OP2552. LOHENGRIN, Live Performance, 27 Jan., 1940 (replete with Milton Cross’ commentaries) w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Elisabeth Rethberg, Kerstin Thorborg, Lauritz Melchior, Julius Huehn, Emanuel List & Leonard Warren; LAURITZ MELCHIOR: Rare Broadcast Recordings, 1935-36. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1018. Restoration & transfers by Richard Caniell. - 713757980906
“…the primary reason for this re-release [previously on Guild], is that Caniell has somehow succeeded in finding an even better source than he used in 2005 [for Guild]. In the first place, this new source is complete and therefore no interpolations from other performances are necessary, as was previously the case. This source even includes all of Milton Cross’ commentary, enabling us to hear the proceedings as they were originally broadcast in 1940. Futhermore, the sound quality of this new source is an improvement over the already excellent quality of the prior source. This fact, together with Caniell’s usual sonic wizardry, results in an astonishingly vivid aural experience, which gives us a startlingly realistic vocal picture of these legendary Wagnerian performers. Having said all this, the main reason for my increased enthusiasm is the fabulous quality of the performance….This is one of the absolutely supreme performances of LOHENGRIN. If you do not already possess it, waste no time in aquiring it!”
- Mel Siegel, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2012
"Rethberg suggests the paranoia which Ortrud has insinuated into her mind right from the start, and does not just sing beautifully. Melchior is, of course, wonderful. His voice shines like Lohengrin's armour, but he also has the ability so rare in heldentenors to sustain pianissimo legato....There is one real piece of unexpected luxury casting: the young Leonard Warren sings the role of the Herald...and does so magnificently....The recording, given its date and provenance, is excellent. There is power and punch to the big ensembles, and the quieter moments don't disappear into murk as they can so often do in early broadcasts. The voices come over with superb clarity and presence."
- Paul Steinson, CLASSICAL RECORDINGS QUARTERLY, Autumn, 2012
“This afternoon offers one of those legendary casts…with two American baritones of more than average promise, Julius Huehn and Leonard Warren….Thorborg is always a provocative artist….her word play is imaginative…and ‘Entweihte Götter!’ is fierce enough to summon any god – all in all, the work of a dedicated performer….Rethberg certainly can’t be accused of placidity for she becomes overly emotional in the final moments of the [Act III] duet….the quiet beauty of ‘Allewiger, erbarm’ dich mein!’ reminds us of the best Rethberg sound….[Melchior’s] Farewell to the Swan has a lovely legato…his moving ‘Leb’ wolhs’ have an Otello-like intensity."
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.161-63
“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
“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
"Erich Leinsdorf, a conductor whose abrasive intelligence and deep musical learning served as a conscience for two generations of conductors, had a utilitarian stage manner and his disdain of dramatic effects for their own sake stood out as a not-so-silent rebuke to his colleagues in this most glamorous of all musical jobs. In addition, Mr. Leinsdorf - in rehearsal, in the press and in his valuable book on conducting, THE COMPOSER'S ADVOCATE - never tired of pointing out gaps in culture among musicians, faulty editing among music publishers and errors in judgment or acts of ignorance among his fellow conductors. He rarely named his victims, but his messages and their targets were often clear. Moreover, he usually had the solid grasp of facts to support his contentions.
Mr. Leinsdorf moved to this country from Vienna in 1937. Helped by the recommendation of Arturo Toscanini, whom he had been assisting at the Salzburg Festival, Mr. Leinsdorf made his conducting début at the Metropolitan Opera a year later with DIE WALKÜRE. He was 25 years old at the time . A year later he was made overseer of the Met's German repertory, and his contentious style - in particular an insistence on textual accuracy and more rehearsal - won him no friends among singers like Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad. Backed by management, he remained at the Met until 1943. At the New York City Opera, where he became music director in 1956, Mr. Leinsdorf's demanding policies in matters of repertory and preparation made him further enemies, and he left a year later. His searches for permanent employment turned mostly to orchestras. After the briefest of tenures at the Cleveland Orchestra during World War II, Mr. Leinsdorf took over the Rochester Philharmonic and stayed for nine years.
Mr. Leinsdorf's last and most prestigious music directorship was at the Boston Symphony, where he replaced Charles Münch in 1962. No contrast in style could have been sharper: Münch had viewed conducting mystically, as a kind of priesthood; Mr. Leinsdorf's policy was to make performances work in the clearest and most rational way. Observers both in and out of the orchestra could not deny the benefits of Mr. Leinsdorf's discipline, but there were some who were hostile to what they perceived as an objectivity that could hardly be called heartwarming.
One American orchestra manager a few years ago responded to musicians' grumblings over Mr. Leinsdorf's rehearsal manner by saying that he was ‘good for my orchestra’. And so he probably was.”
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Sept., 1993