Litvinne, Félia

Russian soprano, 1860 - 1936

Biographical notes:

Félia Litvinne (her real name was Françoise-Jeanne Schütz) was born in 1860 in St Petersburg, her father being Russian and her mother a French-Canadian. She was brought up under the strong French influence of her mother, and always regarded herself as being French. Litvinne  studied in Paris with Mme Barth-Banderoli, then with Giovanni Sbriglia and Pauline Viardot-García. She made her debut at the Théâtre des Italiens, in 1883, deputizing for the famous diva Mme Fidès-Devriès, as Amelia in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. After some appearances as Elvira in Ernani, the theatre’s co-director, Victor Maurel, invited her to join him on a tour of the French provinces. After guest appearances at Genova and Barcelona she toured the United States with the Mapleson Opera Company. Back in Europe, she made the usual progression through the principal opera houses, to Moscow (1890), St Petersburg (1890, 1899-1914), Brussels (1886-1888) and the Paris Grand Opéra, where she debuted as Valentine in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. It was with Gluck’s Armide she enjoyed one of her greatest successes in her career. She appeared at La Scala (1890-1896) as Gertrude opposite Emma Calvé as Salome in Thomas’ Hamlet. Her marriage in 1993 did not prove to be a long lasting affair. She returned to the stage in 1895, this time to the Met as Donna Anna, Gertrude, Aida, Sélika in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, Chimène in Massenet’s Le Cid, the Siegfried Brünnhilde and Isolde. However, in matters of artistic conviction and authority she could not compare neither with Milka Ternina nor Lilli Lehmann, and her voice  was not considered the equal of Lillian Nordica ’s brilliance. Litvinne was not invited to return to the Met. Back in France she took part in a variety of leading Wagnerian occasions with the Lamoureux concerts and at the Grand Opéra. It was as Isolde that she made her Covent Garden debut in 1899.  She later sang there Gioconda, Donna Anna and Aida, but the public favorized her in Wagnerian parts. Russia saw her in several Russian Ring cycles (1899-1914). Cortot conducted her in a series of Götterdämmerung and Tristan, opposite Charles Dalmorès. After her retirement from the stage in 1916, she taught singing in Paris. Among her many successful students were Germaine Lubin and Nina Koshetz. Her sister Hélène Schütz was married to the famous French-Polish bass Edouard de Reszke. Félia Litvinne’s memoirs “Ma Vie et Mon Art - Souvenirs”, edited by Andrew Farkas, Ayer Company Publishers Inc., ISBN 0405096917 is highly recommended.


(by courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)

Rare photograph of Félia Litvinne as Natasha in Dargomizhsky’s “Rusalka”, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, in the late 1890’s.The girl is Natasha’s daughter. The composer casted the role of Natasha’s Loreley daughter in Act 4 for a child’s speaking voice. Félina Litvinne was particularly admired by the Tsar’s family and was awarded the title “Court Opera Singer”.



As Isolde (Met, 1896/97)



The Harold Wayne Collection Vol 9


The Harold Wayne Collection Vol 15


The Harold Wayne Collection Vol 23 - The Paris Fonotipias 3


Singers of Russia 1900-1917 - Sergei Levik and Contemporaries


Covent Garden on Record - A History Vol 1 1870-1904


Les Introuvables du Chant Verdien


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol 1



As Brünnhilde (courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


As Armide, Brussels (courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


As Isolde (courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


Litvinne’s voice was a dramatic soprano of great range, encompassing easily the high C, but she also possessed a remarkable coloratura technique, quite unusual in such a large voice. The dark mezzo color of her voice belonged to the French tradition of Teresa Stolz and Marie Cornélie Falcon. Her first series of records from 1902 were all accompanied by the great French pianist, Alfred Cortot. Later she recorded for Fonotipia.

Félia Litvinne is certanily one of the most important dramatic sopranos to be heard on records within the first decade of the 20th century. “D’amor sull’ali rosee” is remarkable for her voice with its attractive mezzo-like timbre, the legato and steady flow singing, and note her magnificent trills! “Einsam in trüben Tagen” is a beautiful example of her Wagner singing.

 D’amor sull’ali rosee sung in French  (Leonora in Il Trovatore / Verdi / Paris Fonotipia, 1905)

  Einsam in trüben Tagen sung in French  (Elsa in Lohengrin / Wagner / Paris Fonotipia, 1905)


As Isolde (courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


My warmest thanks to Charles B. Mintzer