OP1563. DIDO AND AENEAS (Purcell), recorded 1952, w.Geraint Jones Cond. Mermaid Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Thomas Hemsley, Arda Mandikian, Sheila Rex, etc. (E.U.) EMI CDH 7810062. Final Copy! - 5099976100628
"The Dido of Mme Flagstad is a poignant and revealing achievement
.In Didos music, her magnificent vocal control, beauty of tone, and variety of expressive colour are of sovereign interpretive power."
- THE LONDON TIMES, 10 Sept., 1951
Pride of place in this column belongs to the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the 20th century (and probably the 19th as well), Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962). Flagstad made her début at the age of 18 in her native Norway, but her voice developed slowly and she sang mostly light roles in operettas and musical comedies and only in Scandinavia until 1932. By then her voice had greatly deepened and her artistry matured, and her late entry onto the world's stages was spectacular. By the late 1930s, when I first heard her live at the Met, she was internationally famous, but her reputation suffered during WWII, when she was made suspect by her husband's association with the Norwegian Nazis, and it took some time before she was welcomed back to recital stages in the U.S. and elsewhere.
She was a shy, self-contained woman who looked and behaved like a simple hausfrau; she refused to be a prima donna and always insisted her greatest desire was to retire to Norway and spend her life with her husband and children. Watching her knitting placidly or playing solitaire in the wings before she went on stage, observers often wondered whether she really understood what she was doing out there as Brünnhilde or Isolde. The answer was in her performances and is on these discs, in which astounding vocal beauty is combined with great passion and musical insight in deeply felt and deeply moving performances. Hearing her powerful, pure, golden tones ring out effortlessly above the loudest orchestral sound is one of the most electrifying vocal experiences you will encounter. If her characterizations often seemed more stately and restrained than vivid, she made up for it by her musical intelligence, her impeccable intonation and diction, her perfect breath control (which enabled her to produce flawless legato lines), and the radiance, brilliance, ease, and intoxicating beauty of her singing.
- Alexander J. Morin, Classical.Net
The [last] years were not kind to soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, an all-but-universally-adored diva - a beautiful and enormously popular opera star, a revered interpreter of German art song, a central figure in some of the most celebrated recordings of the mid-20th century
.her harshly imperious manner in the master classes she gave after retirement infuriated many of her gentler colleagues. She terrified the young Renée Fleming, among others.
Moreover, styles of classical singing had changed, and some listeners found themselves agreeing with the late critic B.H. Haggin, who once complained of Schwarzkopf's excessively mannered and affected phrasing and expressive hamming, exaggerated pouting, archness, gasps and whispers. The cliché about the forest and the trees could be adapted for Schwarzkopf: There were times when one could hardly hear the music for the interpretation.
Nevertheless, she was a very great artist, one who combined a lustrous and opulent voice, a thespian's gift for intimate characterization, a sharp, creative intelligence and an innate artistic dignity
.with Schwarzkopf's death, an era seems well and truly at an end.
Nobody was better placed to benefit from [the new LP] activity than Schwarzkopf, who was married to the all-powerful Walter Legge, then artistic director of EMI Records. He guided and guarded her career with obsessive devotion, and we are the richer for their collaborations.
The best evaluation of Schwarzkopf remains that of the English critic J.B. Steane in his invaluable book THE GREAT TRADITION: The thought and art are so marvelously exact that one wants to call them calculated, which immediately suggests something unfeeling and insincere; yet this is self-evidently absurd, for insincerity, like sentimentality, betrays itself by inexactness and distortion. What one has in Schwarzkopf is a high degree of awareness -- of colors and styles, and of the existence of choice.
- Tim Page, WASHINGTON POST, 4 Aug., 2006