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Thursday, March 29, 2012

An OMG Coloratura Soprano (and we bet you have never heard of her before!)

Melitta Heim as the Queen of the Night
photograph, author's collection

Continuing on with our series of Jewish singers of the Holocaust era, I would like to introduce you to one of the great coloratura sopranos of the German speaking World of the time; the Austrian, Melitta Heim.  Now it is a very interesting phenomena that in Vienna from the dawn of the 20th Century, to the lead up to the Second World War, the bulk of the coloratura sopranos performing at the Hofoper and then Staatsoper were Jewish, or born Jewish.  Selma Kurz, Grete Forst, Melitta Heim and Lotte Schoene were the regulars.  Add in the guest appearances of Irene Eisinger, Erna Sack, Gitta Alpar, Margit Bokor and Fritzi Jokl and these ladies covered a large percentage of the coloratura fach in schoene Wien during the period.

Probably the least known of the group was the soprano Melitta Heim (1888-1950).  Heim who came from a Viennese Jewish family learned to play the piano, organ and violin at an early age.  So prodigious was she, that she could play the violin at a concert level, as well as accompanied many of her fellow singers on the piano.  Heim also had psychological issues throughout her life that prevented her from being far from her physicians, so she never had major International exposure.  Her main teacher was Johannes Ress in Vienna; who also taught Selma Kurz and Anna Bahr-Mildenberg.   Her opera stage debut was as Gilda in Graz in 1909.  Two years later she guested as Violetta in Frankfurt and drew the admiration of the General Manager Emil Klaar, who hired her as his leading coloratura soprano.  She remained there until 1916, moving to the Vienna Hofoper the following year, to be near her Mother.  Heim continued singing at the Hofoper/Staatsoper until 1922.  Afterwards, as her nervous condition worsened, she curtailed her activities to a concert career.  Heim did appear in London for two seasons at Drury Lane, 1912 and 1914 singing the Queen of the Night and in 1938 after Kristallnacht, she fled with her Mother to London.  As was the plight of many Jews who emigrated from Western Europe, she left without money.  Coupled with the nervous condition and with no known skills and a language barrier at the time, she settled into a job as a "char-woman" to make ends meet.  She was brought in 1939 to the newly established Belsize Square Synagogue.  A synagogue established by refugees like herself mainly from Eastern Europe.  The organist one day was ill and she volunteered to accompany the service and made a huge success.  After her musical skills became known, she played and sang at many of the synagogue sponsored concerts, including a complete Mendelssohn Violin Concerto!  Char-woman, no longer, she was sponsored by members of the synagogue and opened a voice studio in London.  There she died in 1950 at the age of 62.   

Heim made just a few sides for Odeon in the teens and even made two cylinders for Edison.  While she cut some Diamond Discs for Edison, they were never released.  We offer another proprietary transfer from our collection of Jewish singers of the Holocaust Era.  This recording is an unpublished recording Heim made in 1913 at the Odeon studios.  The aria is "Der Holle Rach" from Die Zauberflote.  The recording contains a real virtuostic surprise as Heim runs through the first two sets of coloratura runs as written and then interpolates the third and fourth set blowing the doors off the high "F" as written in the score; when the score goes down, she goes up!  So fasten your seat belt and shoulder strap and enjoy!

The first coloratura passage of the aria as written, courtesy of Wikipedia


  1. Okay Bill,
    Ya got me here! amazing with those interpolated notes and absolutely no strain. How in god's name do you find this stuff?

  2. You got me on this one Bill. those interpolated notes are amazing! No strain whatsoever! Very cool and thanks.

  3. several minutes before able to undo seat-belt- Thanks!