Irene Eisinger (8 December 1903 – 8 April 1994) was a German and British opera singer and film actress. Her career was closely linked to the foundation and the early years of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
Life and career
Irene Eisinger was born in the small Silesian town Cosel, belonging to the German Empire at the time of her birth. Today, the town is in Poland. She was trained as a soubrette soprano and studied acting with Paula Mark-Neusser in Vienna and piano with G. Schönewald.
Operas and films
Her debuts – both in opera and film – took place in 1926. She played a minor role in Frederic Zelniks silent movie Die Försterchristl and started singing leading roles in operas and operettas at the Stadttheater Basel in the north of Switzerland. Already in 1928 she was called to Berlin and within a short period became one of the favourite singers of conductor Otto Klemperer – firstly at the Kroll Opera House, later on at the prestigious Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Although best remembered for her soubrette roles in Mozart operas, especially Despina and Blonde, and as Ännchen in Webers Der Freischütz, she achieved also great successes and admiration in Strauss operetta roles, particularly as Arsena in Der Zigeunerbaron and as Adele in Die Fledermaus. Musicologist Elizabeth Forbes describes her singing in this words: ″Her voice, bright-toned, light and very flexible, and her charming, diminutive appearance, invariably drew adjectives such as ‘enchanting’ and ‘winsome’ from the critics.″
The year 1930 can be considered as her break-through in both Germany and Austria as she debuted as Adele in Max Reinhardts version of Die Fledermaus, as Cherubino in Mozarts Le nozze di Figaro at the Salzburg Festival and again as Adele at the Vienna State Opera. Furthermore, in this year her first sound film was released, the light comedy Two Hearts in Waltz Time – with Eisinger as Anni Lohmeier and with famous and popular actor Willi Forst in a leading role. This film was the first foreign language film to be released with subtitles in the United States. Two further leading film parts followed in 1931: Leopoldine in Die lustigen Weiber von Wien and the title role in another Zelnik-version of Die Försterchristl, now with sound and singing.
Cherubino in Salzburg was hers until 1933, and in 1931 she added another role to her Salzburg repertory: Papagena in Die Zauberflöte – again with repeat invitations until 1933. In 1932, Eisinger performed in the Cabaret opera Rufen Sie Herrn Plim by Mischa Spoliansky and sang Luise Matthes in the Kurt Weill opera Die Bürgschaft next to Hans Reinmar and Lotte Lenya at the Städtische Oper Berlin. The conductor was Fritz Stiedry.
She appeared in two short films (Kabarett-Programm Nr. 4, 1931, and Eine Johann-Strauss-Fantasie, 1933) and did several recordings with Grammophon, HMV/Electrola, Ultraphon and Orchestrola. Her singing covered a broad repertory spanning from Mozart and Auber to C.M. Weber, Albert Lortzing, Puccini, Lehár and Strauss, including works of Leo Fall, Bruno Granichstaedten, Ralph Benatzky and Robert Stolz. Her male partners in duets were Siegfried Arno, Paul Morgan, Joseph Schmidt, Erik Wirl and Richard Fritz Wolf.
Emigrantion, Glyndebourne, ROH
Although very popular with the Berlin audience, Eisinger was forced to leave Germany shortly after the National socialist takeover in 1933 due to her Jewish origins. She could not sing any longer in any theatre of the German capital. She took refuge in Czechoslovakia and went to sing in the opera houses of Prague, Amsterdam and Bruxelles – and once again at the Salzburg Festival. In 1933, in addition to Cherubino and Papagena she was invited to sing a role in a Richard Strauss opera. It would be her last appearance in Salzburg. She sang Hermione in the first production of the second version of Egyptian Helena.
Eisinger continued to sing at Prague State Opera until 1937, but already in 1934 she was invited by German emigrants Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert to participate at the first Glyndebourne Festival. Unknown to British audiences, she sang Despina in Mozarts Così fan tutte and scored a great personal success. Thereafter she became a firm favourite at the festival, debuting as Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and as Papagena in Die Zauberflöte in 1935, returning there each year but one, until the outbreak of the Second World War forced the festival to close down. The 1935 Glyndebourne recording of Così fan tutte, conducted by Fritz Busch, gives a very idea of Eisinger’s voice, her stylish singing and her delightful personality. Although she did not appear at the Festival in 1936, the artist sang the Aquarellen waltz, op. 258, by Josef Strauss at a concert in Glyndebourne this year – with 600 of John Christie’s employees and tenants present, to commemorate the birth of Christie’s son George on 31 December 1934. Due to its success, the concert had to be repeated.
In 1936 the impresario C. B. Cochran, who had been entranced by her Papagena in Glyndebourne, engaged her for the revue Follow the Sun at the Adelphi in London. There she sang the always much applauded song Love is a Dancing Thing, a popular number by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. Cochran was praised to engage Miss Eisinger by the Sunday Times: ″A beautiful little lady [with a] small but charming voice″. Her partner was famous baritone Gerald Nodin. In December of the same year, Eisinger debuted at the Royal Opera House as Gretel in Humperdincks Hänsel und Gretel, with Maggie Teyte as Hänsel, sung in German language. A week later she sang Adele in Die Fledermaus (in English), ″winning a particular triumph″ with the song Mein Herr Marquis.
For the next three seasons the singer returned to Glyndebourne, adding Susanna and Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro to her Glyndebourne repertory, while still continuing to sing her other roles. By now she was permanently living in England. In 1939 Eisinger sang Ilya in a university production of Mozarts Idomeneo at Cambridge and acted in Beatrice Saxon Snell’s musical Georgian Springtime at the Embassy Theatre in London – with Geoffrey Dunn, Frederick Ranalow, and George Skillan in the cast. In 1940, when Glyndebourne toured The Beggar’s Opera, she took over Polly Peachum from Audrey Mildmay who had contracted Rubella during the London run. Furthermore, she participated in the movie comedy Young Man’s Fancy and was invited by BBC to sing in Die Fledermaus and in Arlecchino, a single act opera by Ferruccio Busoni.
When Glyndebourne closed down, Eisinger withdrew from the stage.
Her last operatic performances were a series of seven performances of Così fan tutte in the original Glyndebourne production of Carl Ebert at the Edinburgh International Festival in August and September 1949 – together with a prominent cast consisting of Suzanne Danco (Fiordiligi), Sena Jurinac (Dorabella), Petre Munteanu (Ferrando), Marko Rothmuller (Guglielmo), John Brownlee (Don Alfonso) and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Oppenheim. She sang Despina.
Thereafter she was only heard in broadcast concerts on BBC.
The singer married Gerhard Schönewald, called Gert, a physician from London of German origin who had emigrated from Bad Nauheim. The couple had two daughters, Susanne (born in 1944) and Emily-Ruth (1946). The couple later divorced.
Irene Eisinger died on 8 April 1994, in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, Great Britain.
Così fan tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), role of Despina. Glyndebourne Festival Opera Company conducted by Fritz Busch. HMV DB 2652 bis DB 2673 – Glyndebourne, June 1935