Ernestine Schumann-Heink was a celebrated operatic contralto, noted for the size, beauty, tonal richness, flexibility and wide range of her voice.
She was born as Tini Rössler to a German-speaking family in the town of Libe?, near Prague. Her father Hans Rössler was a shoe maker; while previously serving as an Austrian cavalry officer, he had been stationed in northern Italy, where he met and married Charlotte Goldman, with whom he returned to Libe?. When Ernestine was three years old, the family moved to Verona. In 1866, at the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War, the family moved to Prague, where she was schooled at the Ursuline Convent. At war’s end, the Roesslers moved to Podgórze, now part of Kraków. The family moved again to Graz when Tini was thirteen. Here she met Marietta von LeClair, a retired opera singer who agreed to give her voice lessons.
In 1877 she made her first professional performance, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Graz, appearing with soprano Maria Wilt, and her operatic debut at Dresden’s Royal Opera House on October 15, 1878 as Azucena in Il trovatore.
In 1882 she married Ernest Heink, secretary of the Dresden Opera, with whom she had four children; this violated the terms of their contracts, and both were abruptly terminated from their positions. Heink took a job at the local customs house and was soon transferred to Hamburg. Ernestine remained in Dresden to pursue her career, and eventually rejoined her husband when she secured a position at the Hamburg Opera. One of their children, Ferdinand Schumann-Heink was a prolific, though mostly unbilled Hollywood character actor.