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Elfride Trötschel  Singing with Soul



Familie-Troetschel for web

The family of the Dresden choral director Albert Trötschel with his wife Babette and Elfride Trötschel as a baby in her arms, with siblings Albin, Richard, Hedwig and Willi. Photograph taken in Dresden-Cotta, 1914
Photo in Dresden-Cotta, 1914


Familiäre Erinnerungen




… that melancholy undercurrent

The phrase “singing with soul” probably best describes the artistry of a singer like Elfride Trötschel.
The following article attempts to define the “soul” in the voice of this singer more precisely and to understand it.


Elfride Trötschel at the age of seven.

Elfride Trötschel was born in Dresden on December 21, 1913. Germany was caught up in the First World War less than nine months later.
As a small child she had little awareness of the hard years in which fathers gave their lives for “God, Kaiser and Fatherland”, but in 1921 – at the age of eight – she realized full well that she was an orphan, for she was henceforth brought up in foster families, and her life was full of traumatic experiences.

This small amulet shows Elfride Trötschel at the age of seven.
It is the only evidence of her few happy childhood days spent with her family. She always wore it as a memento.

When she was able to escape her foster parents’ sphere of influence at the wedding of her older sister,
the signs of emotional abuse became evident.
At the urging of her anxious sister, she finally found another family where she could grow up in a harmonious environment with a girl her own age.


Die neunzehnjährige Elfride Trötschel zur Zeit des Entritts in den Sächsischen Staatsopernchor
Foto: Nachlass Elfride Trötschel


Baritone Paul Schöffler from the Dresden State Opera trained her voice, enabling her to join the chorus of the opera at the age of eighteen. From then on, she was trained by the soprano Helene Jung, a long-standing and extremely popular member of the Dresden opera ensemble.

In 1934 her talent as a soloist was discovered by Karl Böhm, the conductor of the Dresden State Opera, and she was put under contract as a lyric soprano.
Even that career start in the early nineteenthirties differs fundamentally from the methods usual nowadays, in which careers are “made” under great pressure by clever managers and come to an end just as quickly if public attention slackens.


Home-made autograph card with a photo of Elfride Trötschel as Gretel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel cut from the 1938 Dresden Staatsoper programme.


Elfride Trötschel’s career began gently and discreetly in an opera company that set store by artistic continuity, and she was able to develop and unfold there over a period of nearly twenty years. She had become one of the most popular members of the Dresden opera ensemble by the early 1940s.

Her voice developed in orderly manner and came to include the strangely sad timbre that is present in her earliest Dresden recordings: a melancholy undercurrent of mysterious resonance which magically moved audiences and which might be interpreted as a distant echo of the hardships of her childhood.

1945 brought the next shock: in February, squadrons of Allied bombers reduced Dresden to ruins.
Elfride Trötschel survived because she was taking a brief holiday in the country during the attacks. But the Dresden Opera, her artistic home, had been destroyed.

She was torn by force from familiar, well-disposed surroundings for the second time in her life, just when she had become a mother and the relationship with the father of her child had broken down.

Making a fresh start in Dresden was difficult, but conductor Joseph Keilberth, together with the still intact Dresden opera company, succeeded in staging productions at provisional venues in buildings that had survived the onslaught. Life had been reduced to the absolute basics. Artists were often enough paid in kind and in winter the audience had to bring along coal to heat the auditorium.

Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka was put on the programme in 1948 and Elfride Trötschel became larger than life in the title role. Her embodiment of the tragic figure of the water nymph whose desire to become a human being causes her to suffer under a terrible magic spell that finally kills her princely lover represented a unique commitment “to humanity and the human condition” (Steffen Lieberwirth in his booklet-note to Rusalka).


Antonín Dvořák: Rusalka

daraus: Finale
Staatskapelle Dresden
Dirigent: Joseph Keilberth
Aufnahme: MDR Sender Dresden 1948



The human condition was increasingly fraught with difficulty in the “German Democratic Republic”.
Political influences – especially in the field of the arts and culture – restricted artists’ freedom more and more. Director Walter Felsenstein had in 1948 engaged Elfride Trötschel to give guest performances at the Komische Oper in East Berlin, but tapes from the spring of 1949 recently found in the archives of the former RIAS station in the West prove that – probably quite deliberately and for good reason – the artist was crossing back and forth between the zones of occupation.


RIAS-Sendung mit Liedern von Max Reger


RIAS Senderkennung
anschließend Max Reger: Flieder
Aufnahme RIAS am 29. März 1949


That provocation probably brought repressive measures in its wake, since in 1949, after nineteen years with the Dresden Opera company, Elfride Trötschel began performing mainly in the West, where she had to contend with established competitors – making a third fresh start after only a few years, so to speak.
Only occasionally did she give guest performances in her native city.


RIAS-Interview mit Elfride Trötschel


Aufnahme RIAS 1955


But that fresh start was also successful, not least thanks to the broad range of roles she brought with her from Dresden, extracts from which she regularly recorded for the West German record industry from 1949 onwards.
The next shock came in the mid-1950s. Elfride Trötschel had contracted an incurable illness. She fought with all her might to remain on the stage as long as her body permitted.
She died – all too soon – in Berlin on June 20, 1958.


Obituary of Walter Felsenstein


Walter Felsenstein wrote in his obituary:
“The parts sung by Elfride Trötschel best show the quite extraordinary diversity of her great talent which, apart from her diligence and great technical prowess, established relations with regions only accessible to truly great artists.”


Obituary of Dresden Broadcasting


Privater Radiomitschnitt


We cannot be sure, for it is one of life’s secrets, but they say that people – especially those of a sensitive disposition – sense that they do not have much time and so live their lives to the full. Listening to Elfride Trötschel more than fifty years after her death lends credence to the idea.

Jens-Uwe Völmecke



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