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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Set Svanholm: The Many Sides of a Great Musician

Today it is my great pleasure to present another in our series of guest commentators, Dr.Marie-Louise Rodén, whose photo appears to the left. Professor Rodén is Swedish but grew up in the United States and received a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. She is currently Professor of History at Kristianstad University in Sweden, and her research specialty has been the political development of the Roman Papacy in the Early Modern Period. She also has a background in classical music and is currently, together with Daniele D. Godor, preparing a biography of Set Svanholm, which will be published in 2014.


No one living in Sweden can have failed to notice that 2011 marks the centenary of the popular Swedish tenor Johan Jonatan “Jussi” Björling (1911-1960). Jussi fan clubs across the country have had a field day. Radio programs, television documentaries and biographical works have literally rained on his compatriots this past spring. I thought it might be time to redress the balance by introducing readers to another renowned Swedish tenor, Set Svanholm (1904-64.)

Early Years

Set Svanholm was born in Västerås as the second of three sons to Viktor Svanholm and his wife Beda. Viktor Svanholm came from a poor family in Västergötland and signed on as kitchen boy on a cargo boat at the age of 13. An accident with firearms cost him his sight, and two years later he was enrolled at the Manilla school for the blind in Stockholm. When he returned home after completing his education, a sermon by a visiting preacher made such a deep impression on him that he decided to become a clergyman himself. Viktor Svanholm thus became a preacher in a free-church movement, the “Evangelical Foundation for the Fatherland (EFS)”. In an essay about his father from 1963, Set Svanholm recalled that it was his task, even as a schoolboy, to play the organ in religious services. The hymns sung at these services, “with tones from Zion” made an indelible impression on him and shaped his musical sensibilities.

Set Svanholm graduated from gymnasium in 1922 and almost immediately obtained his first position as organist and choir director in Tillberga. In the following years, he completed both elementary and advanced degrees in organ and church music, as well as a general teacher’s certificate and one in music education. In 1929 he obtained the prestigious post of cantor in St. Jakob’s Church in Stockholm, which he retained until 1950. Here is his earliest known recording, (1934) where he is featured as conductor, leading the St. Jakob's choir in the Bach chorale “Jesu, nådens källa (Jesus, Font of Grace.)” It is a brief selection, but provides a good introduction to his musical sophistication and mastery of classical form. He was, from the beginning, a formidable musician:

St. Jakob’s Church was conveniently located right opposite the Royal Opera, and during his first years as conductor Svanholm had a promising tenor among his choristers – Jussi Björling. As Björling’s operatic career prospered, he started skipping rehearsals or just “marking” notes instead of singing with full voice. When Svanholm reprimanded him, Björling quit abruptly by stomping out of the church, slamming the door behind him, only to open it again. He stuck his head in to say: “Get yourself a better tenor – if you can!”

From Church Musician to Opera Singer

Both Svanholm and Björling were voice students of the well-known baritone John Forsell (1868-1941), as was the soprano Nini Högstedt (1909-98) who became Svanholm’s wife in 1934 and gave up her singing career. She then bore him six children, as Anna Russell would have put it.

Svanholm made his debut 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 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 debut as a tenor in February of 1936, as soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His operatic debut followed on September 22 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. Here is Svanholm as Siegmund, in an exceptionally good live recording from 1954:

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962), 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!

Swedish Heldentenor in the Third Reich

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 debut 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 (1881-1967), artistic director of the Bayreuther Festspiele from 1931 to 1944.

But Svanholm also had firm 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.

International Acclaim

Svanholm’s trans-Atlantic career began in South America, where he sang Siegmund and Tristan in Rio de Janeiro. His debut at the Met was on November 15, 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 (1890-1973), who was nearing the end of his career. Svanholm was unanimously appreciated for his athletic physique (he was only 5 feet 8 inches tall and quite trim at around 136 lbs), but above all for his intelligence, sophisticated musicianship and scrupulous adherence to the score: all of which stood in sharp contrast to the interpretations of “the Great Dane!"

To an international public, Svanholm is primarily recognized as a great Wagnerian, but in fact, his repertoire, both in terms of art song and opera, was broad and diversified. As a last excerpt, here is his interpretation of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig. This recording comes from a Liederabend in 1949 at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Svanholm is accompanied by the fantastic Arne Sunnergårdh:

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. Svanholm’s years as manager, too large a subject to discuss here, can be summarized as follows: New music, Swedish music, Niche music. Many works from the modern (Britten, Berg) and older operatic repertoire (Lully, Händel, Mozart’s Idomeneo) were performed in Stockholm for the first time and the most significant premiere of a new Swedish opera was Karl Birger Blomdahl’s Aniara.

There are several reasons why “Set Svanholm” is not a household word, even in Sweden, in the sense that “Jussi Björling” is. Björling’s repertoire was more accessible to a large number of casual opera listeners than the more specialized and demanding roles that Svanholm performed. Above all, Björling made over 240 commercial recordings while Svanholm only made 15. 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, where Svanholm only participated as Loge in Das Rheingold. However, many live recordings of this important musician have been preserved, and a number of them are available on labels such as Music & Arts, Gebhardt, Golden Melodram, Bluebell, Preiser, and Caprice.

