Mostly California: 1956-1972. Letters with original envelopes retained, fine condition, with a few ephemeral items from Lehmann’s career collected by Mahler included. Forty-five letters total, with two additional telegraphs and three signed photographs and several copies of a color photograph of the pair together on stage, appx. fifteen are short thank-you notes. Fine. Item #List2030
An intimate collection of letters written by Lotte Lehmann to her colleague and friend Donald Mahler, discussing many aspects of her life and her career during her later career when she was involved in the Music Academy of the West and living in California. The letters give Lehmann’s candid thoughts on the opera scene of the period, and are often self-reflective regarding her own life and career, and also give considerable insight into Mahler’s career during the period.
The group begins in 1966, during Mahler’s first few years at the Metropolitan Opera, and continues until 1972, with Mahler collecting stray articles on Lehmann including her obituary in 1976. The letters range from a single to several pages and generally touch on both personal and professional matters, and though we don’t have Mahler’s replies, he clearly confided in Lehmann regarding the goings-on at the Met, and about his own professional frustrations. “I feel very much with you about your disappointment and the frustration in your work. Nothing could be worse than an artistic disappointment, and to be pushed into a mediocre form of performing… but at the same time I cannot refrain from saying that you made a great mistake in changing your position, because of financial and personal difficulties. One cannot have one’s cake and eat it. You can believe me that my life as a concert singer has not been an easy one. I had to tour America during the war and it often went beyond my strength to sing in the evening after spending the day sitting on my luggage… the life of the artist may look very glamorous from the outside, but it needs much more stamina and willpower.” In another letter she suggests that Mahler join a different troupe so he can become stage manager, suggesting Martha Graham and then saying that she does not like her work (“I did not like it, it was simply a fantastic acrobatic machine.”) “I am sorry that you are so depressed” she adds in another letter. In 1970 she writes more optimistically “how wonderful that you have these opportunities of solo dances…”
Mahler must have vented repeatedly to Lehmann, as she writes soon after regarding “I understand you very well… but that does not help you at all. Isn’t there someone at the Met who can help?” “For me it was always a goal, to make the role I did, alive. Believable. Human… Oh god! Times have changed.” She refers to a birthday which has “taken out of life and enjoyment of earlier years.” Two letters concern an exhibition of her felt paintings, with one including a photograph of one of the works (“I do not want to see felt again till the end of my days…”) She reflects on her legacy in a letter from 1969 about her archive and concert hall on UCSB: “it is really my ‘momunent’ and to have that in my lifetime… that is something to marvel about.” “Of course I am glad that you personally are happier now, but on the whole I agree with you that the season will be very doubtful,” Lehmann writes in one letter. “I am sorry that your project did not materialize and I hope you are not too unhappy about it… next week I shall have a minor operation on my left foot and - being a coward - I am afraid.”
Grace Bumbry is the subject of several letters. “I read all the reviews and I am only sorry that Grace Bumbry had not the big success she thinks she had… I did not hear her Carmen since Chicago when I did not like it… I am sorry that she neglects her deep tones which long ago were absolutely thrilling. But she does not want to be a soprano, alas… But I try hard to forget worries about her.” Another letter laments Bumbry, : “We live in a time of ‘Sensations!’ Perhaps, if I were yet be able to sing, I would have no success. The audiences want to get excitement instead of elation…. Toscanini is flaming fire come out of his soul… I feel like 100 years old when I contemplate art nowadays.”
Overall the group is a telling record of a friendship between two artists and should be of interest to scholars of each of their work and of the late twentieth century opera scene more broadly.
Status: On Hold