In Aachen, Christa’s Viennese father, Anton Ludwig, a former tenor who had sung with Enrico Caruso at the old Met, was the opera house stage director and manager; her mother sang in the company, and performed several roles under an up-and-coming conductor named Herbert von Karajan. Christa saw those performances and many others. “I practically lived in the theater,” she said in her 1993 memoir, 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, going to her rehearsals and performances and living most of her life with Ms. Ludwig. “I really owe everything to her,” she said. But Ms. Ludwig also described her mother as an inflexible and sometimes suffocating presence who dominated her life before she felt able to cut ties only at age 60.
During the war, a half brother was killed on the Eastern front. Food was rationed and Christa was sent to work on a farm. The family’s home and belongings in Giessen, where Mr. Ludwig had become director of the municipal theater, were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, leaving them homeless. With the arrival of American troops, Ms. Ludwig recounted 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 voice lessons. “Studying singing was a wonderful way to forget the wretched way we lived, the ruins, the still-smoldering coal cellars, and the stink of ashes,” Ms. Ludwig wrote.
The young singer soon found work singing popular tunes at the American officers club, wearing a dress she had made from a Nazi flag. She was paid in cigarettes and stole whatever food she could. Once her father, who had been a member of the Nazi party, was denazified, he was given back his job and organized variety shows around town in which his daughter was featured.
Ms. Ludwig received her first major contract in 1946, at the Frankfurt Opera, and made her stage debut as Prince Orlofsky in “Die Fledermaus.” Her mother, recently divorced from her father, moved in with her in the city in an unheated room, and they began daily lessons.