Ernestine "Tini" Schumann-Heink was born Ernestine Rössler, the daughter of an Austrian cavalry officer. Schumann-Heink made her debut in Graz at age 15, singing the alto solo in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. At 17, she made her operatic debut in Dresden. While with the Dresden Opera she sang at the city's cathedral and studied voice with Franz Wuellner. She eloped with Ernst Heink, an administrator at the Dresden Opera, in 1882, causing them both to be fired. Later, Schumann-Heink managed to find a position singing bit parts at the Hamburg Opera, but her husband therafter deserted her while she was bearing their fourth child. In 1889, Schumann-Heink was asked to understudy the lead in Carmen in order to replace a singer who had stormed out in a fit of pique. Schumann-Heink immediately won the approval of Hamburg operagoers. Word of her artistry spread quickly, and by 1893 she had already debuted in London, Paris, and Berlin. That year she married the actor Paul Schumann, with whom she would have four more children for a total of eight. In 1896, with the hyphenated name under which she became best known, Schumann-Heink made her debut at Bayreuth; Cosima Wagner personally coached her in several Wagnerian roles. In 1897, Schumann-Heink managed to free herself from her Hamburg contract and began to tour the world under the auspices of her new company, the Berlin Opera. She made her American debut in Chicago in 1898, and first appeared at the Metropolitan in New York later that year. So happy was she with the enthusiasm of American audiences that she bought out her contract from Berlin in order to remain at the Met. Schumann-Heink's first commercial records appeared as part of Columbia's Grand Opera Series of 1903. That year, Schumann-Heink shocked the opera world by appearing in a Broadway revue, Love's Lottery; the show was followed by a highly profitable tour. During the tour, Paul Schumann died; Schumann-Heink then married her American manager and moved her family from "Villa Tini" in Dresden to an estate in New Jersey. She became an American citizen in 1908. Two years before, she had signed a recording contract with Victor, an agreement which would last until 1931. Her 1910 recording of Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Silent Night) was a huge seller that stayed in the Victor catalog until she did another version in 1926. She continued to appear at the Bayreuth Festival until the outbreak of World War I. During the Great War, Schumann-Heink performed at bond rallies, visited hospitals for wounded soldiers, and sang at military encampments, finally converting her private home in Chicago into a canteen for soldiers. Enlisted men loved her so much that they called her "Mother Schumann-Heink"; few of them knew that she had sons fighting on both sides of the conflict. She resumed her professional career at the war's end. Her "Golden Jubilee" was held at the Met in 1926; that year she began to broadcast on radio, her appearances evolving into a popular weekly show that ran from 1929 to 1935. She also appeared in three Vitaphone shorts and embarked upon a relentless grind of touring and public appearences. She made her final Met appearence as Erda in Wagner's Rheingold in 1932 at age 71. In 1935, Schumann-Heink made an appearance in a Hollywood feature film, Here's to Romance. The public response was so strong that a feature starring Schumann-Heink herself was proposed, but before it could be made she died of leukemia at the age of 75.
Schumann-Heink had an uncommonly opulent, powerful voice that made her ideal for Wagnerian roles, and for other dramatic parts.
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Ernestine Schumann-Heink Biography
by Uncle Dave Lewis