OP2600. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Live Performance, 8 Feb., 1941, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, Kerstin Thorborg, Alexander Kipnis, Julius Huehn, etc. (Germany) 3-Walhall 0367. - 4035122653670
“Flagstad offers plenty to admire….who could equal the masterly blend of tone, color, and shapely phrase as she invites Tristan to drink the love potion…or after the potion, the flood of gorgeous tone….in mid-opera, the vocal mechanism is fully primed, the musical ideas flow, and dramatic meaning deepens. The final scene of the opera is incredibly lovely, her Liebestod perfect in conception and execution, an ideal realized. Though Flagstad’s Isolde will never again be heard on the Metropolitan broadcasts, Melchior has yet another decade with the company. On this afternoon, his knight is as convincing as remembered – Tristan’s honor is always in good hands with him….Thorborg and Huehn operate on an equally high level….Of greater moment for the Met’s well-being is the advent of one of the greatest artists of the prewar period, Alexander Kipnis….In King Marke’s monologue he shows most of the qualities that made his artistry so distinctive. Few voices are as ebon-hued, but those that are have nothing like Kipnis’ open core, his songlike flow of rich tone.”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.258-260
"In King Marke's monologue [Kipnis] shows most of the qualities that made his artistry so distinctive. Few voices are as ebon-hued, but those that are have nothing Kipnis, open core, his songlike flow of rich tone....Vitality in the phrasing as well as the tone energizes the narrative sufficiently to avoid ennui."
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, p.260
“Alexander Kipnis entered the Warsaw Conservatory at age 19. In 1912 he traveled to Berlin, where he began studying voice with Ernst Grenzebach, who was also the teacher of Lauritz Melchior, Max Lorenz, and Meta Seinemeyer. While in Berlin, Kipnis, a Russian, was interned. Freed in 1915, he made his stage début in Hamburg, singing three Strauss songs as a ‘guest’ in the second act party scene of DIE FLEDERMAUS. In 1922 Kipnis joined the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin; from 1923–1932 he was on the roster of the Chicago Civic Opera; in 1927 he sang in PARSIFAL under Karl Muck at the Bayreuth Festival; and in 1938 he settled permanently in the United States. By the time of his Metropolitan Opera début in 1940 as Gurnemanz, he had sung at virtually every major opera house and festival, including the Colón, where he appeared in 1926, 1928, 1931, 1934–1936, and 1941. Following his retirement from the Metropolitan in 1946 (his last concert appearances were in 1951), he began teaching, first at the New York College of Music and then in 1966 at the Juilliard School. Alexander Kipnis’ voice was large and beautiful, admired particularly in the Russian repertory, and his acting talent, versatility, and skill as a lieder singer are also well-known.”
- Lia Frey-Rabine
“Lauritz Melchior trained with retired Danish tenor Vilhelm Herold. In 1918, now singing as a tenor, Melchior gave his first performance as Tannhäuser. 1924 saw his first performances at Bayreuth (Siegmund, Parsifal), and at Covent Garden (Siegmund), two of the most important theaters of his career. Another crucial debut came in 1926: the Metropolitan Opera, portraying Tannhäuser. The remainder of the 1920s passed by in a whirlwind of newness.
Although in the 1920s Melchior was planning to make Germany the center of his career, the unforeseen Nazification and Great Depression of the early 1930s in fact moved him away from that country's theaters, including ‘Hitler's Bayreuth’. After 1933, the majority of his opera season was spent at the Metropolitan. It was a Dionysiac time for Wagner performance. His only new operatic rôle in the 1930s was Florestan.
Melchior left the Met and the opera after a much publicized kafuffle with incoming General Manager Rudolf Bing, giving his last performance (Lohengrin) in February of 1950."
-Zillah D. Akron
“Kerstin Thorborg is a true contralto voice with a powerful top extension, making it eminently suitable for the special requirements of dramatic roles. Her top notes are prefectly placed and she sings with a rich and ample tone through the whole range. She is one of the great Wagnerin singers of the 20th century and all recordings in which she was involved are a ‘must’.
She gained great success, particularly as Brangäne. Bruno Walter became one of her most important mentors. Under Bruno Walter she sang the title role in Gluck’s ORFEO, and in 1936 with Walter she made gramophone history in the first ever recording of Mahler’s DAS LIED VON DER ERDE. She was most highly estimated by many great conductors, such as Georg Szell, Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Busch, Felix Weingartner, Hans Knappertsbusch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini and Victor de Sabata. In 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria, she broke her contract and left for the USA. There she had made her début already in 1936 at the Met. She stayed with this company until 1950, where she became one of the most successful mezzos, performing some three hundred nights during twelve seasons.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Thorborg was one of the finest artists before the public during her prime years in the 1930s. Celebrated by critics in London and New York, she was admired for her completeness as an artist, excelling in both opera and concert work, and adept in many areas of the repertoire. Attractive and supple on stage, she was regarded as among the finest actresses in opera. In the company of such fellow singers as Leider, Flagstad, Lehmann, Melchior, and Schorr, she made her era an outstanding one for Wagnerian performance.
