OP2874. DIE WALKÜRE Act II, Live Performance, 13 Nov., 1936, w.Reiner Cond.San Francisco Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad, Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior, Kathryn Meisle, Friedrich Schorr & Emanuel List. Music & Arts 1272. [Replete with announcements and statements by Marcia Davenport, alas with the abrupt ending of Act II with Davenport's closing statement. 2013 digital restoration from newly-discovered broadcast transcription disks offering startling, brilliant sound! One hears these glorious singers as never before!] - 017685127229
"Reiner conducts with verve; Flagstad is splendid throughout; Lehmann is in good form; Melchior is superb - he and Flagstad make the Todesverkündigung scene alone worth the price of the disc."
- William Youngren, FANFARE
A marvelous collection of 'rarities'. Selected by producer Gary Hickling from archival radio performances and studio 'test pressings. All selections superbly restored in 2013 by Lani Spahr Includes a bonus CD-ROM featuring discographical information, liner notes, photos, texts and translations!
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
"If she had been born in Texas they would have called her a gusher, so impulsively did she pour out her voice in an exuberant, generous flood. The opening words of recording producer Walter Legge's appreciation go a long way toward explaining the Lotte Lehmann phenomenon. Richard Strauss wrote three roles with her extraordinary voice and personality in mind and she sang the premieres, gathering still more fans into the orbit of her art. While opera was the primary outlet for her talents, she made many magnificent lieder appearances, notably in the decade before her 1951 retirement. A number of favorite songs made their way to disc.
Lehmann was a Prussian by birth, but she captured the Viennese and gave of herself unreservedly as though she had been born one of them. A self-assured individual, she nonetheless had her battles with colleagues (especially those who sang the same roles as she) and occasionally found herself the victim of unfortunate timing. Her recordings still sell in significant numbers years after they were made.
Lehmann's father was a town government official who intended that his daughter have a thorough education, one which would prepare her for a career in teaching. Instead, in a high school in Berlin where the family had moved, she applied her unmistakable intelligence to the writing of poetry (an interest that remained her entire life) rather than being conscientious about her studies. This independence would manifest itself throughout her career.
Having sung from childhood, Lehmann was enthusiastic when a neighbor made possible an audition which led to vocal study at the Royal Academy of Music. Upon finishing there, she became a private pupil of Mathilde Malinger, who devoted herself to preparing Lehmann for a serious career. A three-year contract at the Hamburg Opera began inauspiciously, with small parts and tepid notices. Then, when conductor Otto Klemperer had to find a replacement for the role of Elsa in LOHENGRIN, Lehmann was asked to attempt the part. A period of intensive study brought her a triumph on opening night. Lost in Elsa's character, she gave the first of countless performances both vocally thrilling and dramatically absorbing. Quickly, other roles, including those in the French and Italian repertories, were assigned to her and, when an official from the Vienna Court Opera heard her one evening, she was engaged for that theater.
In Vienna, she achieved her highest measure of fame, steadily undertaking all the great roles that would be associated with her: Sieglinde, Leonore in FIDELIO, and the Marschallin. Strauss selected her to create the Composer in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, and Christine in INTERMEZZO. She made a début in 1924 at Covent Garden, performed between 1928 and 1934 at Paris, and joined the Chicago Opera in 1930. Her Metropolitan Opera début in 1934 as Sieglinde drew a ten-minute ovation at her first curtain call.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Lehmann renounced her native country, and resettled in Vienna. Upon news of the Anschluss, she moved to the United States and applied for citizenship there. After leaving the Met in 1945, she sang a final season at the San Francisco Opera before retiring from the stage. She continued to make recital appearances until 1951 when she retired from singing and devoted herself to teaching, writing, and painting. Although Lehmann never quite mastered her breath control, her exquisite, inimitable sound and instinctively imaginative phrasing made her one of the recording era's most treasurable singers.
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
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