Werner and Emmy Land Wolff played significant roles in the creation of the Chattanooga Opera and enhancing the popularity of opera in Chattanooga. Werner Wolff was born in Berlin on October 7, 1883. His father, Hermann Wolff, founded the Berlin Philharmonic, and Werner grew up in the company of famous musicians and conductors. As a young man, Werner expressed an interest in making a career of music. His mother, Louse, however, dissuaded him from taking up such an uncertain career and encouraged him to enter the legal profession. At the turn of the century, he entered school at Baden and took a degree in law. His heart remained set on music, though, and he continued to compose. By the early 1910s, his talent came to the attention of several prominent Berlin musicians, whose praise ended parental opposition to Werner’s musical aspirations.
In the years before World War I, he studied at the conservatory at Leipzig. A series of positions with operas in Danzig, Dusseldorf, and Prague followed. In 1917, he became conductor of the Hamburg opera, where he remained until 1932. During his tenure, he established himself as one of Germany’s leading conductors. At Hamburg, he met and married Emmy Land, the opera’s leading soprano, known for her performances at the Vienna Volkspor, the Hamburg opera, and the Berlin State Theater.
The couple fled Nazi-controlled Europe in 1938. They first settled in New York City and lived there until Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens named Dr. Wolff head of the Music Department and hired Mrs. Land Wolff as music teacher. During their short tenure at Tennessee Wesleyan, they frequently drove to Chattanooga to participate in the city’s lively community of music lovers. In 1940, the University of Chattanooga and Cadek Conservatory hired the couple to teach opera. They immediately set out to make changes in the repertoire since they assessed the Cadek’s typical recital pieces as dull and out of touch.
As a remedy, the Wolffs introduced operatic performances into the recitals. After one of these wildly popular events, Chattanooga music enthusiast Stella Ball Wietzel determined that the city needed a full-time opera company. She approached several prominent businessmen, who immediately agreed to support the project. Less than a month later, on August 24, 1943, the newly formed Chattanooga Opera Association entrusted Wolff with conductorship of the fledgling organization. The speed with which the opera company developed amazed the Wolffs, who told the Chattanooga Times that in Europe the same developments would have taken at least six months, if not a year.
The Wolffs dedicated themselves to producing high-quality performances and tapped into a pool of enthusiastic local amateur singers. During the opera’s first year, the Wolffs produced four performances (all held at the Central High School auditorium): Carmen, Hansel and Gretel, and sections from The Flying Dutchman and Cavalleria Rusticana. Though amateur productions, Dr. Wolff viewed his and his wife’s work as building a foundation for a professional opera company. In doing so, the Wolffs created the first opera company in Tennessee and helped other mid-size cities see that opera could flourish outside of major metropolitan areas.
The couple continued working with the Chattanooga Opera through the mid-1950s. Emmy died of a heart attack on November 11, 1955. Earlier in the day she had been overseeing practice sessions for the upcoming performance. Werner retired from the Chattanooga opera in 1959 and moved to Ruschlikon, Switzerland. He continued writing music reviews for the Chattanooga Times from Europe until he died on November 25, 1961.
Werner Wolff, Anton Bruckner, Rustic Genius (1942)