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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Obituary: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was the consummate soprano who appeared in the world's greatest concert halls, from Covent Garden to La Scala and the Metropolitan in New York. She was perhaps even more admired as a lieder-singer.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 1965
Schwarzkopf started her career with the Vienna State Opera
Dame Elisabeth, the daughter of a Prussian schoolmaster, was born in 1915 near Posen, Germany - now in Poland.

She received her early musical training in Berlin but started her professional career with the Vienna State Opera.

She toured with the company and, as the Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, found what was to become one of her signature roles.

At the end of World War II, Walter Legge, then an assistant director at Covent Garden, went to Vienna on a talent-spotting trip.

He met Dame Elisabeth and in due course married her in 1953 in Epsom, England.

Afterwards she made her home in London and took British citizenship, though she remained essentially an international singer.

Good-looking, full of vivacity and charming, Dame Elisabeth was also a woman of fine intellect and a fanatically hard worker.

She used her beautiful soprano voice with impeccable artistry and was a splendid actress.

Rare award

Of her operatic roles, perhaps the one that suited her best was that of the Marschallin in Richard Strauss's Rosenkavalier.

She had a big repertory of songs, including works by Benjamin Britten, Schubert, Brahms and Hugo Wolf.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (r), 1961
One of her signature roles was the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (r)
Her interpretation of the latter was distinctive in the way she coloured each syllable of each word.

She would divide her time between lieder recitals and opera performances for the rest of her career. Her last operatic performance was in Brussels in 1971 as the Marschallin.

In 1976, Cambridge University gave her a rarely-awarded honorary doctorate of music.

When her husband died in 1979, she announced that she would not sing in public again.

She did, however, continue to lecture and give her masterclasses - some of which were shown on the BBC.

She was well-known for being a strict taskmistress, with some describing her manner as harsh.

Diva dismissal

When Britain, her adopted country, made her a Dame in 1992, it provoked controversy about her early links with the Nazi Party that would disturb the tranquillity of her later years.

She had been boycotted for several years in the United States for the same reason.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 1984
Famously, seven of her Desert Island Discs were her own records
But there was never any doubt about her determination to exploit every opportunity to establish herself as a force in her profession.

Throughout her career she sought constantly the adulation of the audience, though she scornfully dismissed any suggestion that she was a diva.

She will be remembered by many radio listeners, however, as the castaway who chose seven of her own records when she appeared on Desert Island Discs.

She moved to Switzerland in later life before settling in Vorarlberg, Austria.

The BBC's creative director, Alan Yentob, said: "Despite her fiery temperament, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was one of the great sopranos of the 20th Century.

"Her very early recording of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs is still for me a heart-stopper."

Soprano Schwarzkopf dies aged 90
03 Aug 06 |  Entertainment
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Your comments
04 Aug 06 |  Have Your Say

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