Dramatic soprano Frida Leider was regarded by many colleagues, critics, and opera enthusiasts as the finest Wagnerian soprano during the interwar years. She was admired not only for a powerful voice of considerable beauty and flexibility, but also for her artistic integrity and histrionic gifts that compared favorably with those of the finest stage actresses. She had seen Eleanora Duse on stage and had been impressed with the legendary Italian actress' power and economy of gesture. Likewise, the musical comedy star Fritzi Massary proved an enduring icon for her poise and concentration.
Leider's career revolved around Berlin, the city of her birth and early training (she also studied in Milan). Her debut in 1915 as Venus in Tannhäuser took place in Halle and initiated her close identification with the music of Wagner. Later that same year, she undertook her first Brünnhilde in Nuremberg. Engagements in Rostock (1916 - 1918), Königsberg for the next two seasons and Hamburg (1920 - 1923) led to her engagement as principal dramatic soprano at the Berlin Staatsoper from 1923 to 1939.
Leider noted on several occasions that, unlike many other large-voiced sopranos, she did not begin with the lyric repertory; rather, she wielded a full dramatic instrument from the very beginning. Nor was her repertory confined to works in the German repertory. Among her wide-ranging roles were Verdi's Aida, Amelia (Un ballo in Maschera), Leonora (Il trovatore), the Countess in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, Didon in Berlioz's Les troyens, Valentine in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots and the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.
Leider's international career blossomed during the 1920s, carrying her to London's Covent Garden in 1924, Chicago in 1928, and the Bayreuth Festival that same year. During the 1930s, she performed at Milan's La Scala, the Paris Opéra, and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. She sang two seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York beginning in 1933. She remained there until Kirsten Flagstad burst upon the scene in 1935.
Married to Rudolf Deman, a Jewish musician and once leader of the Berlin Staatsoper orchestra, Leider found her career in her native Germany noticeably diminished in the years after the National Socialists came to power. Her most satisfying performances took place in London and Chicago where she found devoted followers and congenial working conditions. Her own fondest memories were of the Chicago Opera, where she was presented in several roles outside as well as within her mainstay Wagnerian repertory. Her Donna Anna was heard in 1928 opposite Vanni-Marcoux's Don Giovanni and Alexander Kipnis' Leporello. The same year, Chicago first encountered her aristocratic and sumptuously sung Marschallin. Leonore in Fidelio came in January 1930 and in November 1931, Leider sang the title role of Max von Schilling's post-romantic Mona Lisa. Impressions of the opera were mixed, but Leider's performance was well regarded.
While Leider's ability to dominate the stage remained undiminished, the late 1930s brought increasing evidence of strain in the higher-lying passages of such roles as the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung Brünnhildes. By the advent of WWII, Leider had essentially retired, performing only in recital. Following the war's end, Leider confined herself to opera production and teaching.
While Leider is not represented on disc by even one complete role, her many recordings of opera excerpts testify to a great singer, her bright, expressive voice ever at the command of a penetrating intellect.