Forgotten German Sopranos

Lucie Weidt (1876 – 1940)

As Brünnhilde in “Siegfried”

Biographical notes:

Her full name was Marie Louise Charlotta (Lucie, Lucy) Weidt. She was born in Troppau (nowadays Opava, CZ) on 11th May 1876. She was a dramatic soprano at the Vienna Hofoper for the better part of a quarter of a century. Lucie Weidt’s career was no provincial affair by any means. She studied with Rosa Papier-Paumgartner in Vienna and made her operatic début at Leipzig in 1900. Elisabeth in Tannhäuser was her Vienna début rôle in 1902. While the Hofoper remained the center of her activities until her retirement in 1926, Weidt’s remarkable dramatic soprano voice led to engagements in Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels, Buenos Aires and New York. The Marschallin and Kundry were generally regarded as her finest interpretations. In 1919 she created to role of "The Nurse" (Amme) in Die Frau ohne Schatten. After retirement, she taught in Vienna and resided there till her death.


In Vienna, Lucie Weidt (she frequently used "Lucy" when signing her autographs) did a very admirable job of withstanding the competition of Sophie Sedlmair and the formidable Anna Bahr-Mildenburg. Gustav Mahler was especially enthralled with Weidt’s voice. It is unfortunate that she chose the legendary 1909 – 1910 New York musical season to make her only appearances at the Metropolitan. That season saw an influx of operatic performances in the city that has yet to be matched. Lost in the crowd, Weidt failed to make much impression as the Die Walküre or Siegfried Brünnhildes, or Elisabeth; in a less crowded season she probably would have created a sensation.


In Agathe’s great scene from Der Freischütz, recorded in 1904 with piano accompaniment, she uses a lovely tone to produce a true piece of poetry set to music (the very idea behind opera?). An excerpt from the prologue of Götterdämmerung reveals Weidt in splendid voice, steady and thrilling in Brünnhilde’s radiant joy, despite the fact that the conclusion of the record is spoiled by Erik Schmedes (he whose records J. B. Steane called "numerous and nasty"). Elsewhere from the Ring , Weidt’s dignified and heart-felt account of Sieglinde’s "Der Männer Sippe sass hier im Saal" is one of the finest on early records, if not the finest. As the Siegfried Brünnhilde, her rendition of "Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich" is delivered in the bel canto style Wagner so longed for, with a dazzling trill on the word "heiter" and an easily delivered high C.

To date, the best representation of her recordings on CD would be the Symposium "Harold Wayne Collection Vol. 35."

 Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich (Brünnhilde in Siegfried / Wagner / Vienna 1909)


Pelagie Greeff-Andriessen (1860 - 1937)

As Klytemnestra in Weingartner’s “Orestes”

Biographical notes:

She was born into a highly literate, musical family; her father Ferdinand Andriessen being in the book publishing business, and her mother, Marie Andriessen-von Lingke, being a voice teacher at the Vienna Conservatory. Pelagie’s initial training was with her mother, and her natural range (as is obvious from some of her records) was that of a mezzo-soprano, but she managed to enjoy a career in Germany as a Hochdramatische specializing in Wagnerian roles nonetheless. She began her career as an operetta singer, making her début as Anna in von Suppé’s Flotte Bursche at the Vienna Carl-Theater. She continued her operetta career in Munich, Cologne, Dresden and Nürnberg before her ambitions turned to "grand" opera. Married three times, it was the last lucky man, the bass Paul Greeff (1854 – 1923), whose name she finally and permanently adopted as her own.

Her operatic début was as Verdi’s Aida in Leipzig in 1884, after she had spent two seasons touring in Angelo Neumann’s company. She stayed at Leipzig until 1890, afterwards appearing at the Cologne and Frankfurt operas, Bayreuth (as Brangäne), Berlin and Salzburg, where she sang the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Mozart "centenary" festival of 1891. Apparently quite versatile, her repertoire included Santuzza, as well as Meyerbeer’s Valentine and Sélika, and the title role in Gluck’s Armide. In 1892 she ventured away from Germany to London, where she sang Fricka in Das Rheingold and the Die Walküre Brünnhilde at Covent Garden. Here she was indifferently received, supposedly due to comparisons to Rosa Sucher. Her operatic career was pretty much over by the turn of the twentieth century.


Pelagie Greeff-Andriessen possessed a voice of huge volume, frequently rather colorless in the upper ranges, but quite attractive and very expressive in music requiring half-voice or less; her "middle" range was warm and attractive, possibly more so than some of her higher notes. But the voice in general appears to have been quite capable of remaining centered on the music at hand, despite occasional variations from pitch when her ambitions took her slightly higher than nature intended.


She was one of the brave souls who stepped before the acoustic recording horn before it was fashionable to do so, the first series being made at Frankfurt am Main for the Berliner label in 1900 and 1901. These are maddeningly brief excerpts, since they were restricted to 7" (17 cm) sides, frequently rendered less effective by the enthusiastic but gender-incorrect shouts of "Bravo!" that come at the end, apparently made by the technicians and others present in the studio. On this series, even Brünnhilde’s "Battle Cry" had to be cut; here we get the "Ho-jo-to-hos" only. She re-recorded this selection for G&T in 1907, complete, and it is one of her most impressive discs. There is true joy in this Brünnhilde’s voice, and while she may sound a trifle more "mature" than Wagner intended, a remarkable trill and an over-all enthusiasm makes it clear that Greeff-Andriessen genuinely enjoyed making this recording. Here, as elsewhere, however, she sometimes seems at odds with the accompanist.