With thanks to Edmund for inviting me to “blog” and in the hope that some of his readers will either discover or re-visit this glorious voice.


Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you so much, Dr. Roden. This is both an erudite brief history of Svanholm and his work, and a musically incisive foray into the world of great singing! I was particularly taken with the recording of Sigmund's aria. I must say that I have never heard it sung better! The musical precision (which you mention), along with absolutely flawless vocalism, is a breath of fresh air! It so commonly happens that these arias are shouted or blasted by big-voiced and sometimes self-styled Heldentenors who never manage to sound like they are actually singing! This is almost surely the reason Wagner wanted his tenors trained in Italy. He would have been thrilled with Svanholm! Thank you so much for a brilliant article. I am very grateful! Edmund

Anonymous said...

great article.....I always liked Svanholm. There are a fair number of videos on the web. I never knew he was a conductor too! That sure doesn't happen very often........!

Edmund StAustell said...

No, it doesn't. There are of course the examples of Richard Tauber and Placido Domingo, but no, you are right. This is rarified territory for a tenor:)

Anonymous said...

He managed to avoid criticism in Germany thru the Third Reich. He must have been fairly astute in his relationships and politics...or avoidance of politics.

Edmund StAustell said...

I had the same thought. That is somewhat rare, isn't it?

JD Hobbes said...

I have heard George London and others (in person) do "Der Erlkoenig." I think this version is quite good. Let's thank Dr. Roden for her contribution.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks to Dr. Roden for her informative and excellently written article. There was a lot of new information for me , for example , about Svanholm’s career as a conductor. The choir sounded beautifully. Definitely, he was a great singer and musician. (I also didn’t know that there was some sort of ‘rivalry’ between him and Bjorling , or that Bjorling was such a hot-tempered man).
Svanholm’s interpretations are truly “heroic” , profound and intelligent. It's interesting that many of his performances are very passionate in 'Italian' manner, though the style remains Wagnerian .


Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Hobbes. I appreciate your comment, as always. Yes, I agree with you--I have heard many renditions of this chillingly dramatic classic, and this is absolutely one of the best. I also agree that this is a stellar contribuiton to the series by Professor Roden. Thanks again.

Edmund StAustell said...

For Anonymous n.a.: Thank you, my friend. I very much appreciate your comment. I have to admit: I didn't know about the Jussi/Set rivalry either:) I guess two great tenors from a fairly small country are a recipe for disaster. Like the old Western Movies, where one cowboy says, ominously, to the other: "This town ain't big enough for both of us!" Good observation about the Italian passion joined to the Wagnerian style. I'm pretty sure that's what Wagner would have thought appropriate. Thanks, as always, for a good and insightful comment!

Darren Seacliffe said...

Thank you so much, Dr Roden, for uploading this amazing and insightful article which shed light on many details I never knew about Svanholm's life.'s a pity Set Svanholm made such few recordings. I've heard his Siegfried. His voice might not be as ''beefy'' as the Great Dane's but I feel his singing is comparable to him because of the power and vitality in it.

About Loge, I heard that Set Svanholm was in his decline when he sang the role due to over-exertion of his voice in the Wagnerian roles during his prime. Does anyone know when this period actually started? I've heard a variety of comments on this.

Best Regards

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much, Darren, for your comment. Let us ask Dr. Roden if she can answer your question. I'll email her. Edmund

Anonymous said...

It might seem a strange thing to say, but one of the things thaw always amazed me about Svanholm was how small he was compared to giants like Melchior and even (particularly?) some of the women Wagner singers. It just didn't seem possible to make that much sound for a man so small. I wonder how that works?

Robert J.

Edmund StAustell said...

Ha, ha! Well, the size of singer versus amount of sound is an interesting subject:) I don't actually think that the size of the singer per se is what matters. Caruso was only about 5 foot 9, and was not particularly heavy. Almost all coloraturas are small, but easily heard. Anna Moffo, Anna Netrebko, or, more to the point of Wagner, Hildegard Behrens! She was a slip of a thing later in her life, but she could make a very big sound. I think what happens is that weight is a side product of hypothyroidism, which contributes to a high speaking voice in the first place. It also seems to account for weight gain. So it becomes a matter of the weight being a side effect of the thyroid imbalance, and not the voice being a side effect of the weight.

Jing said...

A quite fascinating article in any number of ways. It is a tribute to the reach and depth of this blog that we are hearing from all over the world from people with such a profound knowledge and love of opera and great singers. Yet again, congratulations, Edmund, and a special thanks, of course, to Dr. Rodén. I hope the biography of Set Svanholm underway will soon be available in English! The story of Svanholm's arrival at the Met is, of course, a reminder of how ascendant Wagner was in that house during the forties. I wonder if our old friend Helen Traubel sang often with him, but I expect that this was the case. Swedes and Americans triumphing in the music of the quintessential German composer of opera! Are their any observations to be made on Svanhold as an actor?

