OP2337. ELEKTRA, Live Performance, 25 March, 1961, w.Rosenstock Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Inge Borkh, Leonie Rysanek, Jean Madeira, Ramon Vinay, Hermann Uhde, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0354. - 4035122653540
“Inge Borkh, a soprano who inhabited with thrilling intensity some of the most hair-raising and daunting roles in the operatic repertoire, [was admired for] passionate portrayals [which] emerged through solid technique and secure, if fiery, tone. Howard Taubman, reviewing her in concert as Elektra at Carnegie Hall in 1958, wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES that she sang ‘with unremitting authority’, adding, ‘The word ‘sang’ is not used by courtesy, as it often has to be with Elektras’. (The role is so arduous that many sopranos practically scream through much of it.)
Ingeborg Simon was born on May 26, 1921, in Mannheim, Germany. Her father was Jewish, and the family fled Germany in 1935, after the rise of the Nazis, settling first in Geneva and then in Vienna.
Though her mother’s side of the family was dotted with singers, she began her education as an actress. After the Anschluss in 1938 she returned to Switzerland, where she encountered the bass Fritz Ollendorff, who recommended she develop her singing voice. She studied in Milan, and made her debut in 1940 in Lucerne, adopting Inge Borkh as her stage name.
Spending the 1940s in Switzerland, she swiftly moved from lighter lyrical roles to heavier ones in operas by Wagner, as well as the formidable Strauss antiheroines who became her calling cards.
In 1951, Ms. Borkh caused a sensation when she appeared in Berlin as Magda Sorel in Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera THE CONSUL, just a year after its debut. She ‘not only emerged with top honors for a brilliant performance’, Kathleen McLaughlin wrote in THE TIMES, ‘but also experienced that rarest of tributes for an actress by ‘stopping the show. The reaction of the audience’, Ms. McLaughlin added, ‘was an ovation of shouts, stamping and hand-clapping that lasted for several minutes’.
That success put Ms. Borkh on the international map, leading to debuts as far afield as London, New York and San Francisco, though her career remained focused on Continental Europe. She made few commercial recordings, but when her live performances were captured on disc they frequently became cult favorites - none more so than a delirious 1957 ELEKTRA at the Salzburg Festival led by Dimitri Mitropoulos, who also conducted her Met debut, as Salome, the next year. [Salome and Elektra], those two fiendishly difficult characters, were the ones for which Ms. Borkh was most renowned. She went on to appear at the Met as Sieglinde in Wagner’s DIE WALKÜRE, the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’ DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN and Leonore in Beethoven’s FIDELIO.
She retired from opera after a run of ELEKTRA in Palermo, Italy, in 1973, but continued to appear onstage as a monologuist and as a suave, witty cabaret artist; a memorable recording was made of her cabaret show, ‘Inge Borkh Sings Her Memoirs’.
- Zachary Woolfe, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28 Aug., 2018
"Rysanek is, first and foremost, an operatic actress. It is this quality that has led to her remarkable success. In everything she does, one senses total involvement with the dramatic aspects of the role. Without knowing whether this is true, I suspect she immerses herself completely in the libretto before studying out any of the vocal problems. An actress in the grand manner does not bother very much whether a role is in the creation of a German or an Italian librettist; her concern is with the flesh and blood of the woman being portrayed….Though the drama comes first, Rysanek has given the matter of voice a great deal of careful thought. She has a beautiful instrument to think about, and she wants to keep it that way."
- Alan Rich, OPERA NEWS, 6 March, 1965
“Leonie Rysanek was both a great actress and a great singer – ‘the singer with a thousand faces’. For decades she sang some of the most difficult rôles of the German and Italian repertories with dramatic intensity and a large vocal tone - her rapturous Sieglinde which she first sang in Bayreuth in 1951 is still much talked about, and there can be no question that she was (among many other rôles) memorable as Senta, Leonore, Elizabeth, Desdemona, Kundry, Donna Anna, Aïda and Arabella. In her later years, she took on the darker- toned character rôles of the repertories and triumphed in them as well. She was beloved in New York and Vienna where she spent most of her professional time and in every city where there was a great opera house. Altogether, she gave 3000 performances and sang 50 roles. It is said that while Vienna was to Ms. Rysanek a very special place (over 500 performances at the Staatsoper from 1950 on) , the Metropolitan Opera in New York was her operatic home. It was here where on 5 February, 1959 she first fascinated New York audiences as Lady Macbeth, a rôle that was to have been sung by Maria Callas. By all accounts it was a legendary performance, marking the beginning of an enduring love affair with MET audiences. After 300 performances, she gave her farewell performance at the MET on 2 January, 1996 as the Duchess in Tchaikovsky's QUEEN OF SPADES after which, amidst a tumultuous ovation which she shared with her husband Ernst-Ludwig Gausmann, she thanked the audience for the love and devotion they had shown her through the years. This scene repeated itself the following August at the Salzburg Festival House - after her farewell performance as Klytemnestra in Strauss' ELEKTRA, she thanked an adoring audience for a beautiful life, as indeed it was.”
- Dr. Peter Dusek, FAREWELL TO A VIENNESE DIVA
"[Rosenstock], like Bohm, could boast of a close relationship with Strauss. He had in fact earned the composer's imprimatur for his reading of ELEKTRA. In 1931, Strauss was reported to have whispered to Rosenstock after a Mannheim revival of the opera: 'Better conducted than composed'. [Borkh's] voice has its own attractions, not the least of which are a suggestive color in the upper octave and a rapid vibrato. The latter can be an asset in this opera, for it contributes to the eerie atmosphere of the piece.
