Maria Ivogün was born Ilse Kempner, daughter of a Hungarian army officer and a singer, Ida von Günther, from whose name she created her nom de théâtre. After her parents divorced, Ivogün's mother married a Swiss and moved to Zurich, where Maria attended school until her acceptance at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna. Between 1907 and 1913 she studied principally with Amalie Schlemmer-Ambros. Conductor Bruno Walter discovered her there, and when Munich chose him as Bayerische Generalmusikdirector in 1913, he engaged Ivogün. Her first role was Mimì in La bohème, but that same season she became Munich's prima coloratura after singing Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and remained a star of the company until 1925.
Under Walter she sang in the world premieres of Korngold's Der Ring des Polykrates (1916) and as the son Ighino in Pfitzner's magnum opus, Palestrina (1917). Despite her other Munich roles -- most notably Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Konstanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio, Norina in Don Pasquale, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Rosina in The Barber of Seville -- Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss' 1916 revision of Ariadne auf Naxos made her famous throughout Europe. The composer proclaimed her "unique in the role...incomparable," no small praise considering that Margarethe Siems and Selma Kurz had dazzled the composer as well as audiences and critics in the work's two premieres (the first in 1912).
Opera wasn't Ivogün's only musical interest, however. She proved herself a concert artist of rare excellence in Mahler's Fourth Symphony under Walter, and in rarely heard Mozart concert arias. She wed tenor Karl Erb in 1921, her co-star in Palestrina; after their divorce in 1932, she married piano accompanist Michael Raucheisen. Ivogün was engaged by Mary Garden for the Chicago Opera's catastrophically costly home season of 1921 - 1922, yet sang only once there in The Barber of Seville, although she repeated the role during the company's post-season in New York City. She made her Covent Garden debut in 1924 as Zerbinetta, stealing the spotlight from Lotte Lehmann's Ariadne and Elisabeth Schumann's Composer. The next week she sang Gilda, which Ernest Newman wrote was "an exquisite piece of work," and returned in 1927 as Konstanze in The Abduction, and more Gildas. In 1925, Ivogün appeared as Zerlina in Don Giovanni during the third annual Salzburg Festival, and that same year became a regular artist at Berlin's Städtische Oper on Bismarckstrasse (Bruno Walter's bailiwick until 1929), and later at the Staatsoper in the Unter den Linden (Erich Kleiber's kingdom). She took a year's sabbatical in 1928 after the death of her sister, but returned to European opera houses and the transatlantic concert circuit until her retirement from the stage in 1934.
Rumors were widespread that Ivogün's eyesight had failed, even that she went blind. This was printed in the 1954 edition of Grove's Dictionary but retracted in the 1955 supplement, yet repeated by several anthologists since. She is reported to have said early on "I'll give myself 20 years" and did just that -- retiring with voice and artistry intact. In 1948, she reemerged to teach at the Vienna Academy of Music, and in 1950 was appointed professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Of her many pupils before she retired in 1956, two in particular became famous worldwide: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Rita Streich. Ivogün lived to the end of her 96th year, long enough to see a book written about her artistry by vocal assayer/essayist John Steane, who hailed her as "one of the loveliest of all the century's sopranos."