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Meta Seinemeyer in the United States
The Wagnerian Opera Festival of 1923
At Baltimore's Lyric Theater, on 31 January 1923, a twenty-seven-year-old soprano made her U.S. debut with a company known as the Wagnerian Opera Festival. This company included several well-known singers, two of whom—Friedrich Schorr and Alexander Kipnis—were to become world-renowned. Meta Seinemeyer would no doubt have become just as famous as those two colleagues, if she had not died of leukemia at the age of thirty-three. Her early death was a tremendous loss to the world of opera.
The daughter of a police officer, Meta Seinemeyer was born in Berlin on 5 September 1895. Her early vocal training took place at Berlin's Sternsches Konservatorium, where her teacher was the Wagnerian tenor Nikolaus Rothmühl. Later she studied with Ernst Grenzebach, one of the most famous voice teachers in Germany. Other students of Grenzebach, at various times, included Alexander Kipnis, Lauritz Melchior, Max Lorenz, and Peter Anders.
Seinemeyer's operatic debut took place at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin-Charlottenburg, a forerunner of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, on 1 July 1918, in the title role of Offenbach's Die Schöne Helena [La belle Hélène]. (As was the custom in German opera houses at the time, all operas were sung in German.) It has often been said that Seinemeyer's debut role was Eurydice in Offenbach's Orpheus in der Unterwelt [Orphée aux enfers], but this is not accurate.1 Among the roles Seinemeyer sang early in her career were Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus; Antonia, and later Giulietta, in Hoffmanns Erzählungen [Les contes d'Hoffmann]; Georgette in Maillart's Das Glöckchen des Eremiten; Agathe in Der Freischütz; and Venus in Tannhäuser, all sung in her first two seasons in Berlin, 1918-19 and 1919-20. In 1921, she added to her repertory Saffi in Der Zigeunerbaron, Leonora in Der Troubadour [Il Trovatore], Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Elsa in Lohengrin, Marguerite in Faust, and Senta in Der fliegende Holländer. The next year, she sang Martha in Kienzl's DerEvangelimann, and in the 1922-23 season, shortly before she left for the U.S. tour, she sang Eva in Die Meistersinger and [End Page 396] the title role in Aida. This was quite an impressive repertory for such a young singer, but she was usually in the "second cast," with the first performances being given to such singers as Mafalda Salvatini and Hertha Stolzenberg. Seinemeyer also sang small roles such as the Rhinemaiden Wellgunde and one of the Flower Maidens in Parsifal. Unfortunately, not all of the roles she sang in Berlin are known for certain, since much of the documentation seems to be lost.2
By the time she left for the tour, Seinemeyer had already made her first recordings: duets from Carmen (as Micaëla), Cavalleria rusticana, and Der Zigeunerbaron, which were recorded for Artiphon in Berlin on 8 November 1919. It was long thought that these recordings were made after the U.S. tour, on 8 December 1924, but recent research by Christian Zwarg has proven that the 1919 date is correct.3 In spite of all this activity in Berlin, however, Seinemeyer was still relatively unknown outside of Germany when she was chosen for the U.S. tour of the Wagnerian Opera Festival.
This company had several different names; besides the Wagnerian Opera Festival, it has been called the German Opera Company and the German Grand Opera Company. But its own souvenir program refers to it as the Wagnerian Opera Festival, and that name is used most often in reviews. Thus, Wagnerian Opera Festival will be used throughout this article. (In addition, this company has been confused with a later German Opera Company, starring Johanna Gadski and managed by Sol Hurok, which toured the United States in the late 1920s.)
One of the purposes of the Wagnerian Opera Festival was to reawaken interest in German...