Her earliest recordings included a few oddly excerpted passages from Tristan und Isolde. "Den hab’ ich wohl vernommen" takes her beyond her "comfortable range" but the passage beginning "Als für ein fremdes Land" is warm and compelling if one can tune out the accompanist, who seems to take a random hammer to the piano keys, only occasionally checking to see if the chord appears anywhere in the score. The words "attack" and "execution" are frequently used in musical terminology. In Greeff-Andriessen’s approach to Isolde’s "Dein Werk," the literal meanings of these words are brought vividly to mind.  "Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich" from Siegfried is one of the rare occasions when her high C sounds easy, and a brief "Komm, Hoffnung" from Fidelio is pleasing to the ear. More in keeping with her natural range, she recorded an excerpt from Samson et Dalila, as well as some song titles. Schumann’s "Ich grolle nicht" is amongst the better in the latter category.

Pelagie Greeff-Andriessen’s score or so of recordings are exceptionally rare. Those wanting to hear a small sampling may turn to Symposium’s "Harold Wayne Collection Vol. 35", although this issue includes only a handful of the earliest (and most brief) recordings.

 Als für ein fremdes Land (Isolde in Tristan und Isolde / Wagner / Frankfurt 1901)


Katherina Senger-Bettaque (1862 - ?)

As Isolde (courtesy by Dirk Körschenhausen)

Biographical notes:

Born in Berlin, she enjoyed a career of international proportions that began there. After studying with Heinrich Dorn, Senger-Bettaque made a youthful début at the Hofoper (1879) in Rubinstein’s Feramors. Engagements as a lyric soprano at Hamburg, Leipzig, Mainz and Rotterdam followed, and in 1888 she sang Eva and a "Blumenmädchen" at Bayreuth. Later that year she headed for New York and the Metropolitan where she was billed as Kathi Bettaque (Herr Senger was a few years down the road) and sang Freia in the American premiere of Das Rheingold, Marguerite in Faust, Sélika, Elsa, Marzelline in Fidelio, Sieglinde, Elisabeth and other rôles. At Covent Garden in 1892, she appeared in a number of her New York rôles as well as Gutrune, and Venus in Tannhäuser, but in 1894 she found her "home base" when she was named principal dramatic soprano at Munich. This house would be the center of her activities for most of her remaining career. Senger-Bettaque returned to the Met for a month of guest appearances during the 1904 – 05 season; by then her ambitions and European successes had her tackling the Die Walküre and Siegfried Brünnhildes and Leonore in Fidelio. In these rôles, the New York critics did not like her. She was, apparently, successful in these same rôles at Stuttgart (1906 – 09), and then her career seems to have come to and end.


Today, Katherina Senger-Bettaque is an enigma lost to the ages. Even the year and location of her death are unknown, shrouded by the years that followed. Groves Dictionary of Opera is non-committal, cleverly assuming her death occurred after 1909 since she was still singing in Stuttgart then. Other sources have her alive in Berlin in the early to mid 1920s. It is sad, and somewhat baffling, due to her obvious talent and the wide scope of her long career, that she has been forgotten.


These remain as enigmatic as the singer who recorded them. Senger-Bettaque is known to have made about ten recordings in Europe between 1901 – 05, and all belong in the "rare as stardust" category. Most are of song titles, and from what can be heard it appears that the recording process of her day unnerved her. The voice frequently sounds ill at ease, if not frightened. Some of this can be heard in one of her earliest discs, Franz’s lovely "Es hat die Rose sich beklagt." But the voice in general is of pure and lyric quality, almost "pretty," despite a variation from pitch or two. In fairness, it may have been that she was laboring under hopelessly inferior recording conditions, for even the piano accompaniment has a garbled, "wobbly" sound to it. A coupling of Wolf’s songs "Gesang Weylas" and "Morgentau," made a few years later, has a much steadier sound and Senger-Bettaque seems relaxed in the music; the voice here in much warmer and more appealing.

One of her few operatic excerpts is Elsa’s "Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen." It is a well-sung piece with a charm of its own, but hardly displays a heroic or Brünnhilde-sized voice. After hearing her Elsa, it is difficult to imagine her as Ortrud in the same opera, but that rôle was in her large repertoire as well. She sang it once at a Met matinée in January 1905, with Emma Eames as Elsa. The volatile, cold-blooded American seems to have been particularly out of control that afternoon; after what she perceived to be an "upstaging" during the curtain calls, she slapped Senger-Bettaque across the face in full view of the audience! Reporters raced to her dressing room for comments, but the gracious Senger-Bettaque seemed outwardly unruffled. "Oh, I did not resent it," was her deceptively magnanimous reply. Then she added: "I was really surprised and delighted to see any evidence of emotion in Madame Eames." Brava!

CD transfers of Senger-Bettaque’s recordings are almost as rare as the original 78s, but Symposium’s "Harold Wayne Collection Vol. 35"  includes the 1901 "Es hat die Rose sich beklagt" discussed above. On Preiser’s ‘Aus Münchens Operngeschichte’ she sings Wagner’s “Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen.”

 Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen (Elsa in Lohengrin / Wagner / G & T 1905)


Many thanks to George Parous