ERNA SACK The German Nightingale
Original 1934-1950 Recordings
The waltzes of Johann Strauss rehashed to display astratospheric vocal extension may not be to everyone's taste, even when thatextension is grafted onto a middle register of outstanding warmth and quality.But far from being just a vocal stunt for 'canary fanciers' however, Erna Sackwas audibly well-endowed in both areas. Her stunning facility to C'''' (onewhole octave above normal soprano top C) was, as far as voices go - LucreziaAgujari in the eighteenth century and the more recent Mado Robin notwithstanding- effectively without peer and while her well-anchored mid-range singing wassweet her phenomenal top prompted the other Strauss to write for her newcadenzas to Zerbinetta's music in his Ariadne auf Naxos. Outside the realm ofopera, for a time a f?â?¬ted protegee of Nazi Kulturpolitik, in her native GermanySack became one of the most 'popular' German singers of her generation. Born Erna Weber (Sack was her marriedname) into a modest family background in Berlin-Spandau on 2February 1898, shesang in her local church choir from the age of nine and on leaving school atsixteen with a burning ambition to sing, worked initially as a stenographer topay for her training, first at the Prague conservatoire then privately withOscar Daniel (1879-?) in Berlin. A noted Hungarian tenor-turned-pedagogue whosepupils included Maria Cebotari, Jaro Dworsky, Herbert Janssen and GotaLjungberg, Daniel trained her as a mezzo-soprano and in 1925 she made her debutas such with the Berlin State Opera.
From 1928 until 1930 Sack was engaged for both mezzo andsoubrette parts with the Berlin City Opera before finally emerging as afully-fledged lyric-coloratura soprano - that most rare of operatic birds inabout 1930. At Bielefeld, between 1930 and 1932, among other r?â??les, she washeard as Sophie in Rosenkavalier, Susanna in Figaro, Micaela in Carmen andNorina in Don Pasquale and her subsequent career in Wiesbaden (1932) andBreslau (1934) followed similar lines. After guest appearances at the DresdenState Opera (as Rosina in Barbier von Sevilla and Frau Fluth in Nicolai'sLustigen Weibern von Windsor) in 1935 she joined the Company's roster andremained until 1941, appearing during that time at Salzburg as well as in twoDresden world-premi?â?¿res: Richard Strauss's Schweigsame Frau (June 1935) andOthmar Schoeck's Massimilla Doni (March 1937).
Her 1933 guest appearance at the Berlin State left such alasting impression that over the next three years a broader internationalhorizon opened, including La Scala, Milan, the Paris Opera and Covent Gardenwhere, on 6November 1936, with the Dresden State Company under the baton of thecomposer, she sang 'a brilliant-sounding Ariadne'. During her visit to Londonshe sang for King George V who presented her with a diamond-encrusted cross inrecognition. The following year she also successfully undertook her first NorthAmerican concert tour during which her appearances in opera in Chicago, asLucia and Rosina, earned her clamorous ovations (although she never made it tothe Met, she was widely appreciated by American audiences). Later that sameyear, in Rome, she sang the Queen of the Night in Il flauto magico under TullioSerafin, with Tito Schipa and Licia Albanese among her colleagues. In 1938 and1942 she made her first appearance in Copenhagen and during World War 2 washeard at venues as far-flung as Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
'Die deutsche Nachtigall' Erna Sack made appearances inseveral domestic German film-musicals and broadcast on German radio, while asizeable discography (she recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, Telefunken andDecca) made her almost a household name in several Western capitals where shewas variously dubbed 'German Nightingale' and even 'World's Nightingale'. As disparate as they are dazzling herrecorded selections are an eclectic mix of many styles. Several tailor-madeshowpieces stand out by dint of their extraordinary vocal range (arrangements,such as Fr?â??hlingstimmen, Draussen in Sievering bl?â??ht schon der Flieder from Die Tanzerin Fanny Elssler and LuigiArditi's Parla are outstanding among several examples), while her fine legatoin normal-range repertoire is also heard to good advantage in the 'Last Rose ofSummer' air from Martha and in Braga's 'Angel's Serenade' (La serenata) and toa wide range of other non-operatic material (notably various items from MadameDubarry, then much in vogue) she brings distinction.
After World War 2 Erna Sack lived partly in Germany, partlyin California. In 1947, with her husband Hermann Sack she became a Braziliancitizen and from her base in Rio embarked on a five-year world-tour, which tookher to South America, Canada, South Africa and Australia. She made furthertours of Germany (1950 and 1955) and North America (1954) before settling inMontreal, Canada, until 1956. Her recording career extended to the early 1950sand the LP era saw the reissue of most of her best-known discs. In 1956 she returned to Germany whereshe lived in semi-retirement first in Murnau, on the Staffelsee, Upper Bavaria(until 1966) and subsequently in Wiesbaden. Erna Sack died in Mainz on 2 March1972.
Peter Dempsey, 2003