“Each thing has its time” – this line from the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier serves as Christa Ludwig’s maxim in her later years. On December 14, 1994, the iconic sixty-six-year-old mezzo-soprano gives her farewell concert at the Vienna State Opera. She has been an ensemble member here since 1955, over the course of 769 performances and 42 remarkably different roles; and she simultaneously enjoys a successful international career that takes her to Bayreuth, La Scala, the Met, and Covent Garden in addition to her performances as a lied and concert singer. It is snowing outside. The performance is barely over when Ludwig runs out into the snow. She opens up her coat, exposing her neck: at last she can catch a cold without worrying, at last she no longer has to be careful about “these stupid vocal cords”! This moment was preceded by nearly half a century of looking after her health, living out of a suitcase, not talking in between performances, fears that her voice would not hold out, and iron discipline. Today Ludwig says that she would never again choose to become a singer; this was, she says, simply the one talent that she had. But it paid off nevertheless: “When you’ve done a lot of screaming and people enjoyed it, this is incredibly satisfying. Better than making love.”
© Ulla Pilz - Radio Österreich 1


  • Born on March 16, 1928 in Berlin. Her father Anton Ludwig is a tenor, director, and later an operatic administrator; her mother, alto Eugenie Besalla-Ludwig, would be her daughter’s only teacher and accompanies her career until her death in 1993.

  • Stage debut in Giessen, where her father is theater director; followed by engagements in Frankfurt (Orlowsky in Die Fledermaus at the age of 18), Darmstadt, and Hanover.

  • 1954/55 breakthrough when Karl Böhm casts her at the Salzburg Festival as the Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte and at the Vienna State Opera as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro.

  • 1957 marries Walter Berry, with whom she has a son. She experiences her first vocal crisis at the time of their divorce in 1970. Ludwig is married to French director Paul-Émile Deiber from 1972 until his death in 2011.

  • Major debuts: 1959 at the Met (also as Cherubino), during the 1960s she also shows her enormous vocal spectrum in Bayreuth (Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde), at La Scala (Eboli in Don Carlos), and in Covent Garden (Amneris in Aida).

  • Numerous awards, from the Grand Honorary Medal of the Republic of Austria to the title of Official of the French Legion of Honor, the Berlin Bear, an Honorary Doctorate from the Chopin University in Warsaw, and Gramophone’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

  • The most important conductors for her have been her “spiritual father” Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan (under whom she conquers the soprano role of Leonore in Fidelio, like her mother before her), and Leonard Bernstein, who was “the first to unveil music” for her.

  • Today Christa Ludwig lives in Klosterneuburg near Vienna, not far from her son Wolfgang Berry and his family.

Did you know?

  • When her family home is bombed in 1944, Ludwig stays financially afloat by singing Gershwin in American officers’ clubs, and, as she relates, stealing napkins and cigarettes in the process.

  • Karajan once threatens Ludwig and Janowitz that if they run out of breath, he will look for different soloists. Ludwig counters that he won’t find anyone better. To which Karajan replies: “If that’s the way it is, then I’ll simply have to try to conduct faster.”

  • During their legendary recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Ludwig and Fritz Wunderlich meet only once for lunch together. He raves about his wife, and she is horrified when she later learns that he has another woman.

  • The German title of her autobiography is …und ich wäre so gern Primadonna gewesen (“…and I so would have loved to be a prima donna”) (English title: In My Own Voice). Ludwig, however, is practically an anti-diva who emphasizes that mezzo-sopranos have their two feet firmly on the ground.

  • Since her farewell from the stage, Ludwig has been practicing letting go and no longer even sings in the shower. But she gives master classes, though she does not like the term since, as she says, singers must continually learn and can thus never be masters.

  • She does not listen to operas anymore. She says that she finds them all dreadful because she has simply heard too many since she was a child. For example, she already sang the Queen of the Night’s aria by heart at the age of four.

  • Christa Ludwig would like Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”) to be played at her funeral, sung by herself. She is still unsure about which recording, however.