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Mesaj  Admin Bir Cuma Mart 18, 2011 1:42 am

Kirsten Målfrid Flagstad (12 July 1895 – 7 December 1962) was a Norwegian opera singer and a highly regarded Wagnerian (dramatic) soprano. She ranks among the greatest singers of the 20th century; indeed, many opera critics called hers "the voice of the century." To quote Desmond Shawe-Taylor in New Grove Dictionary of Opera: "No one within living memory surpassed her in sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone."

Early life and career

Role photo. Kirsten Flagstad as Aida in Aida, opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Stora Teatern, Göteborg, Role debut 7 March 1929.

Flagstad was born in Hamar in her grandparents' home. Though she never actually lived in Hamar, she always considered it her home town. She was raised in Oslo within a musical family; her father was a conductor and her mother a pianist. She received her early musical training in Oslo and made her stage debut at the National Theatre in Oslo as Nuri in Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland in 1913. Her first recordings were made between 1913 and 1915.

Role photo. Kirsten Flagstad as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, operetta by Johann Strauss d.y. Tour with The Norwegian Operetta Accociation 1915. Role debut

After further study in Stockholm with Dr. Gillis Bratt, she pursued a career in opera and operetta in Norway. In 1919, she married her first husband Sigurd Hall and a year later gave birth to her only child, a daughter, Else Marie Hall. Later that year she signed up with the newly created Opera Comique in Oslo, under the direction of Alexander Varnay and Benno Singer. Varnay was the father of the famous soprano Astrid Varnay. Her ability to learn roles quickly was noted, often only taking a few days to do so. She sang Desdemona opposite Leo Slezak, Minnie, Amelia and other lesser roles at the Opera Comique.

She sang at the city theater of Göteborg, Sweden, between 1928 and 1932. Flagstad made her debut there singing Agathe in Der Freischütz by Weber. In 1930, a revival of Carl Nielsen's Saul and David featured Flagstad singing the role of Michal. On 31 May 1930 she married her second husband, the Norwegian industrialist and lumber merchant Henry Johansen, who subsequently helped her in expanding her career. In 1932 she made her debut in Rodelinda by George Frideric Handel. Some critics claimed that her voice was too big for Handel and much more suited to Wagner.

After singing operetta and lyric roles such as Marguerite in Faust for over a decade, Flagstad decided to take on heavier operatic roles such as Tosca and Aida. The part of Aida helped to unleash Flagstad's dramatic abilities. In 1932, she took on the role of Isolde in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde and appeared to have found her true voice. Ellen Gulbranson (1863–1946), a Norwegian soprano at Bayreuth, convinced Winifred Wagner to audition Flagstad for the Bayreuth Festival. Flagstad sang minor roles in 1933, but at the next season in 1934, she sang the roles of Sieglinde in Die Walküre and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung at the Festival.

Career at the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere

Flagstad's debut at the Met, as Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre on the afternoon of February 2, 1935 created a sensation, though it was not planned as a special event. Flagstad was virtually unknown in the United States at the time, and the Saturday afternoon slot was usually reserved for lesser-known singers while the top stars performed in the evening. The performance was, however, broadcast nationwide on the Met's weekly syndicated radio program, and the first inkling of the deluge of critical praise to come was given when intermission host and former Met star Geraldine Farrar discarded her prepared notes, overwhelmed by what she had just heard, and breathlessly announced that a new star had just been born. Days later, Flagstad sang Isolde, and later that month, she performed Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung for the first time. Before the end of the season, Flagstad sang Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and her first Kundry in Parsifal. Almost overnight, she had established herself as the pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano of the era. According to most critics, she still remains the supreme Wagnerian dramatic soprano on disc by virtue of her unique voice. It has been said that she saved the Metropolitan Opera from looming bankruptcy. Fidelio (1936 and later) was her only non-Wagnerian role at the Met before the war. In 1936, she performed all three Brünnhildes in the San Francisco Opera's Ring cycle. In 1937, she first appeared at the Chicago City Opera Company.

In 1936 and 1937, Flagstad performed the roles of Isolde, Brünnhilde, and Senta at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, under Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Reiner and Wilhelm Furtwängler, arousing as much enthusiasm there as she had in New York. She toured Australia in 1938, while her rendition of Brünnhilde's Battle Cry from Wagner's Die Walküre was captured on film in New York for a segment of the Hollywood variety show anthology The Big Broadcast of 1938.

