Ljuba Welitsch...a 100th Birthday Tribute
This week we celebrate the centennial birth of the Bulgarian blaze of fire that was Ljuba Welitsch. Match a bawdy wit and sense of humour with a shock of red hair and you have one of the most extraordinary operatic personalities of the Twentieth Century.
She was well known for her stage hijinks and stories abound to this day of some of her many often ribald jokes, shocking her colleagues in performance (a certain Act 2 La Boheme springs to mind where, in the absence of knickers, her Musetta gave the orchestra an eyeful).
Of course, her most famous role would indeed be that of Richard Strauss' Salome, the composer himself having conducted her in the role. She performed the role many times and there are at least 2 complete performances that I know of, both from the Metropolitan Opera that survive on disc.
There does remain of course, the recordings of the final scene. These remain the benchmark of recorded Salomes to this day. There are the Reiner and the von Matacic conducted recordings, both of which exude Welitsch's voracious sexuality in closely recorded, chilling sound, but I thought for curiosity sake to play what survives of the legendary 'lost' recording of the final scene with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.
Produced in Vienna by Walter Legge in 1948, on the return flight to London tape two was irreparably damaged and as the story goes, the performance remained in the HMV vaults until 1978. While Welitsch is less spontaneous in this recording, the quality of sound and the darkness which she imbues Salome for Karajan is utterly remarkable.
It's also interesting to view the following snippet from the film 'The Man Between' a thriller set in wartime Berlin. Leading up to the denouement of the film James Mason and Claire Bloom are seen at a performance of Salome. Ljuba Welitsch is the princess and you get a tantalising glimpse of her terrific final scene.
Even after her rapid vocal decline in the early 50's she moved into singing more character roles and eventually turned to television and film. Her colourful personality and vibrant wit continued to entertain audiences in Europe and America up until her retirement from the stage in 1981.
So I think that the final word must come from La Welitsch herself, taken from a brief interview from 1986 with Beverley Sills. Here she talks mostly about her association with the role of Salome.
Happy 100th Birthday to the magnificent Ljuba Welitsch, may the joy you brought to your audiences live on.