OP2339. FIDELIO, Live Performance, 31 Dec., 1938, w.Bodanzky Cond. Kirsten Flagstad, René Maison, Friedrich Schorr, Emanuel List, Arnold Gábor, Marita Farell & Karl Laufkoetter. (Japan) 2-Music & Arts 619. Long out-of-print, final copy! NB: Glorious performance, albeit replete with clicks, pops, crackle and other unwanted noises, yet the brilliant performance comes through clearly!
“[Flagstad] displays a keen sense of the union of mood and tone, more so, in fact, than she does in formal song. Actually, one of her most expressive moments in the entire performance is a bit of spoken dialogue as she views her wasted husband in chains. Another gratifying addition to the catalog of Flagstad’s virtues is her feel for classical phraseology….Maison is in representative form and makes a convincing Florestan. List sings Rocco as well as anything he has undertaken in these years….Schorr and List, Flagstad and Lehmann, and Bodanzky sustain the integrity of the German wing in these adjuncts to the Wagner vogue of the 1930s….”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.175-77
“Born into a musical family (her father was a conductor, her mother a pianist and vocal coach), Kirsten Flagstad studied music from an early age and made her début while still a student as Nuri in d'Albert's TIEFLAND in 1913. For the following 18 years, she sang only in the Scandinavian countries in such works as DER FREISCHÜTZ and DIE FLEDERMAUS (the rôle she performed most often in her career). In 1932, she sang her first Isolde in a guest performance in Berlin. This lead to an audition at Bayreuth where she sang Sieglinde and Gutrune in 1934.
She attained overnight worldwide recognition after her 2 February, 1935, Metropolitan Opera début as Sieglinde, and her Isolde followed four days later. By 17 April of that year, she had also sung in that house Brünnhilde in both DIE WALKÜRE and GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, Elsa in LOHENGRIN, Elisabeth in TANNHÄUSER and Kundry in PARISFAL. From that time, she was regarded by many to be the best Wagnerian soprano in the world, although her rivals included Frida Leider, Marjorie Lawrence and Helen Traubel. In 1936 and 1937, she sang Isolde, Brünnhilde, and Senta in London to great acclaim. During this period she also sang at San Francisco, Chicago, and Buenos Aires.
In 1941, Flagstad returned to Norway to be with her husband, which led to rumors that she was a Nazi sympathizer. However, the only appearances she made outside of Norway were in Switzerland. She never sang for Nazi officials at any time. Her husband, who had business dealings with the occupation forces as well as the resistance, was arrested after the war, and she had to overcome hard feelings held by many. Her first major appearances were in London singing Isolde and Brünnhilde. She sang four seasons at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and then appeared in a fabled production of Purcell's DIDO AND AENEAS at the Mermaid Theater. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera in 1950 and during her final seasons there sang Brünnhilde, Isolde, Fidelio, and the title rôle in Gluck's ALCESTE, the rôle of her farewell. In 1949 and 1950, she appeared in FIDELIO at the Salzburg Festival, her only appearances there.
In 1950, she sang the world première of the ‘Four Last Songs’ by Richard Strauss in London under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler, who led many of her greatest performances and recordings. Throughout her career, she gave recital tours bringing to the public many fine songs by Scandinavian composers, especially Sibelius and Grieg. Her concert repertoire ranged from the Beethoven MISSA SOLEMNIS and Rossini's STABAT MATER to songs of Schubert, Brahms, and Mahler. After her retirement from the opera stage, she continued to appear in recital and concert until 1957. Her last appearance in the United States came in a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall for the Symphony of the Air. After her retirement, she continued to make recordings, including a highly acclaimed performance of Fricka in the first complete recording of DAS RHEINGOLD, and in 1958 was named general manager of the new Norwegian National Opera.
The voice of Kirsten Flagstad was a full dramatic soprano with great warmth. Unlike the voice of Birgit Nilsson, which was like a laser beam, Flagstad's voice enveloped the listener in a cushion of sound. She brought her characters to life primarily through vocal means; the overt theatricality of the later twentieth century was not part of her dramatic arsenal nor was it seen in any of her colleagues. Her many appearances with Lauritz Melchior at the Metropolitan Opera and at other houses in the 1930s made the music dramas of Wagner the core of the repertoire at these houses.”
- Richard LeSueur, allmusic.com
“[Maison’s] efforts are to be applauded, as they are most fulfilling in every musical and artistic aspect imaginable, and underline the fact that he was one of the most histrionically and vocally talented tenors of his generation….René Maison’s voice has a timbre that…can perhaps be compared to a slightly dry, yet rich and full-bodied red wine. He was a big man physically, and his repertoire and the tone emitted on his recordings do indicate size, weight and a delivery that (according to critical reviews) must have demonstrated excellent projection.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2011