Singer and singing teacher; born 30 December 1899 in Vienna, died 16 March 1968 in London.
The third daughter of the Viennese banker Paul Hammerschlag, Helene studied singing privately with Emmy Heim in Vienna, later performing in private opera productions and Lieder recitals. In 1925, she married the painter and art restorer Sebastian Isepp and she devoted herself to bringing up her children Konstanze and Martin.
Because of her Jewish background, the family was forced to emigrate to England in 1938. Sebastian Isepp was able to find work as a restorer for the National Gallery, and Helene began teaching singing in a Finishing School for young ladies. In 1945, the family moved to a house in Belsize Park, Hampstead, where Helene built up a successful teaching studio and held concerts. Counted amongst Helene's students are several illustrious names; Janet Baker, Jeannette Sinclair, Ilse Wolf, Engel Lund, Heather Harper and Sir Ralph Kohn all studied with her.
Helene was instrumental in developing singers’ careers, when she heard Leonard del Ferro in a small New York concert, she called his voice ‘the best and most beautiful voice since Caruso’. When she returned to London she told manager, John Coast, who immediately booked del Ferro for the UK. (Daily News, 12 March 1959, p. 3). One Irish singer, Bernadette Greevy, reported flying from Ireland every fortnight for a day’s singing lesson with Helene. (Liverpool Daily Post, 7 January 1965, p. 10).
The only report of Helene’s own performances is a note in Radio Times, which records a concert in which she sang a series of Wolf lieder on the BBC Radio’s Third Program, accompanied by Paul Hamburger in 1950.
Links and sources
Russell, Dave. 2017. "Reaching the Operatic Stage: The Geographical and Social Origins of British and Irish Opera Singers, c.1850–c.1960." Cambridge Opera Journal 29, no. 3: 312-352, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/reaching-operatic-stage-geographical-social/docview/2071676112/se-2