Before we could note further details, Mme. Lehmann stood in the doorway, then came forward and greeted us cordially.
How often I had seen her impersonate her great roles, both in Germany and America. They were always of some queenly character. Could it be possible this was the famous Lehmann, this simple housewife, in black skirt and white blouse, with a little apron as badge of home keeping. But there was the stately tread, the grand manner, the graceful movement. What mattered if the silver hair were drawn back severely from the face; there was the dignity of expression, classic features, penetrating glance and mobile mouth I remembered.
After chatting a short time and asking many questions about America, where her experiences had been so pleasant, our talk was interrupted, for a little, by a voice trial, which Madame had agreed to give. Many young singers, from everywhere, were anxious to have expert judgment on their progress or attainments, so Lehmann was often appealed to and gave frequent auditions of this kind. The fee was considerable, but she never kept a penny of it for herself; it all went to one of her favorite charities. The young girl who on this day presented herself for the ordeal was an American, who, it seemed, had not carried her studies very far.
Mme. Lehmann seated herself at the piano and asked for scales and vocalizes. The young girl, either from fright or poor training, did not make a very fortunate impression. She could not seem to bring out a single pure steady tone, much less sing scales acceptably.
Madame with a resigned look finally asked for a song, which was given. It was a little song of Franz, I remember. Then Lehmann wheeled around on the stool and said to us, in German:
“The girl cannot sing—she has little or no voice to begin with, and has not been rightly trained.” Then to the young girl she said, kindly, in English:
“My dear young lady, you have almost everything to learn about singing, for as yet you cannot even sing one tone correctly; you cannot even speak correctly. First of all you need physical development; you must broaden your chest through breathing exercises; you are too thin chested. You must become physically stronger if you ever hope to sing acceptably. Then you must study diction and languages. This is absolutely necessary for the singer. Above all you must know how to pronounce and sing in your own language. So many do not think it necessary to study their own language; they think they know that already; but one’s mother tongue requires study as well as any other language.