Margarete Schlegel

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Margarete Schlegel
Margarete schlegel 1946 01 300dpi.jpg
Margarete Schlegel, London, 1946
Margarethe Sylva Elisabeth Schlegel

31 December 1899
Died15 July 1987 (aged 87)
OccupationActress, Singer
Years active19171955
Spouse(s) Hermann Joachim Levy (m.19241949; his death)

Margarethe Sylva Elisabeth Wisniewski (né. Schlegel, 31 December 1899 – 15 July 1987), known professionally as Margarete Schlegel, was a German theatre and film actress and soprano operetta singer.


Early Life

The sixth of seven children and the third of four girls, Margarethe Sylva Elisabeth Schlegel was born at 11:45pm on 31 December 1899 in Bromberg, West Prussia, German Empire, (present-day Bydgoszcz, Poland) to a German-speaking Prussian-Polish Catholic family. Her father was Augustin Heinrich Schlegel (18651934), who legally changed the family surname from Wisniewski upon relocating them to Berlin in 1904, while her mother was Anna Agatha Schlegel (née Garski, 18641940).

Career in Germany

Naturally beautiful and talented (she could sing, dance and act well from an early age), Schlegel sought a chorus role in theatre in 1917 as a way of earning extra money for her family while still a schoolgirl due to the privations of war. This soon led to a starring role in Charley's Aunt at the Thalia Theatre and later both serious and comic roles at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, where she was trained and mentored by theatre director Max Reinhardt.

After the Great War, she was frequently cast in Weimar silent films by the pioneering cinema directors F. W. Murnau and E. A. Dupont and in whose films she worked with noted actors Bela Lugosi and Conrad Veidt, all of whom later left for Hollywood along with writer and director Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay of her last German film, a romantic operetta comedy called Das Blaue vom Himmel. The film was released in December 1932 just prior to Hitler's ascent to power and therefore not subject to Nazi dictates. Her best known and penultimate film was Phil Jutzi's morality play Berlin-Alexanderplatz (1931) which was remade as a German TV miniseries by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1980. In all, she appeared in 35 silent films and three sound films of differing styles during the Weimar era.

During the 1920s, she continued to star in theatre roles and operettas, such as Franz Lehár's Merry Widow and Gypsy Love. Her soprano repertoire included arias and lieder by Offenbach, Puccini, Handel, Brahms, Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss (see listing below), which she performed in recitals and radio broadcasts in addition to the musical numbers she sang in sound feature films.

In 1924, Schlegel married the assimilated Jewish-Prussian political economist, Prof Hermann Joachim Levy. In 1926 they had a son, Hermann Martin Heinrich Levy, who was baptised Catholic. When her husband was dismissed from his professorship at Technical University of Berlin in May 1933 [1] and his academic books and novels written under the pseudonym Hermann Lint were burned by the Nazis, he travelled to Britain to give the Sidney Ball Memorial Lecture at Oxford University [2] and as a Visiting Professor at King's College, Cambridge at the invitation of the Professor of Economic History, John Clapham. Although Ms Schlegel was offered many opportunities to join her Weimar expatriate film colleagues in Hollywood from the late 1920s onwards, she declined these offers to emigrate to the US. In 1935 she was offered the chance by SS Head Heinrich Himmler to continue her film career under the Third Reich on the condition that as an Aryan she divorced her assimilated Jewish husband (he was baptised as a Lutheran at the age of 14 in 1895 under the oversight of his older sister's husband, the research chemist Prof Arnold Carl Reissert), but instead fled with her son to join her husband in Britain. In consequence, in July 1938 the Nazis officially proscribed her films, which could no longer be shown publicly in Germany or its occupied territories. At about the same time, her husband was added to Hitler's so-called Black Book, [3] [4] the death list of opponents of the Third Reich who would be arrested upon the anticipated Nazi occupation of Britain after Operation Sea Lion. Also in 1938 her husband's former family residence and marital home in Tiergarten, "Villa Kabrun", was seized by the Nazis for use as the foreign embassy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the putative "world capital", Germania.

