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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Soprano Schwarzkopf dies aged 90
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Dame Elisabeth was one of the most admired singers of her time
Renowned German soprano Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has died at her home in Austria at the age of 90.

One of the most admired singers of the 20th Century, she was as famous for her operatic performances as she was for her concert appearances.

After retiring from the stage in 1971, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1992, having become a British citizen.

In later life, however, her early links with the Nazis came under scrutiny.

She died in the early hours of Thursday at her home in Schruns, in Austria's westernmost province Vorarlberg.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
After her retirement she gave masterclasses on British television
Born in Jarotschin, in what was then Germany and is now Poland, she studied in Berlin and Leicester and sang with the Berlin State Opera from 1938 to 1942.

She became principal soprano of the Vienna State Opera in 1944, later performing at the Royal Opera House in London and La Scala in Milan.

Artistic director

Her specialties included the works of Mozart, Schubert and Hugo Wolf, and she was particularly associated with the role of Marschallin in Richard Strauss's comic opera Der Rosenkavalier.

We should not allow parts of Schwarzkopf's life to detract from the supreme beauty of her singing
Helen Jefferies, London

In 1951, she sang the leading role in the premiere of The Rake's Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

She gave her first American performance, a recital at Carnegie Hall, in 1953, making her US operatic debut two years later with the San Francisco Opera.

She also sang with the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1964 until 1966.

Dame Elisabeth wed Walter Legge, artistic director of EMI records and a founder of the Philharmonia, in 1951.

They remained married until his death in 1979. In 1982 she published his memoirs, Walter Legge: On and Off the Record.

By this stage Dame Elisabeth had withdrawn from regular stage performances and only made occasional appearances at recitals.

After her retirement, she admitted she had applied to join the Nazi Party in 1939 - something she said was "akin to joining a union".

'Nazi diva'

"I applied for membership when I was 24, in my second year at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin," she said.

"I was told that I must do so if I wanted to continue my career. The membership card never reached me."

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
In later life her early links to the Nazi Party came under scrutiny
This defence, however, did not stop the New York Times dubbing her the "Nazi Diva".

In later life Dame Elisabeth, a demanding and occasionally harsh taskmistress, taught and gave masterclasses around the world.

She was also vocal in her distaste for avant-garde interpretations of opera classics, accusing some directors of "spraying graffiti over masterpieces" in a 1990 interview.

"Perhaps never again will there be a recitalist like her," said the music critic Andre Tubeuf.

"She combined every quality you wanted in a great soprano," critic Edward Greenfield told the Guardian.

"What made her so special was the unique timbre of her voice and her unique responsiveness to words."

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