V0330. SET SVANHOLM, w.Kohler, Wettergren, Björker, Jonsson, etc.; Leo Blech Cond. Stockholm Ensemble: Aïda - Act I (in Swedish), Live Performance, 5 Jan., 1939; Grevillius Cond. Stockholm Ensemble, w.Berglund, Görlin, Björker, Herou, etc.: Die Meistersinger - Act I (in Swedish), Live Performance, 13 Sept., 1939; Elmendorff Cond. Bayreuth Festival Ensemble, w.Dalberg, Koch, Scheppan, etc.: Götterdämmerung - Excerpts, Live Performance, 21 July, 1942. (Austria) 2-Preiser 90332. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 717281903325
“Svanholm made his début in 1930 as a baritone, as Silvio in Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI, and became a member of the Royal Opera’s ensemble in 1932. All on his own, he began reworking his vocal technique to make the transition from baritone to tenor roles. He was a lyrical Italian baritone, known as ‘Kavalierbariton’ in German, and had always had an easy high register. One day he telephoned his old teacher John Forsell and announced that he had a promising new tenor that he would like to present – and surprised Forsell by coming to the appointed meeting all on his own!
Svanholm made his début as a tenor in February of 1936, as soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His operatic début followed on 22 September of the same year with Radames in Verdi’s AIDA. In the fall of 1937 he began to sing Wagner, with Lohengrin as his first role. In a short time he added Siegmund in DIE WALKÜRE, Tannhäuser, Stolzing in DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG, and both Siegfrieds to his Wagnerian repertoire.
Kirsten Flagstad, the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the age, remarked in her memoirs: ‘For me there was only one Siegmund . . . that was Set’. It is hard to disagree with her. The baritonal, metallic quality of Svanholm’s voice was a perfect match for this role. A commercial recording from 1957 (Decca) of DIE WALKÜRE, Act I, also presents Svanholm at his very best and Flagstad as a surprisingly youthful and convincing Sieglinde – at the age of 62!
Svanholm’s career outside Sweden began in 1938, on the eve of World War II. Bruno Walter had heard him in Stockholm, and invited him to Vienna where he made his début in LOHENGRIN. Performances in Germany, Austria, Zürich, Budapest and Prague soon followed. In 1942 he became the first Swede ever to sing at La Scala in Milan (TANNHÄUSER) and, in the same year, became the only Swede to appear in a major role at the Kriegsfestspiele in Bayreuth. Many vocal artists from politically ‘neutral’ Sweden sang in Germany during the war years: Jussi Björling, Sigurd Björling, Torsten Ralf, Sven Olof Sandberg, and Zarah Leander are names that come to mind. But apart from Leander, who was criticized severely after the war for her activities, Svanholm was probably the Swedish artist most active in the Third Reich during these years. He was a member of the ensemble of the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin and did not leave the German stages until 1944. There is no real indication that Svanholm was sympathetic to the political policies of the Nazi regime. One plausible explanation for his desire to remain in Germany was the opportunity of developing his interpretations of the great Wagnerian roles in collaboration with Heinz Tietjen, artistic director of the Bayreuther Festspiele from 1931 to 1944.
But Svanholm also had invitations from the Metropolitan, Chicago Lyric and San Francisco operas and in 1946 finally crossed the Atlantic for a glorious decade as the foremost Wagnerian tenor of the post-war era. Svanholm’s trans-Atlantic career began in South America, where he sang Siegmund and Tristan in Rio de Janeiro. His début at the Met was on 15 November, 1946 in the title role in Wagner’s SIEGFRIED. Svanholm was to remain under contract to the Met until 1956. The American critics and audiences saw Svanholm as the self-evident successor to Lauritz Melchior, who was nearing the end of his career. To an international public, Svanholm is recognized primarily as a great Wagnerian, but in fact, his repertoire, both in terms of art song and opera, was broad and diversified.
During his decade in the Americas Svanholm continued to sing at home and performed many roles from Italian and French repertoire, as well as Swedish rarities such as De Frumerie’s SINGOALLA and Atterberg’s FANAL. By 1956 he was weary of traveling, wanted to spend more time with his family, and thus accepted the position as General Manager of the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
In the aftermath of World War II Svanholm’s main repertoire was, with a few exceptions, ignored by the major record companies. A Wagner ‘Renaissance’ eventually occurred partly thanks to the commercial success of the Solti RING, in which Svanholm participated only as Loge in DAS RHEINGOLD. Many live recordings of this important musician, however, have been preserved.”
- Edmund St. Austell