Metzger, Ottilie

Metzger-Lattermann, German contralto (1878 – 1943)

Biographical notes:

This splendidly gifted contralto was born in Frankfurt am Main and studied mainly with Selma Nicklass-Kempner in Berlin. After her debut at Halle in 1898, she was off and running with a career that would take her many places and have her singing many roles. Metzger spent three years at Cologne before being named the principal contralto at Hamburg; there she sang with many of the greats of her day, including Caruso (in Carmen and Aida) during his guest appearances. She sang at Bayreuth in 1901, 1902, 1904 and 1912, where she was most noted for her stately interpretations of Waltraute in Götterdämmerung and Erda in Siegfried. Her huge repertoire also included Dalila, Magdalena in Die Meistersinger, Azucena, assorted Norns and Valkyries in the Ring, Brangäne, both incarnations of Fricka, Klytemnästra in Strauss’ Elektra and Fidès, to name but a few. At Hamburg, she sang in the premieres of Siegfried Wagner's Bruder Lustig (1905), Blech's Versiegelt (1908) and d’Albert’s Izyel (1909).

Ottilie Metzger also sang at Covent Garden (debut as Magdalena, 1902), where she was the first London Herodias in Strauss’ Salome. Numerous other engagements decorated her long career, including ones at Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Prague, Oslo, Zürich, Amsterdam, Wiesbaden, Vienna, Düsseldorf, Hague and St. Petersburg.

In 1910, Metzger married for the second time, to the bass-baritone Theodor Lattermann, and thereafter used his name in conjuncture with her own. She ventured to America in January 1913, where she sang as soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Metzger-Lattermann was also a distinguished recitalist; at one point her accompanist was none other than Richard Strauss.

In the early 1920s, she toured the United States in Leo Blech’s distinguished German Opera Company (his casts also included Seinemeyer, Alsen, Schorr and Kipnis), and in the late 1920s was a member of Gadski’s German Grand Opera Company. Then she returned to Germany. If only Erda had risen from the mists to warn her of the future. She taught in Berlin until her Jewish faith made escape necessary; she fled to Brussels. But for Metzger and millions like her, there was to be no safe haven. She was deported to Auschwitz in late 1942, and it is assumed she endured that hell on earth till early 1943.


As Ortrud (courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


When Ottilie Metzger made her first records, the "gramophone" was still a novelty not always taken seriously by some of the "serious" vocal artists who were pioneers in the field. It becomes clear almost instantly that Metzger took her records quite seriously, and it is probably fair to assume we are left with a relatively accurate account of what was heard by her audiences.

On records, Metzger displays the sort of otherworldly, deep and compelling voice needed for Wagner’s earth mothers and all-knowing goddesses. Yet curiously, her most recently re-issued recordings appear on Ward Marston’s "complete" Carmen from 1908, a CD set featuring Emmy Destinn. When re-takes were necessary for some of the selections, Destinn was indisposed, so Metzger took her place!

Her recorded legacy offers her in a variety of music; in a 1910 version of Orfeo’s "Plea to the Furies" (sung in German for Parlophon), her rich, steady voice communicates quite audibly a deep understanding of the music she sings. From the first act of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, she recorded two excerpts of Ulrica’s music. These too display Metzger in fine voice and definitely "in character" as the fortune-teller. Also from Verdi, her towering Amneris delivers a formidable sense of rivalry to Melanie Kurt’s Aida.

Two of Metzger’s earliest records are of Rhinemaiden scenes from Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung sung with Josefine von Artner and Maria Knüpfer. The voices blend marvelously, but the impact of the music is lessened somewhat by the impotent piano accompaniments; here, for once, even the "orchestra" sound of the day might have lent some improvement. But even a piano accompaniment cannot diminish the impact of her Erda from Siegfried. She managed to fit almost all of the scene onto a 1908 disc, the voice once again firm, the grave message to Wotan extraordinarily compelling. Here, as elsewhere, we are left with vivid documentation of what a gifted "singing actress" Metzger must have been.


(courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


(courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


Alan Blyth describes her recording of Waltraute’s "Narration" from Götterdämmerung (made in 1910) best: "Her reading has the classical qualities of grave, steady tone, rock-like technique and urgency in delivery of the text… most glorious was Metzger." Most glorious she was indeed.



The monstrous circumstances of this great artist’s demise defy human imagination. The hideous conditions, the horrendous irony that such a great Wagnerian was murdered by the Wagner-loving Nazis, is emotionally overwhelming. This, of course, is an understatement, but what words, in any language, are sufficient? It is only human nature that almost all who have written about Ottilie Metzger must mention the unthinkable cause of her death, almost to the point of minimizing all else.

 In questa tomba oscura (Beethoven / Odeon 1908)



"Alles, was ist, endet… Ein düstrer Tag dämmert den Göttern…"

("All that is shall come to an end… a dark day dawns for the Gods")

Erda in Das Rheingold



Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Stars of David/The Record of Singing Vol. 2


Melanie Kurt (Duets of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and Verdi’s Aida)

Preiser - LV


My warmest thanks to George Parous and Charles B. Mintzer