In Aachen, Christa’s Viennese father Anton Ludwig, a former tenor who had sung with Enrico Caruso at the old Met, was the director and manager of the opera house; Her mother sang in the company and played several roles under an aspiring conductor named Herbert von Karajan. Christa has seen these and many other performances. “I practically lived in the theater,” she said in her 1993 memoir, which was later published in English under the title “In My Own Words”.
Her mother gave her singing lessons as a girl and remained her lifelong coach, went to her rehearsals and performances, and lived with Ms. Ludwig for most of her life. “I really owe her everything,” she said. But she also described her mother as an inflexible and sometimes suffocating presence that ruled her life before she didn’t feel able to cut ties until she was 60.
A half-brother was killed on the Eastern Front during the war. The food was rationed and Christa was sent to work on a farm. The house and belongings of the family in Gießen, where Mr. Ludwig had become director of the city theater, were destroyed in an Allied bombing and left homeless. With the arrival of American troops, said Ms. Ludwig in her memoir, she and her parents were assigned an abandoned apartment with a piano that had been used as a toilet.
Christa’s mother gave singing lessons. “The study of singing was a wonderful opportunity to forget the miserable way of life, the ruins, the still smoldering coal cellars and the smell of ashes,” wrote Ms. Ludwig.
The young singer soon found work singing popular tunes in the American officers’ club, wearing a dress she had made from a Nazi flag. She was paid with cigarettes and stole everything she could. After her father, who was a member of the NSDAP, was denazified, he gave up his job and organized variety shows with his daughter in the city.
Ms. Ludwig received her first major commission at the Frankfurt Opera in 1946 and made her stage debut as Prince Orlofsky in “Die Fledermaus”. Her mother, who was recently divorced from her father, moved into an unheated room with her in town, and they began daily classes.