Saturday 4 November 2017

The woman who was Fidelio: Anna Milder-Hauptmann

Anna Milder-Hauptmann
Judging by the music she performed, Anna Milder-Hauptmann must have been a remarkable soprano. She was Beethoven's Leonore in the 1805 & 1806 performances of Leonore and in the 1814 Fidelio, and she also commissioned and premiered Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, not to mention giving notable performances as Gluck's heroines and as Cherubini's Medée.

She was born Anna Milder (the Hauptmann came from a short-lived marriage) in Constantinople where here father was pastry-chef to the Austrian ambassador. Once the family had returned to Vienna, she went on to study with Salieri and in 1801  (at the age of 16) was contracted with Emmanuel Schikaneder's Theater an der Wien.

She sang Leonore in all three of Beethoven's operatic performances, Cherubini wrote the title role of Faniske for her in 1806, and she had a notable success in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride in 1812 and sang in the first Viennese performances of Cherubini's Medée. In 1815 she moved to Berlin where Spontini was music director of the Berlin Court Opera . In March 1829 she sang in Mendelssohn's revival of Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Beethoven's relationship with her seems to have been somewhat fragile, the letters have a couple of incidents where she did not sing in his academies (she was intended to perform Ah perfido). But she clearly stuck by Leonore, and had great success with Fidelio in Berlin in 1816.

Joseph Haydn said of her voice 'it's like a house'; her first teacher had been a pupil of Haydn's and his comment was intended as a compliment. Others would describe her voice as like pure metal. She was however criticised for her lack of vocal agility. Critics disliked her performances of Rossini's operas and Schubert would say 'her voice is the best, her trills are the worst'.

It is worth bearing in mind that though only 20 when she sang Leonore in the premiere of Beethoven's first Fidelio (now called Leonore), she had already been on stage for four or five years. She clearly started out as a lyric soprano, and her progress can be tracked through her roles. A fine interpreter of Gluck's Alceste, Iphigenie and Armide, she transitioned to dramatic soprano via Cherubini's Faniska (written for her and a dramatic part similar to the title role in Fidelio), and was Cherubini's first choice for Medée in its Viennese premiere. This is very much a new type of soprano, a lyric-dramatic and takes the voice on its journey towards the heroic soprano roles in Wagner.

Hearing her and Johann Michael Vogel in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride was one of the young Schubert's greatest musical experiences (it seems to have taken place in 1812 or 1813). Schubert never actually met the diva, though they exchanged letters starting with something of a fan letter from her (in Berlin) in 1824. Schubert tried to interest her in Alfonso & Estrella, but she did perform Die Forelle and Erlkönig, as well as giving the first public performance of Suleika II (which was dedicated to her when the song was published). She made repeated requests for him to set some Goethe, but he did write Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and she performed the song in Riga and Berlin.
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