Thorborg made her début at the Stockholm Opera in AÏDA, achieving a substantial success with her first Ortrud in 1924. The mezzo remained with the company until 1930 (also fulfilling numerous concert engagements) before accepting an offer from the Prague National Theatre and, subsequently, Nuremberg. After a successful series of performances in both houses, she was summoned to Berlin, where she was engaged by the Städtische Oper, singing there from 1932 to 1935. In 1935, she began appearing at Vienna Staatsoper and remained there until 1938. Her Salzburg roles between 1935 and 1937 included Orfeo, Magdalene, Brangäne, Donna Mercedes in Hugo Wolf's rarely performed DER CORREGIDOR, and Eglantine in Weber's EURYANTHE. In the midst of her European engagements, she managed to fit in a season at Buenos Aires as well.
In 1936, Thorborg made débuts at both Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, receiving praise for her consummate artistry. Her May appearance in DIE WALKÜRE prompted London's very particular Ernest Newman to describe her as ‘the finest Fricka I have ever seen or hope to see’. Later, Newman greeted her Kundry with these words: ‘She walks like a goddess, sits like a statue; and not a single gesture is wasted throughout the whole evening. All in all, I would rank her as the greatest Wagnerian actress of the present day’.
In New York, Thorborg's December début was again as Fricka, a performance also celebrated as that of a great actress. While critics deemed her somewhat too bright in tone, they greeted her portrayal as altogether exceptional. Thorborg was described as ‘a woman of regal and distinguished beauty, stately in bearing, slender, tall and straight’. The reviewer hailed her as ‘an actress of intelligence and skill and power’. Thorborg's appearances at Covent Garden ended before the outbreak of World War II, but her Metropolitan engagement extended over fifteen seasons, during which she proved herself a mainstay of the Wagnerian wing. In 243 performances, she ranged over nearly the entire range of Wagner roles for mezzo and contralto, also performing such parts as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, Octavian, Herodias, and Marina in BORIS GODUNOV. Thorborg sang two seasons at San Francisco (1938 and 1943) and in Chicago between 1942 and 1945.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Kipnis is not only an exceptional bass and singer but also a great musician. I do not know another bass who equals him in refinement, expressivity, flexibility, dignity and sonority. A special characteristic is the apparently limitless range of colours in a powerful voice capable of sustained dramatic statements. In addition to this came a guttural handling of words, a characteristic of his mother tongue, but it never distracted, indeed rather hightened the attractiveness of his extraordinary voice. You will notice a frequent use of portamento, and aspirations in his later years. What attracts me most is his personal warmth and intensity. He is capable of achieving deep-minded expression and profound insight into every rôle or song.
Listen to the arias of Cornelius’ Der BARBIER VON BAGDAD. He sings them with the right sense of humour and charm. Go to the incomparable and deeply moving interpretations of Brahms’ VIER ERNSTE GESÄNGE, Wolf’s MICHELANGELO-LIEDER or the Schubert lieder. Hear him as Gurnemanz, one of the most beautiful Wagner recordings ever made. He is simply overwhelming in Fiesco’s ‘Il lacerato spirito’ from SIMON BOCCANEGRA.
Alexander Kipnis studied conducting at the Warsaw Conservatory and went to Berlin where he received vocal tuition by Ernst Grenzebach (other students were Lauritz Melchior and Max Lorenz). He appeared at Hamburg in 1916 and at Wiesbaden from 1917 to 1922 and became the leading bass at the Berlin Städtische Oper (1919 - 1929). Thereafter he joined the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin State Opera and was engaged at the Bayreuth Festival. He was admired as an outstanding Wagner and Mozart singer as well as a great interpreter of Italian and Russian rôles. He soon became an accomplished lieder singer. By 1937 he was a familiar artist in most of the world’s leading opera houses, especially in America. He became an American citizien in 1931 and was a regular member of the Chicaco Opera from 1923 to 1932, making a late début at the Met as Gurnemanz in 1940. There he also appeared as King Marke, Arkel, Hermann, Hagen, Hunding, Ochs von Lerchenau, Sarastro, Nicalantha in Délibes’ LAKMÉ and Boris Godunov. He stayed at the Met until 1952. He appeared in extensive and tremendously successful concert tours throughout America. After his retirement he became a renowned vocal coach at the Manhattan School of Music, in New York.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile