Lilli Lehmann, born Elisabeth Maria Lehmann, later Elisabeth Maria Lehmann-Kalisch (November 24, 1848 Würzburg – May 17, 1929 Berlin) was a German operatic soprano of phenomenal versatility. She was also a voice teacher.
The future opera star’s father, Karl-August Lehmann, was a singer (Heldentenor) while her mother, Maria Theresia Löw (1809 – 1885), was a soprano of Jewish origin. Her first lessons were from her mother, who had been a prima donna under Spohr at the Cassel opera. After singing small parts on the stage, Lehmann made her proper debut in 1870 in Berlin as a light soprano in Meyerbeer’s Das Feldlager in Schlesien. She subsesequently became so successful that she was appointed an Imperial Chamber Singer in 1876.
Lehmann sang in the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876, singing in the first complete performances of The Ring Cycle as Woglinde and Helmwige. She performed in London in 1884, and appeared at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1885-1890. Together with her Met colleagues Fischer, Alvary, Brandt, and Seidl, she helped to popularise Wagner’s music in America. By remaining in America beyond the leave granted her by the Berlin Opera, she faced a ban following her return to Germany. After the personal intervention of the Emperor, the ban was lifted.
She appeared at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1899 and sang in Paris and Vienna in 1903 and 1909 respectively. In 1905, she sang at the Salzburg Festival, later becoming the festival’s artistic director. Lehmann was also renowned as a Lieder singer. She continued to give recitals until her retirement from the concert stage in the 1920s.