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Renowned Coloratura Soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 90

She made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in 1947 as Donna Elvira in Mozart's "Don Giovanni." She won the attention of Legge, a recording director at EMI and a founder of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. He was to many a Svengali figure who was rigorous, to the point of being vicious, about molding her career and approaching a line of song.

They married in 1953 and later taught master classes together at the Juilliard School in New York City. He also played a major role in expanding her popularity through an exclusive recording contract with EMI, where she performed major works by Strauss, Bach, Brahms and Mahler. In time, she became the company's best-selling classical artist, after violinist Itzhak Perlman and opera singer Maria Callas.

At her American debut in New York in 1953, she chose a selection of lieder and two years later sang Marschallin with the San Francisco Opera Co. During the next 15 years, until her operatic retirement, she focused on perfecting a much-reduced repertoire, including Marschallin, Donna Elvira, the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro" and Fiordiligi in "Cosi fan tutte."

Legge died in 1979, and Ms. Schwarzkopf largely enjoyed a comfortable retirement, teaching master classes as many of her early works were reissued to critical acclaim. In 1981, a Viennese music historian published documents from the National Archives in Washington showing a greater involvement in the Nazi Party than she had previously admitted.

Although this stirred up a past that Ms. Schwarzkopf had kept deliberately sketchy, British musicologist Alan Jefferson published in 1996 his definitive account of her Nazi Party membership. He wrote of her appearances in German propaganda films, visits to troops on the Eastern Front during the war and what he concluded was the fast rise in her career through connections to German leaders, including Goebbels.

Whatever her true involvement, her past did little to dim her popularity. She was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992, and her recordings continued to be esteemed by critics and music buyers alike.

Her most personal statement on her wartime legacy came in a letter she wrote to the New York Times in 1983: "It was akin to joining a union, and exactly for the same reason: to have a job. Could it possibly be that some of us merely worked hard to become decent singers?"

She went on: "My father -- a victim of Nazi procedure himself, having refused to join and consequently having lost his position of oberstudiendirektor (principal) at the Cottbus Gymnasium (high school) -- urged me to join: Nothing was more important to him than my singing."

"Although it was never in my repertoire, I cannot help quoting Tosca: 'Vissi d'arte . . . ' ('I lived for art')."

She has no immediate survivors.


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