The life of that remarkable singer Erna Sack is one of those all-too-rare real-life examples of a fairy tale that came true. For the story of a girl of humble parentage who shot, suddenly and meteorically, to international fame, when she accidentally discovered a power she did not even know she possessed, is indeed a fairy tale.
Erna Sack, born Erna Weber, came from a poor family. She started singing at the age of nine in the local church choir, enjoying it so much that she determined to be a professional when she grew up. But unfortunately her parents had never had any connection with the stage or with singing, and did not want their daughter to embark on a career which was still not considered 'nice' by many people. Besides, there was no spare money to pay for the luxury of singing lessons.
So when Erna left school at the age of sixteen, she had to go out and earn her own living as a secretary, in order that she could help pay for her keep at home. But fortunately she also saved a little, and was thus able to take some singing lessons in private.
Then, quite soon, came the first big turning point in Erna's career; her singing was heard by a young man who at once realized how gifted she was. The young man, whose name was Hermann Sack and who later married Erna, arranged for her to receive some better training than the provencial instruction she had been having, and accordingly sent her to Vienna.
Soon Erna began to achieve success in a small opera, singing at first only small parts, but later the more important roles. Although originally trained as a mezzo, Erna was by this time singing soprano roles; even so she still did not know that she was possessed of the fantastic, soaring upper range that was to bring her international fame.
Then came the big moment; she was singing at a rehearsal of Donizetti's Don Pasquale under Bruno Walter, and she was given the opportunity of improvising a cadenza. Letting her voice go as she never had before, Erna was amazed to find it soaring up and up and up..... until she reached C above high G! Needless to say those present were equally amazed, as were the audiences that flocked to the Berlin Opera. Thus opened a glorious new career as a coloratura soprano for Erna, a career forwarded almost at once by an engagement to sing at Wiesbaden. Trifling as this may sound compared with the glories of the Berlin Opera, this appearance was of great importance for one very good reason; it was broadcast throughout the whole of Germany.
This, of course, was the third great turning point in Erna's life, for overnight she increased the circle of her admirers from the comparatively small numbers that could be accomodated by an auditorium to the vast body of the German people. She at once found herself in great demand, not only to sing in opera, but to give recitals of the charming and melodious songs for which she soon achieved special renown. To gratify her opera public she accepted the post of leading coloratura at the Dresden State Opera, and to delight the world at large she embarked on a series of extended recital tours, also making the first of a vast collection of records.
Erna's touring engagements took her all over the world, and in both Europe and America she soon became a popular favorite. In the latter country she sang in the great Carnegie Hall, while in England she was honored to give a private performance before George V. Even the war did not halt Erna's meteoric career, for though confined to Europe she busied herself with singing to the troops. Peace brought freedom of travel once more, and Erna began her post-war career with an extensive tour of the American Continent.