Career in Britain

After arriving in England, she became a featured soprano on BBC Radio in operas and operettas by Offenbach, [5] Lehar [6] and Horton [7] in the late 1930s. During WW2 she broadcast anti-Nazi German-language propaganda radio programs for BBC Europe which were heard across the Continent. After her husband died suddenly in 1949 from a heart attack, she remarried and moved to Saltdean on the Sussex coast in England. In the 1950s she continued broadcasting for BBC Radio, singing in operettas and recitals such as "The Queen of Song" about the life of Adelina Patti. [8] She also sang and spoke in German language educational radio programs for the BBC from 1938 onwards. [7]


Schlegel died on 15 July 1987 after being very active in local Catholic church affairs for many years.


Operatic repertoire

ComposerTitle/RoleParent Work/Opus
Puccini, GVissi d'arte, vissi d'amoreTosca
Puccini, GUn bel di vedremoMadame Butterfly
Offenbach, JThe Doll Song (Olympia'a aria)Tales of Hoffmann
Handel, GFOmbra mai fu (Larghetto)Xerxes
Gounod, CF / Bach, JSAve Maria (Meditation)Musica et Memoria
Strauss, RichardStandchenSix Songs, Op 17 (No 2)
Strauss, JohannSpiel ich die Unschuld vom land (The Country Innocent)Die Fledermaus
Mozart, WAAlleluiaExsultate jubilate, K.165
Handel, GFAmor gioie mi porge (Jealousy)Duets
Handel, GFVa speme infida pur (Fickle Hope)Duets
D'Albert, EAmor und Psyche (Myrtocle's aria)Der Toten Augen
Reger, MZum Schlafen (The Golden Bird)Op 76 (No 59)
Handel, GFTu la mia stella seiGuilo Cesare
Handel, GFVoi dolci aurette al corTolomeo
Strauss, JohannFruhlingstimmen (voci di primavera)Op 410
Strauss, RichardWiegenlied (Lullaby)Five Lieder, Op 41 (no 1)
Strauss, RichardMorgen! (Tomorrow)Four Lieder, Op 27 (no 4)
Brahms, JMinnelied (Love Song)Op 71 (No 5)
Strauss, RichardTraum durch die Dammerung (Dream in the twilight)Three Lieder, Op 29 (No 1)
Strauss, RichardZueignung (Devotion)Eight Lieder, Op 10 (No 1)
Papini, GCaro mio benAfter Tommaso Giordani
Arditi, LSprich! (Parla!)Waltz for Soprano
Lehar, FZorica (role)Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love)
Lehar, F.Hanna (role)The Merry Widow
Keel, FFour Songs of ChildhoodWalter de la Mare
- Reverie
- Sleepy Head
- John Mouldy
- Bunches of Grapes
Traditional French SongCome Sweet Morning (Viens Aurore)R H Elkin (English)
Sanderson, WJune is CallingN Fielden
Ronald, LFour Songs of the HillH Simpson
- Away on the hill there runs a stream
- Come home my thoughts
- At Dawn
- A Little Winding Road
Leslie-Smith, KAlways Song (Puritan Lullaby)J Dyrenforth
Leoni, FThe Leaves of the WindG Cooper
Ronald, LO Lovely Night!E Teschemacher
Quilter, RAmaryllis at the FountainAnon
White, M VSo We'll Go No More A RovingLord Byron
Forster, DDancing in Dreams in ViennaE Lockton
Quilter, RLove's PhilosophyShelley
Traditional (arr Lehmann, L)Annie LaurieAnon
Quilter, RNow Sleeps the Crimson PetalTennyson
Trad (arr Clutsam)Come to the DanceM Mervyn
Wertheimer, ETo A Mother (An Einer Mutter)
Cadman, C WAt DawningN R Eberhart

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  7. 1 2 "National Programme Daventry - 22 May 1939 - BBC Genome". Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  8. "' Queen of Song '". BBC Genome. 18 September 1953. p. 30. Retrieved 14 February 2019.