OP1946. FIDELIO, Live Performance, 10 March, 1951, w.Walter Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, Set Svanholm, Paul Schöffler, Dezsö Ernster, Jerome Hines, Nadine Conner, Peter Klein, Brian Sullivan, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0285. - 4035122652857
“The swath of [Flagstad’s] voice has the remembered density, more heavily weighted to the lower winds now , with a little less blaze of color to give life to her tones. Her instrument gains in vibrancy and flow as the opera progresses….the voice is unlike any heard before or since – in size, color, and security simply a marvel.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.44
“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
“[Svanholm] became a very famous Wagnerian tenor, at Swedish Royal Opera filling the void left by Oscar Ralf’s retirement. [He was a] versatile and an intense actor.
- Richard T. Soper, NORDIC VOICE
“Svanholm made his début in 1930 as a baritone, as Silvio in Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI, and became a member of the Royal Opera’s ensemble in 1932. All on his own, he began reworking his vocal technique to make the transition from baritone to tenor roles. He was a lyrical Italian baritone, known as ‘Kavalierbariton’ in German, and had always had an easy high register. One day he telephoned his old teacher John Forsell and announced that he had a promising new tenor that he would like to present – and surprised Forsell by coming to the appointed meeting all on his own!
Svanholm made his début as a tenor in February of 1936, as soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His operatic début followed on 22 September of the same year with Radames in Verdi’s AIDA. In the fall of 1937 he began to sing Wagner, with Lohengrin as his first role. In a short time he added Siegmund in DIE WALKÜRE, Tannhäuser, Stolzing in DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG, and both Siegfrieds to his Wagnerian repertoire.
Kirsten Flagstad, the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the age, remarked in her memoirs: ‘For me there was only one Siegmund . . . that was Set’. It is hard to disagree with her. The baritonal, metallic quality of Svanholm’s voice was a perfect match for this role. A commercial recording from 1957 (Decca) of DIE WALKÜRE, Act I, also presents Svanholm at his very best and Flagstad as a surprisingly youthful and convincing Sieglinde – at the age of 62!
Svanholm’s career outside Sweden began in 1938, on the eve of World War II. Bruno Walter had heard him in Stockholm, and invited him to Vienna where he made his début in LOHENGRIN. Performances in Germany, Austria, Zürich, Budapest and Prague soon followed. In 1942 he became the first Swede ever to sing at La Scala in Milan (TANNHÄUSER) and, in the same year, became the only Swede to appear in a major role at the Kriegsfestspiele in Bayreuth. Many vocal artists from politically ‘neutral’ Sweden sang in Germany during the war years: Jussi Björling, Sigurd Björling, Torsten Ralf, Sven Olof Sandberg, and Zarah Leander are names that come to mind. But apart from Leander, who was criticized severely after the war for her activities, Svanholm was probably the Swedish artist most active in the Third Reich during these years. He was a member of the ensemble of the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin and did not leave the German stages until 1944. There is no real indication that Svanholm was sympathetic to the political policies of the Nazi regime. One plausible explanation for his desire to remain in Germany was the opportunity of developing his interpretations of the great Wagnerian roles in collaboration with Heinz Tietjen, artistic director of the Bayreuther Festspiele from 1931 to 1944.
But Svanholm also had invitations from the Metropolitan, Chicago Lyric and San Francisco operas and in 1946 finally crossed the Atlantic for a glorious decade as the foremost Wagnerian tenor of the post-war era. Svanholm’s trans-Atlantic career began in South America, where he sang Siegmund and Tristan in Rio de Janeiro. His début at the Met was on 15 November, 1946 in the title role in Wagner’s SIEGFRIED. Svanholm was to remain under contract to the Met until 1956. The American critics and audiences saw Svanholm as the self-evident successor to Lauritz Melchior, who was nearing the end of his career. To an international public, Svanholm is recognized primarily as a great Wagnerian, but in fact, his repertoire, both in terms of art song and opera, was broad and diversified.
During his decade in the Americas Svanholm continued to sing at home and performed many roles from Italian and French repertoire, as well as Swedish rarities such as De Frumerie’s SINGOALLA and Atterberg’s FANAL. By 1956 he was weary of traveling, wanted to spend more time with his family, and thus accepted the position as General Manager of the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
In the aftermath of World War II Svanholm’s main repertoire was, with a few exceptions, ignored by the major record companies. A Wagner ‘Renaissance’ eventually occurred partly thanks to the commercial success of the Solti RING, in which Svanholm participated only as Loge in DAS RHEINGOLD. Many live recordings of this important musician, however, have been preserved.”
- Edmund St. Austell
“Brian Sullivan was born on 9 August, 1912 in Oakland, California. He was an actor, known for Cavalcade of Stars (1949), The Ed Sullivan Show (1948) and Musical Comedy Time (1950).
A versatile, boyishly good-looking (in his younger days) tenor, he came from Broadway to spend fourteen seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, beginning with the title role in Benjamin Britten's PETER GRIMES in 1948. Other frequent roles with the company included Alfred in Johann Strauss II's DIE FLEDERMAUS, Tamino in Mozart's ZAUBERFLÖTE, Grigori in Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV, and the title role in Wagner's LOHENGRIN. From what I can glean from the Internet and The Met Archives, Brian Sullivan sang in 162 performances at The Met, including his first performance as Peter Grimes 23 Feb., 1948, and ending with Alceste in 1961. He enjoyed an active career in the United States and Europe.
Brian Sullivan believed he had been engaged to sing in Wagner’s GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG in Switzerland. Apparently, he believed that he was contracted to star in the production but, in actuality, was just the understudy to the star, Claude Heater. When he failed to find an opportunity to sing in the production, Sullivan drowned himself on 17 June, 1969, as did Peter Grimes, a case of Life Imitating Art.”
- Lloyd L. Thoms Jr., Greenville, Wilmington, Delaware