However, her career at the Met was not without its ups-and-downs. Flagstad got involved in a long-running feud with tenor co-star Lauritz Melchior after Melchior took offense to some comments Flagstad made about "stupid publicity photos" during a game of bridge in Flagstad's hotel suite while the two were on tour together in Rochester NY. Present during the infamous bridge game was Flagstad, Melchior and his wife, and Edwin McArthur. From that point on, Melchior in turn fanned the flames further when he began insisting on no solo curtain calls for Flagstad when the two performed together. Audiences had no clue that despite the marvelous and sometimes historic performances, the two never said a word to each other off stage for the next two years. It was Flagstad's husband Henry Johansen who finally brought the two together to make peace. Flagstad also feuded with the Met's general manager, Edward Johnson, after conductor Artur Bodanzky's death, when she asked to be conducted for a few performances by her accompanist, Edwin McArthur, rather than by the Met's new conductor Erich Leinsdorf. Flagstad had wanted this for McArthur whom she had taken under her wing. In part because Leinsdorf needed the exposure because he was new as the Met's Wagnerian conductor, Johnson said absolutely not, and would not hear of it any further. Flagstad did get her way though, she went over Johnson's head by going directly to the Met's board of directors, namely, RCA founder and chairman, David Sarnoff. It was Sarnoff who made the arrangements for McArthur to begin conducting Met productions on a limited basis. Things got better with Johnson though, when just before Flagstad left the Met in 1941 she received 100 roses, courtesy of Melchior and Johnson, on the night of her 100th performance of Tristan. In response to repeated and cryptic cablegrams from her husband who had returned to Norway a year and a half earlier, Flagstad was forced to consider leaving the United States in 1941. Though naive to the political implications of someone of her fame and stature leaving the United States at the time for German occupied Norway, it was nonetheless a difficult decision for her. She had many friends, colleagues, and of course many fans all over the USA, but even more important, her daughter Else had married an american named Arthur Dusenberry and was living with her new husband on a dude ranch in Bozeman, Montana. It was Edwin McArthur who gave the bride away at the wedding in Bozeman a year earlier. Nonetheless, against the best advice from her friends and colleagues, including former president Herbert Hoover who pleaded with her during a lunch the two had together to stay out of Europe, she returned to Norway via Berlin in 1941. Though she only performed during the war in countries (such as Sweden and Switzerland) not occupied by German forces, this was no help in the storm of public opinion that hurt her personally and professionally for the next several years. Her husband was arrested after the war for war-time profiteering in German occupied Norway, involving his lumber business. This, together with her decision to remain in occupied Norway, made her unpopular, particularly in the United States. The Norwegian ambassador and the columnist Walter Winchell spoke out against her, and the anti-Nazi conductor Arturo Toscanini bypassed her for his NBC radio broadcasts, choosing the American dramatic soprano Helen Traubel instead. In a conciliatory gesture, in 1948 she performed several benefit concerts for the United Jewish Appeal. Flagstad eventually returned to the Metropolitan Opera, invited by its new general manager, Sir Rudolf Bing, who was furiously criticized for this choice: "The greatest soprano of this century must sing in the world's greatest opera house", he replied.

Later career

Kirsten Flagstad painted on a Norwegian Air Shuttle airliner

During four consecutive Covent Garden seasons, from 1948 to 1952, Flagstad repeated all her regular Wagnerian roles, including Kundry and Sieglinde. It was also during this time that she gave the world premiere of Richard Strauss's "Vier letzte Lieder" under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Royal Albert Hall. The final rehearsal on 22 May 1950, was a legendary performance and was captured on tape and is commercially available today. She toured South America in 1948 and returned to San Francisco in 1949 but was not invited back to the Met until Sir Rudolf Bing became manager. In the 1950-1951 season, although she was aged well into her 50s, Flagstad showed herself still in remarkable form as Isolde, Brünnhilde and Leonore.

She gave her farewell operatic performance at the Met on 1 April 1952 in the title role of Gluck's Alceste, and in London as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Mermaid Theatre (in the 1951 Festival of Britain season: the portrayal was recorded (in studio), and issued by EMI in January 1953 (see: Recordings).

After her retirement from the stage, she continued to give concert performances and record, primarily for Decca Records. She even made some stereophonic recordings, including excerpts from Wagner's operas with Hans Knappertsbusch and Sir Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1958, she sang the part of Fricka in Wagner's Das Rheingold, the first installment in Solti's first complete stereophonic set of the Ring Cycle, released by Decca on LP and reel-to-reel tape. She also spent time mentoring young singers in her native country, including contralto Eva Gustavson.


From 1958 to 1960, Flagstad was the general manager of the Norwegian National Opera. She died in Oslo from bone marrow cancer in 1962 at the age of 67.


