• 1911 — 1986
Often appears with
Elisabeth Grümmer was one of the favorite German sopranos of the middle two decades of the twentieth century.
She was born Elisabeth Schilz in Alsace-Lorraine. When the French regained the territory in 1918, her family moved to Meiningen. She studied drama at the university, and then started a successful career as a stage and film actress. Her stage training included training of her voice.
She moved to Aachen after marriage to Detlef Grümmer, the concertmaster of the orchestra there. She said that it was the sound of his violin, when he played cantabile, legato, that led her to understand the nature of singing. The music director at Aachen at that time was Herbert von Karajan, who cast her as one of the Flower Maidens in Wagner's Parsifal (Aachen, 1940). Soon she sang the leading role of Octavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, with her tall, slim figure making her especially convincing in this leading male role. (One critic rhapsodized that she "looked like a Botticelli Madonna in Gluck's Orpheus.")
In 1942 to 1944 she was engaged at that Duisberg Opera as the primary soprano for lyrical roles. During the war, her husband was killed in an air raid, in the basement of their home, holding his violin. She said he was her only love, and never remarried. After the end of the war, she joined the Städtische Oper of West Berlin (now the Deutsche Oper), which was her primary professional association throughout her career, remaining with that major company through 1972.
Her British debut was at Covent Garden in 1952, followed by an Edinburgh Festival in 1952, and she appeared at Bayreuth from 1957 to 1961. Her American debut was with the New York City Opera in Der Rosenkavalier (as the Marshallin) in 1967. She sang seven times with the Metropolitan Opera in that same year, as Elsa in Lohengrin. The first six of these were on tour; the seventh was her only appearance in the Metropolitan Opera House itself. By that time critics had been noticing some deterioration of her voice on and off for a few years, but, as she said at the time of the tour, "Granny can still do it."
She also appeared at Glyndebourne, the Hamburg Staatsoper, in East Berlin and Dresden, the Salzburg Festival, La Scala, Rome Opera, and Teatro Colón.
She excelled in the more noble and lyrical roles-the Marshallin, Octavian, the Countesses of Mozart (the Marriage of Figaro) and Strauss (Capriccio), Pamina, Euridice in Gluck's Orpheus, Ilia in Idomeneo, Eva in Meistersinger, and Elsa in Lohengrin, Desdemona in Verdi's Otello, and sang Ellen Orford in the first German production of Britten's Peter Grimes. By all accounts, her dramatic training served her well, helping to make her portrayals more convincing.
It has been suggested that the vocal decline of the 1960s was caused by an ill-advised turn to the dramatic soprano repertory. She sang Electra in Idomeneo in 1961 and 1962 at Salzburg, and Dona Anna in Don Giovanni shortly afterward.
As a recording artist, she made several notable discs, although the surplus of her voice type (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa della Casa, Irmgard Seefried, and Sena Jurinac were all close contemporaries) meant that she never recorded her leading Strauss roles in their entirety. She was a noted recitalist, but was surprisingly stiff in that style of singing on recordings.
Her farewell stage performance was at the Deutsche Opera in 1972 (as the Marshallin). She actively taught in Lucerne and Paris after her stage retirement.