Operatic great Christa Ludwig dies aged 93

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Christa Ludwig, widely regarded as one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, has died at age 93, the Vienna State Opera said on Sunday.

The mezzo-soprano, whose repertoire ranged from Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler to Strauss, Verdi and Wagner in a career spanning nearly 50 years, died on Saturday at her home in Klosterneuburg, just outside Vienna, Austrian news agency APA reported.

Born in Berlin on March 16, 1928, Ludwig grew up in Aachen, west Germany, where her father, a tenor, also conducted at the local opera house. Her mother, too, was a mezzo-soprano.

"Singing for me was as natural as learning to walk," she said once.

Ludwig made her operatic debut as Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus" in Frankfurt in 1946.

Equally acclaimed as a concert performer and recitalist, Ludwig made her debt in Vienna as Cherubino in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" on April 14, 1955.

And while she performed at all of the world's leading opera houses such as La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London and the New York Met, and was awarded France's Legion d'Honneur in 2010, it was the Vienna State Opera with which she became most closely associated, giving 769 performances there in 42 different roles.

Among her most memorable roles were Leonora in Beethoven's "Fidelio", both Octavian and Marschallin in Richard Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier", Kundry in Wagner's "Parsifal" and Dorabella in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte".

She also worked with all of the world's greatest conductors, including Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Boehm and Leonard Bernstein.

During her half-century on stage, she practised a self-discipline that she described as being similar to that of an astronaut, "thinking about her vocal cords day and night", and avoiding tobacco and alcohol to preserve her unforgettable timbre.

Married to the Austrian bass-baritone Walter Berry for 13 years, she divorced him in 1970, and remarried French actor and director Paul-Emile Deiber in 1972.

She made her debut at the Paris Opera in November 1971 in a song recital, where she gave 10 curtain calls.

Ludwig, who worked with other legendary singers such as Maria Callas and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, said she suffered stage nerves "before and during performances, and the pleasure afterwards is quickly spoiled by thoughts about the next performance".

"It was the very special combination of a unique voice and intelligence of interpretation that made her so special," said the Vienna State Opera.

Milan's La Scala opera house said: "With the death of Christa Ludwig, the music world has a lost a luminous and inimitable personality."

She retired from the stage with a performance of the role of Clytemnestra in Strauss's "Elektra" in December 1994 in Vienna.