The Kirsten Flagstad Museum in Hamar, Norway, contains a private collection of opera artifacts. Her costumes draw special attention, and include several examples on loan from the Metropolitan Opera Archives. Her portrait appears on the Norwegian 100 kroner bill and on the tail section of Norwegian Air Shuttle planes. "That voice! How can one describe it?" wrote opera critic Harold Schonberg in his New York Times obituary of Flagstad. "It was enormous, but did not sound enormous because it was never pushed or out of placement. It had a rather cool silvery quality, and was handled instrumentally, almost as though a huge violin was emitting legato phrases."


Early role photo of Kirsten Flagstad as Aagot in "The Mountain Adventure", opera by Waldemar Thrane. The Open Air Theatre at Frogner Park, Oslo 1915.

Of her many recordings, the complete Tristan und Isolde with Furtwängler is considered the finest representation of her interpretive art in its maturity. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest recordings of the work. Throughout her career she recorded numerous songs, by Grieg and others, and these are evidence of a voice that maintained its stable beauty during her many years in the limelight. A comprehensive survey of her recordings was released in several volumes on the Simax label.

Her pre-war recordings, which show her voice in its freshest brilliance and clarity, include studio recordings of Wagner arias, Beethoven arias, and Grieg songs, as well as duets from Lohengrin, Parsifal, and Tristan und Isolde with Lauritz Melchior. These have been (and probably still are) available on RCA/BMG CDs, as well as on good CD transfers from the Naxos, Preiser and Romophone companies.

Many Metropolitan Opera broadcasts also survive and have circulated among collectors and more recently on CD. These include:

Die Walküre, Act I and fragments from Act II from her 1935 début broadcast.
Tristan und Isolde, performances from 1935, 1937, and 1940 all readily available.
Tannhäuser: 1936, with Melchior and Tibbett, and 1941 (the latter having an official release on Metropolitan Opera LPs).
Siegfried: 1937, with Lauritz Melchior and Friedrich Schorr (available on Naxos and Guild labels).
Lohengrin: 1937, with René Maison
Fidelio: 1941 with Bruno Walter (available on Naxos)
Die Walküre: 1940, various labels.
Alceste: 1952 (available on Walhall)
After World War II, many important studio recordings followed including:

Wagner Scenes including the final duet from Siegfried (Testament CDs, licensed from EMI)
Götterdämmerung: Final Scene, with Furtwängler - EMI
Tristan und Isolde: Complete opera with Furtwängler - EMI
Norwegian Songs: EMI
Götterdämmerung: with Fjeldstad and Bjoner and Set Svanholm. 1956 - Urania and Walhall.
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Gebhard. From Teatro alla Scala with Furtwängler, Lorenz, Svanholm, Frantz. 1950
Perhaps her most famous operatic recording is the 1952 Tristan with Furtwängler, which has never been out of print. It is available from EMI and Naxos, among others. Another Tristan of note is the live performance from the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), with Viorica Ursuleac as Brangäne, Set Svanholm as Tristan, Hans Hotter as Kurvenal, conducted by Erich Kleiber.

Two live concerts are of particular historical significance:

Four Last Songs (Richard Strauss), final rehearsal for world premiere, (Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Wilhelm Furtwängler), London 22 May 1950. (Cetra Records LP (Italy only) Lo 501).
Carnegie Hall American farewell concert (Symphony of the Air, cond. McArthur), 20 March 1955. (Includes Die Walküre Act I excerpts; Götterdämmerung final scene, Tristan Liebestod, and Wesendonck Lieder (orchestral version).) (World Records LP T-366-7.)
Flagstad's celebrated 1951 appearance at the Mermaid Theatre, London in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is represented by a cast recording in which the Mermaid Belinda (Maggie Teyte) was replaced by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, but under the original direction of Geraint Jones. (HMV ALP 1026, EMG review January 1953).[8] A live performance with Teyte is available on the Walhall label.
The Alceste (original Italian version edited by Geraint Jones) in which she also made a farewell was recorded with Raoul Jobin, Alexander Young, Marion Lowe, Thomas Hemsley, Joan Clark, Rosemary Thayer, Geraint Jones Orchestra and singers, Geraint Jones (Decca LP LXT 5273-5276;. c. 1952)
After about 1955, she moved to Decca where in the autumn of her career further important studio recordings followed:

Several albums of Grieg, Sibelius, Brahms, etc., with orchestra and piano
Wagner arias with Knappertsbusch (stereo)
Acts I and III of Die Walküre (as Sieglinde and Brünnhilde respectively) as well as the Brünnhilde/Siegmund duet from Act II (these conducted variously by Knappertsbusch and Solti, as a sort of preparation for Decca's complete Ring project).
And her great valedictory as Fricka in the Decca Rheingold of 1958.


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