She joined the Vienna State Opera in 1955, where she became one of its principal artists and was appointed Kammersängerin in 1962 and performed with the company for more than thirty years. In 1954, Ludwig made her debut at the Salzburg Festival as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, and appeared there regularly until 1981. Ludwig made her debut as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuth Festival in 1966. In 1960, she performed as Adalgisa alongside Maria Callas as Norma, in Bellini's opera by the same title. Ludwig made her American debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Dorabella in Così fan tutte in 1959.
That same year, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in as Cherubino, and subsequently sang 121 performances until 1993, including the Met premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Ludwig first appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1969 as Amneris in Aida. As Ludwig's voice matured, she expanded her repertoire from lyric and spinto mezzo-roles to dramatic roles. Her vast repertory eventually grew to encompass Carmen, Ulrica (Un ballo in maschera), Monteverdi's Octavia (L'incoronazione di Poppea), Dido (Les Troyens), Kundry (Parsifal), Klytemnestra (Elektra) and contemporary roles by von Einem and Orff. She also ventured briefly into the spinto and dramatic soprano repertory with performances of Verdi's Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Strauss's Dyer's Wife (Die Frau ohne Schatten), the Marschallin (Der Rosenkavalier) and Beethoven's Leonore (Fidelio) . In addition to her opera performances, Ludwig regularly gave recitals of Lieder and as a soloist with orchestras.
Her performances of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler and Strauss are much admired. She also sang Bach and performed and recorded most of his major vocal works. From 1957 to 1970, Ludwig was married to the bass-baritone Walter Berry; the couple performed together frequently, notably in Die Frau ohne Schatten. In 1972, she married the French stage-manager Paul-Emile Deiber. In 1993–1994, Ludwig gave a series of farewell recitals in many cities and made her farewell appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Fricka in Die Walküre. Ludwig's final live operatic performance was Klytemnestra in Elektra for the Vienna State Opera in 1994. The same year, Ludwig published a memoir with Peter Csobádi. Two English translations of the book are available. Currently, Ludwig spends her time giving many Master Classes.
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