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Erna Berger

As Violetta in Ave Maria
As Violetta in Ave Maria

Born October 19, 1900 in Cossebaude, outside Dresden, Erna Berger traveled with her parents to Paraguay after WW I. In 1924 she scraped together enough money to return to Germany, where she studied voice with Herta Boeckel and Melitta Hirzel, in Dresden. In 1925 she was engaged by Fritz Busch for the Sächsische Staatsoper there, making her debut as a Knabe in Die Zauberflöte. In 1928 she appeared there in the world premiere of Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena and in 1929 made her debut in Berlin’s Städtischen Oper (now the Deutsche Oper Berlin), in Hans Pfitzner’s Christelflein. Toscanini engaged her for the Junger Hirt in Tannhäuser, for the 1929 Bayreuth season, after which she sang the Erste Blumenmädchen and Waldvogel there. In 1932 she debuted in Salzburg, as Blondchen. In 1934 she joined the Berlin Staatsoper, where she continued for 30 seasons. Making her Covent Garden debut in 1934, where she returned in 1938 and 1947, in 1949-50 Berger sang at the Met, opening the season as Sophie, also appearing as Gilda, Der Königin der Nacht, Rosina, Woglinde and Waldvogel. After the war she gave concert tours in North America, South America, Australia and Japan. In 1960 she became a professor of singing at Hamburg’s Musikhochschüle and published her autobiography, Auf Flügeln des Gesanges. Erinnerungen einer Sängerin.(1) She died June 14, 1990 in Essen. A street in Dresden was renamed in her honor.

Her recordings include the Shepherd, in a Tannhäuser recorded by Columbia at Bayreuth in 1930, a 1938 Königin der Nacht, under Sir Thomas Beecham, two Gildas, respectively for RCA and Deutsche Grammophon, Hänsel und Gretel, Martha and Hoffmann’s Erzählungen for Urania, a live Ariadne auf Naxos from 1935, on BASF, and a film of Don Giovanni in 1954. She recorded songs and arias for Columbia, HMV, Polydor and Bellaphon and sings in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the Bel Canto Society DVD D0052, Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil

–Stefan Zucker

1. Erna Berger, Auf Flügeln des Gesanges. Erinnerungen einer Sängerin (Zurich: Atlantis Musikbuch, second edition, 1989)