OP0121. ELEKTRA, Live Performance, 25 Dec., 1949, Carnegie Hall, w.Mitropoulos Cond. NYPO; Astrid Varnay, Elena Nikolaidi, Irene Jessner, Frederick Jagel, Herbert Janssen, etc.; ASTRID VARNAY: Arias from Der Fliegende Holländer, Cavalleria, Oberon, Der Freischütz, Hérodiade, Manon Lescaut & Ballo; w.Richard Tucker & Leonard Warren: Simon Boccanegra -Act I Excerpts, 28 Jan., 1950. (England) 2-Guild 2213/14. Final Sealed Copy! - 795754221428
"This is an historic performance done on Christmas Day, 25 Dec., 1949. Mitropoulos conducts ELEKTRA with Astrid Varnay in the title role. Astrid Varnay's refulgent tone is perfect for Elektra. The performance is incandescent, a superb record of a legendary performance. Astrid Varnay meets all the superhuman demands of the score, and then some. She even adds a high B right at the end of the opera to increase the excitement. If you are opera lover, this is for you. If you are just a normal opera shopper who want one set and have no interest in listening to historic performances with ancient sound quality, then this is not for you - the Solti ELEKTRA with Decca would be the one to go for. For collectors, this is great to add to your collection - also a very important scholastic and historic document of one of the best ELEKTRA performances from last century. Today, there are no Elektras that can match Varnay in her prime.
The dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay was born into an operatic family: her mother was a coloratura soprano and her father a spinto tenor. The year in which she was born they founded the Opera Comique Theatre in Kristiania, Sweden, although they were both born in Hungary, and they managed it until 1921.The family then moved to Argentina and later to New York, where her father died in 1924. Her mother subsequently remarried another tenor, and the young Astrid, after studying to be a pianist, decided at the age of eighteen to become a singer. She worked intensively, first with her mother and then with the Metropolitan Opera conductor and coach Hermann Weigert, whom she later married. She made her sensational stage début at the Metropolitan in 1941, substituting at short notice for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in DIE WALKÜRE with no rehearsal. After this triumph, six days later she replaced Helen Traubel in the same opera as Brünnhilde, and her operatic career was effectively launched. She made her Covent Garden début in 1948 and, at the suggestion of Kirsten Flagstad, her Bayreuth Festival début in 1951. She sang every year at Bayreuth for the next seventeen years and at the Met until 1956, when she left following a disagreement with Rudolf Bing. She henceforth concentrated her career on Germany where she was revered, living in Munich. She moved from the dramatic soprano repertoire into that for mezzo-soprano in 1969, and during the 1980s into character parts. She made her last appearance in Munich in 1995, almost fifty-five years after her Metropolitan début. Her brilliant career is well documented in both commercial and unofficial sound recordings."
- David Patmore
“Elena Nikolaidi was a noted Greek-American opera singer and teacher. Nikolaidi sang leading mezzo-soprano roles with major opera companies worldwide and made numerous recordings. She made her début with orchestra in Athens in a performance conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. Her first stage appearance was in the premiere of THE GHOST BRIDGE by Theophrastos Sakellaridis.
In 1936, Nikolaidi traveled to Vienna to compete in the Belvedere vocal competition. She placed fourth but earned a second hearing with the great conductor Bruno Walter, which resulted in her being cast as Princess Eboli in Verdi's DON CARLOS with the Vienna State Opera on16 December, 1936. She became a star in Vienna; after one performance as CARMEN she received an ovation reported as being between 15 and 30 minutes in length—the longest ever recorded there. In 1948, Nikolaidi came to the United States with her husband and their son. She made her Town Hall début recital in New York in 1949. The following morning, Jerome D. Bohm of THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE wrote: ‘In 20 years of music reviewing and in twice that number spent in listening to most of the world's best singers, I have encountered no greater voice or vocalist’; THE NEW YORK TIMES critic wrote of her ‘rare brilliance’. She made her American operatic début as Amneris in Verdi's AÏDA with the San Francisco Opera and reprised the role for her Metropolitan Opera début in 1951, alongside the debut of George London. In the early 1960s she retired from opera but continued concertizing extensively for a number of years.”
- Ned Ludd
“Conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos stood apart from the European traditions that dominated first-rank American orchestras for much of the twentieth century. After attending the Athens Conservatory, where he studied piano and composition, his opera BÉATRICE was presented there. The French composer Saint-Saëns was in the audience, and was so impressed that he arranged a scholarship that enabled the 24-year-old to study composition with the Belgian composer Paul Gilson and piano with Busoni in Berlin. Busoni persuaded him to abandon composition and concentrate on becoming a conductor.
From 1921 to 1925, Mitropoulos assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera and on Kleiber's recommendation, was appointed conductor of the Hellenic Conservatory Symphony Orchestra in Athens. In 1927, he became conductor of the Greek State Symphony Orchestra and in 1930 was engaged to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, where he instituted the practice of conducting from the piano.
In 1937 Mitropoulos succeeded Eugene Ormandy as musical director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. He became a U.S. citizen in 1946, and remained in America until 1959. After 12 years in Minneapolis, he was invited to share the conductorship of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Stokowski, becoming its conductor when Stokowski resigned in 1950. Mitropoulos resigned the post after sharing the podium with Leonard Bernstein, his co-principal conductor, in the Orchestra's 1958 tour of Latin America. From 1954, he was a dynamic force as Bruno Walter's successor at the Metropolitan Opera, where he introduced many new operas, including ones by Richard Strauss and Samuel Barber.
Mitropoulos never conducted his own works, but considered his best composition to be a Concerto Grosso written in 1929. He lived simply and took little part in social activities. His conducting style was passionate, highly-charged and demonstrative; he had a phenomenal memory and rarely used a baton. He programmed much modern music and particularly admired Schönberg and the Second Viennese School, such as Webern and Berg, as well as twentieth century American and British composers. His recording of Mahler's First Symphony made with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1941 was the first ever made in the U.S. of that work, and Mitropoulos was awarded the American Mahler Medal of Honor in 1950 for his work in promoting the composer's music. He died while rehearsing Mahler's Third Symphony with Toscanini's famous La Scala Orchestra.”
- Roy Brewer, allmusic.com