludwig who sang at the Aachen Opera during Herbert von Karajan's period as conductor. Ludwig's first voice teacher was her mother.
Ludwig made her debut in 1946 at the age of 18 as Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus at Frankfurt, where she sang until 1952. She was a member of the Darmstadt Opera from 1952 to 1954, then sang the 1954–1955 season at the Staatsoper Hannover. She joined the Vienna State Opera in 1955, where she became one of its principal artists and was appointed Kammersängerin in 1962 and performed with the company for more than thirty years. In 1954, Ludwig made her debut at the Salzburg Festival as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, and appeared there regularly until 1981. Ludwig made her Bayreuth Festival debut as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde in 1966. In 1960, she performed as Adalgisa alongside Maria Callas as Norma, in Bellini's opera by the same title, for an EMI recording.
Ludwig made her American debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Dorabella in Così fan tutte in 1959. That same year, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and subsequently sang 121 performances in 15 different roles with the company until 1993. At the Metropolitan Opera, where she quickly became one of the audience's favourites, her repertoire included The Dyer's Wife in the Met's first performances of Die Frau ohne Schatten, the title role and later the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Klytemnestra in Elektra, Ortrud in Lohengrin, Brangäne inTristan und Isolde, Fricka in both Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, Waltraute in Götterdämmerung, Kundry in Parsifal, the title role in Fidelio, Didon in Les Troyens, Charlotte in Werther, and Amneris in Aida. She first appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1969 as Amneris in Aida.
As Ludwig's voice matured, she expanded her repertoire from lyric and spinto mezzo-roles to dramatic roles. Her vast repertory eventually grew to encompass Princess Eboli in Don Carlo which she sang at La Scala in Milan, in Salzburg and in Vienna, the title-role in Carmen, Ulrica (Un ballo in maschera), Monteverdi's Octavia (L'incoronazione di Poppea), Dido (Les Troyens), Kundry (Parsifal), Klytemnestra (Elektra) and contemporary roles by von Einem and Orff. She also ventured briefly into the spinto and dramatic soprano repertory with performances of Verdi's Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Strauss's Dyer's Wife (Die Frau ohne Schatten), the Marschallin (Der Rosenkavalier) and Beethoven's Leonore (Fidelio) .
In addition to her opera performances, Ludwig regularly gave recitals of Lieder (together with the German pianist Sebastian Peschko and on occasion, Leonard Bernstein) and as a soloist with orchestras. Her performances of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler and Strauss are much admired. She also sang Bach and performed and recorded most of his major vocal works.
From 1957 to 1970, Ludwig was married to the bass-baritone Walter Berry; the couple performed together frequently, notably in Die Frau ohne Schatten. In 1972, she married the French theater actor Paul-Emile Deiber.
In 1993–1994, Ludwig gave a series of farewell recitals in many cities and made her farewell appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Fricka in Die Walküre.
Ludwig's final live operatic performance was Klytemnestra in Elektra for the Vienna State Opera in 1994.
The same year, Ludwig published a memoir with Peter Csobádi. Two English translations of the book are available.
Ludwig has been teaching Master Classes since her retirement.
In times where personalities are thinly sown, we have first class, yes excellent, musical practitioners, who lack intuition, imagination, and a feeling for composers, who, even though they lived in the past, can speak to us about today. Courage is needed to reveal one's own feelings in interpretation and not tell the audience with raised forefinger: "The composer wanted it like this, and no other way." But at the same time we singers must never forget that we are only the servants of the great minds who created all the wonderful pieces of music we enjoy today. - In My Own Voice (p.119) translated by Regina Domeraski
Decorations and awards
- 1962: Austrian Chamber Singer
- 1969: Austrian Decoration for Science and Art
- 1980: Golden Ring of the Vienna State Opera
- 1980: Silver Rose of the Vienna Philharmonic
- 1980: Golden Gustav Mahler Medal
- 1980: Hugo Wolf Medal (Austria)
- 1981: Honorary Member of the Vienna State Opera
- 1981: Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
- 1988: Golden Medal of Honour of Salzburg
- 1989: Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (France)
- 1989: Knight of the Legion of Honour (France)
- 1994: Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria
- 1995: Bear (B.Z. Culture Prize)
- 2003: Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
- 2004: Merit Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany
- 2007: Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria
- 2008: Award for lifetime achievement at Midem
- 2008: Saeculum-Glashütte Original Music Festival award at the Dresden Music Festival
- 2008: Honorary doctorate from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music (Warsaw)
- 2010: Commander of the Legion of Honour (France)
- 2010: Hugo Wolf Medal (Germany)
- 2012: Golden Medal of Honour of the Province of Styria
- 2016: Gramophone magazine Lifetime Achievement Award