Obituaries » Nitza Niggemann
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April 19, 1928 - April 15, 2016
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Nitza Niemann (1928 – 2016), died peacefully in her sleep on April 15, 2016 in Los Angeles after a brief illness, only days shy of her 88th birthday. Nitza was a highly accomplished and respected classical musician, and was well known from the 1970s until her retirement in 2009 as one of Los Angeles’s top voice teachers. She was not only highly gifted, but a modest, elegant and gracious woman who touched many lives over the years.
As a mezzo-soprano she performed leading roles with opera companies in the United States and throughout Europe. Nitza was a student of the great German soprano Lotte Lehmann and the Austrian conductor and pianist Fritz Zweig. Some of her primary operatic roles included Azucena (Verdi: Il Trovatore), The Witch (Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel), Frau Reich (Nicolai: Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor), Adalgisa (Bellini: Norma), and most of the comic contralto roles in the canon of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In concert she performed with distinction in repertoire of Brahms, Mahler, and Strauss, as well as Israeli composers of the 20th century such as Paul Ben-Haim, Marc Lavry, and Alexander Boscovitch.
Born Preva Shapiro on April 19, 1928 to Esther and Louis Shapiro in Detroit, Michigan, Nitza’s immediate family included two boys and four girls. She chose the name Nitza, meaning “blossom,” when she made Aliyah to the new state of Israel at age 20.
Nitza was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a secular Zionist youth movement, and left for Israel in the late 1940s just as the country achieved statehood. As a pioneer in building the new nation, she lived in tents on the frontier and was a founding member of Kibbutz Barkai. In Israel, Nitza was recognized for her outstanding musical talents as a pianist and music educator, and within her first year was promoted to touring the young nation as a National Music Supervisor. In this role she helped to create and supervise music education in schools and kibbutzim throughout Israel. In the mid-1950s Nitza moved to Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, where she married the late composer Bonia Shur, with whom she had two children, Ahdda and Ophir Shur. There she founded and conducted the award winning girls’ choir Netzarim, heard frequently on Kol Yisrael. Netzarim, which focused on classical choral music, made a name for itself for its purity, musicality, and sweetness of sound. This was unusual for girls on the kibbutz since, as Nitza often explained, “In those days nobody sang in the high voice – everyone was an alto, or wanted to sound like that!” Netzarim’s recordings can still be heard in Kol Yisrael’s archives online. In the 1950s, as her own voice began to blossom, Nitza emerged as a leading concert soloist in Israel and as a progenitor of the Israeli art song genre.
In the early 1960s Nitza moved to southern California, where she continued her vocal studies with Lotte Lehmann and began coaching operatic roles with Fritz Zweig. She was invited to travel to Vienna with Lehmann, serving as her protege. There she met her second husband, the late operatic baritone Horst Niggemann (Niemann), with whom she had her third child, Michael Niemann. What began as a short-term engagement led to more than a decade off and on in Europe, as Nitza embarked on a career as an operatic soloist. The Israeli art song repertoire which Nitza had championed was revived during these years, and was met with critical acclaim in concert and on radio. Furthermore, while living in Germany she spearheaded a campaign for the preservation and restoration of the original synagogue building in the city of Detmold.
Nitza ran a successful private vocal studio in Beverly Hills for nearly four decades from the 1970s onward, teaching a plethora of students, ranging from school children to Hollywood celebrities. She continued to travel to Europe annually, where she taught summer master classes in Fribourg, Switzerland until 2001.
Nitza is survived by her daughter Ahdda Shur, and granddaughter Zahava Jaffe; her son, Michael Niemann and his wife Carolyn, and her grandsons Adam, Jacob, and Matthew Niemann. She was preceded in death by her beloved son, composer and songwriter Ophir Shur. Nitza’s contributions to the world as a teacher, a musician, and a humanitarian will live on in all of those whose lives she touched.