Rysanek's Chrysothemis is a famous characterization, as thrilling to the auditor as it was to this viewer in the theatre. It is so on this occation, her first portrayal of the role at the Metropolitan. Madeira offers the most consistent portrayal of the afternoon. Her instrument seems made for the baleful Klytamnestra."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.318-20
"Born Jean Browning in Central Illinois, this contralto established for herself a singular identity among singers of the deepest, darkest roles for female voice. Tall and strikingly attractive, she possessed both the physical and vocal allure for Carmen and created a riveting portrait of Klytemnestra, both addled and imperious. The later role, perhaps the one with which she was most closely identified, was captured on disc in both studio (with Bohm) and on-stage at Salzburg (with Mitropoulos). Her RHEINGOLD Erda in Solti's RING was likewise striking, voiced with steady, earth-deep tones, a sound once likened to 'gleaming anthracite'."
Browning's father, half American Indian, half English, was a coal miner; her mother taught piano and soon included her daughter among her pupils. Upon her father's death, Browning moved with her family to St. Louis, where she won a scholarship to the Leo C. Miller School of Music. While a student there, she placed first in a competition whose prize was an appearance with the St. Louis Symphony. Under Vladimir Golschmann's direction, she performed Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. In 1941, Browning entered the Juilliard School of Music, where she majored in piano, but also pursued singing, making her debut as Nancy in von Flotow's MARTHA in a 1943 Chautauqua Summer Opera production. At Juilliard, she met and subsequently married a piano student, Francis Madeira, who later became conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, a faculty member at Brown University, and occasionally accompanied his wife following her transition to a full-time singing career.
Olga Samaroff urged the young woman in 1946 to concentrate on becoming a professional singer. While still studying voice at Juilliard, Jean Madeira (as she was by then known) began making appearances with such other groups as the (American) San Carlo Opera Company. Gian Carlo Menotti chose her in 1947 to alternate with Marie Powers in the title role of his THE MEDIUM on its European tour. That same year, she was the recipient of the St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award. In 1948, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the First Norn in a performance of DIE GOTTERDAMMERUNG, beginning her steady progress through such roles as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, and Dalila. In 1954, she began a series of European appearances taking her to Covent Garden, Stockholm, Munich, and Salzburg.
The fall of 1955 brought Madeira's debut at the Vienna Staatsoper in the role of Carmen, a triumph resulting in 45 curtain calls. When she sang Carmen at the Metropolitan in 1956, critic Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review, described her as 'an intelligent artist who gives thought to what she undertakes' and noted her effective use of her striking height. He also praised her portrayal by commenting, 'Mostly it was done with a suggestion of youthful suppleness not often seen'.
In addition to her almost 300 Metropolitan performances in some 41 roles, Madeira continued to appear elsewhere in America and Europe, offering her Carmen at Chicago, where critic Claudia Cassidy praised her as 'svelte, darkly beautiful, with a mezzo soprano streaked in burnt umber and edged with a threat', and at Aix-en-Provence. Her authoritative Erda was heard at Munich, London, and Bayreuth. In 1968, she took part in the premiere of Dallapiccola's ULISSE IN BERLIN, creating the role of Circe. She retired in 1971, shortly before her death in 1972."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Chilean tenor Ramón Vinay began his career as a baritone, later reworking his voice to the tenor range. For a decade or so, Vinay was a force to be reckoned with, a wonderful singing actor who excelled in such roles as Don José, Samson, Canio, and Otello. In the mid-late 1950s, the top notes became ever more precarious for Vinay, and he eventually returned to the baritone repertoire, and even some bass roles. Though Vinay was born in Chile, his father was French, and he studied in France. It’s not surprising then, that Vinay’s French pronunciation and grasp of the Gallic opera style are expert. And what sets Vinay’s José apart from other great exponents of [French repertoire], even legendary French artists, is the Chilean tenor’s arresting combination of a rich, vibrant, baritonal middle register with ringing high notes. It is true that, like many tenors who began as baritones, Vinay has some difficulty in scaling back his voice, particularly in the upper register.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March / April, 2018
“Hermann Uhde’s American mother was a student of the famous baritone Karl Scheidemantel. He was trained as a bass, by Philipp Kraus at the Opera School in Bremen, where he made his début as Titurel (1936). After engagements in Freiburg and Munich he appeared for the first time in baritone rôles at the Deutsches Theater im Haag in 1942. A prisoner-of-war from April 1945 to February 1946, he did not return to the stage until 1947. He subsequently appeared at the opera houses of Hamburg, Vienna and Munich where he became a member of the ensemble. He gained great success in rôles such as Mandryka, Gunther and Telramund, in which he was particularly admired. The artist was regularly invited to the Bayreuth Festival from 1951 to 1960 where he became one of its most important members, appearing as Holländer, Klingsor, Gunther, Donner, Wotan in RHEINGOLD, Telramund and Melot. He was also a guest at the Salzburg Festival and performed a superb Wozzeck at the Met (sung in English!) where he regularly appeared from 1955 to 1961 and again in 1964. He sang at the Grand Opéra Paris as well as at other European opera houses. He created several rôles, including Creon in Orff’s ANTIGONAE, the baritone rôles in Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA and Wagner-Régeny’s DAS BERGWERK ZU FALUN. He died of a heart attack during a performance of Niels Viggo Bentzon’s FAUST III, at Copenhagen in 1965.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile