V1060. KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD, w.Merola Cond. San Francisco S.O.: Befreit, Allerseelen & Cäcilie (all Strauss); Götterdämmerung – Immolation Scene – Live Performance, 8 Oct., 1950; Der Fliegende Holländer – Trafft ihr das Schiff; Tristan – Liebestod; w.Set Svanholm: O sink’ hernieder – Live Performance, 9 Oct., 1949; w.Hye-Knudsen Cond. Danish Radio Ensemble: Alceste – Excerpts (in Norwegian & Danish), Live Performance, 14 April, 1957. VAI 1248. - 089948124825
“Mme Flagstad was the greatest singer and the greatest voice I have ever heard.”
- Vincent Sheean, FIRST AND LAST LOVE, pp.278-79
“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 1930's, 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
“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