Written by: Alexander Campbell
For much of her career Wilma Lipp exemplified a particular type of light- and bright-voiced soprano equally at home in classical opera but also in the operetta tradition of her native city of Vienna. She studied in the city and boasted some illustrious singers as her mentors – notably the Wagnerian soprano Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, the baritone Alfred Jerger (the first Mandryka in Richard Strauss’s Arabella) and Toti Dal Monte (a famous Madama Butterfly). She made her debut there as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia in 1943, joining the Vienna State Opera two years later.
Her easy top extension and virtuosity meant that roles such as Mozart’s Queen of the Night quickly became her calling card – she reportedly sang it over four-hundred times and made several commercial recordings of it. She sang it under Furtwängler in Salzburg in 1949. She first appeared at the Royal Opera House as part of the Covent Garden Opera Company in 1950 singing performances of Gilda (Erich Kleiber conducting) and Queen of the Night (Karl Rankl, with Schwarzkopf as Pamina) in very close proximity. Her only subsequent role in the house was Violetta in 1955, John Pritchard in the pit.
In 1951 she had her only set of Bayreuth appearances in the first post-war Festival as the Woodbird in Siegfried conducted by Karajan. She was heard at Glyndebourne in 1957 as Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, although she also sang Blonde. Given her voice-type it was not surprising she also sang some of the other famous coloratura roles such as Olympia, Oscar, Lucia di Lammermoor and Zerbinetta. Sadly, there are no commercial recordings of her in these latter two roles, and no off-the-air tapes have emerged either.
She was also in demand as an operetta singer and essayed both soprano roles in Die Fledermaus as well as roles in Johann Strauss II’s Wiener Blut and other popular works of the type including Zeller’s Der Vogelhändler. As her voice developed a little more weight she also took on Wagner’s Eva, Verdi’s Alice Ford and Puccini’s Musetta. Her final appearances were in the early-1980s when she delivered a cameo as the duenna Marianne Leitmetzerin In Der Rosenkavalier – including some performances in Salzburg and Karajan’s related Deutsche Grammophon recording.
Subsequently she taught in Salzburg before retiring in 1998. Very much an ensemble player she was a Wiener Kammersängerin and garnered a host of awards and medals. Contemporary critical accounts of her performances reveal she had great charm and presence when performing, and a strong and generous personality when off the boards! Her recorded legacy is respectable with many of her Mozart and operetta roles captured, often more than once. Whilst they demonstrate her evident technical skill and accuracy, they sometimes lack individuality and emotional depth, perhaps owing to the brightness of the tone. She also sang and recorded oratorios and songs, and it’s these that help complement and enhance her reputation as a fine singer, part of a vocal tradition all but extinct.