Edmund St.Austell said...

Thank you very much, my friend, for an excellent comment. I too am looking forward to the publication of the book. Svanholm was a fine tenor and musician in general. It would be interesting to know more about him. I don't have any information about the reviews of his acting, but I imagine Dr. Roden will. She is currently buried in final exams at the university, but I believe she will reply shortly and answer questions she is particularly qualified to answer. Thanks again for the comment.

Darren Seacliffe said...

Haha Edmund, thank you so much for helping me forward my query to Dr Roden on my behalf. I wish I could talk to her myself. I'm very interested to know more about the Roman Papacy, and what's more she specializes in a part of its history which isn't widely known that I'm curious about. I've just gathered all the Svanholm recordings I could find online so I'll assist you on it. There aren't that many Svanholm videos online as far as I can see.

I hope you don't mind the many videos I've been sharing with you from my collection of late. Please let me know if my behavior gets on the verge of being excessive. I'm the sort who tends to get carried away in the things I do.

Speaking of Svanholm, did you listen to his recording of Meistersinger? I heard that Svanholm wasn't in form when he sang it. A review I read just said that he was okay for the first two acts but tiredness set in during the third and took away him for the forth. What do you think?

There were similar comments on the other Wagner recordings I downloaded by him. A pity that there's so little of him on record and even then it's from the 50s when he was said to be in vocal decline. If this was what he could do in his decline, his prime must leave one dumbfounded with amazement.

Melchior might be one of the greatest Heldentenors of all time but Svanholm's got a wider repertory than him and sang Wagner nearly as good as he did. I think Svanholm deserves far better than what he's getting now based on this fact.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much. Professor Roden is more qualified than I to answer your questions. I'm sure she will get back to you shortly. (It's final exam time at the University where she teaches:)

Anonymous said...

I might just as well help you out in the meanwhile as I am working on the book together with Dr. Rodén.

Regarding Svanholm's voice, I'd say that a decline can hardly be heard. As late as in 1960, he still sang exceptionally well (Rienzi in Vienna), even though some performances (an Aida from Stockholm for example) are maybe not among his best achievements. That performance of "Die Meistersinger" mentioned above is from 1954 (Vienna State Opera)and Svanholm obviously had an off-night, which, as far as the reviews tell, was a really rare event for him.

The fact that Windgassen was chosen over Svanholm for Solti's "Ring" certainly was mainly due to Windgassen's strong position in "New Bayreuth". Most of the artists who sang leading roles in the DECCA-"Ring" had been recruited there - after the war, Svanholm has never been invited to "New Bayreuth".

Concerning his acting abilities, there is a telling quote by Rudolf Bing who wrote: "Seeing Svanholm in the role of Eisenstein, I was surprised how funny and how well he acted compared his acting in Siegfried".

And certainly, a large voice does not require a large body, some singers have been named above, let me just add Mario del Monaco who had a huge voice and was a rather tiny man. Anyway, fat does not resonate and does not help the voice. Fill a guitar with fat and see how far you get!


Marie-Louise Rodén said...

First of all, I would like to thank Edmund and all who have commented for their interesting and appreciative remarks.

Specifically, I would like to reply to Darren Seacliffe's question about a "vocal decline" in the late 1950's. I had not heard anything about this myself, but can provide the following information.

1. Svanholm accepted the position as General Manager of the Royal Opera in 1956 not because his voice was in decline or because he wanted to perform less frequently. He wanted to be closer to his family. The Stockholm Royal Opera had not yet evolved into a modern type of administration (information from Klas Ralf, nephew of Torsten Ralf) and this meant that some of its great soloists took on the post of General Manager at some point in their career, but continued to sing on the stage as well. Examples: John Forsell 1924-39, Joel Berglund 1949-56, Svanholm 1956-63 (succeeded by Göran Gentele until 1971). Svanholm thus sang both in Stockholm and in Europe until the very end of his life, and there is no hint of a vocal decline.

2.In order to answer your question adequately, I have reviewed the latest recordings of Svanholm that I own, the Norwegian Radio Broadcast of Götterdämmerung with Flagstad recorded in 1956, excerpts later issued by London; Les Troyens from 1958 as well as Tannhäuser and Parsifal from 1959, all issued by the Royal Swedish Opera Archives (Caprice). No, the recordings vary in quality (all but one are live, in-house), but as far as I can hear, there is no hint of vocal decline.

3.I would also like to add the following information. Svanholm died so young (about one month after his 60th birthday) of a brain tumor whose onset was quite sudden. Some of the people we have already interviewed (Stefan Johansson of the Royal Opera, Klas Ralf) believe that Svanholm's excellent physical status contributed to its late discovery.

Be that as it may, Svanholm appeared on the stage in the spring-summer of 1963, when it had already been diagnosed. He performed Das Lied von der Erde in Vienna. In Düsseldorf, he gave his 84th and final performance of Tristan on May 22, 1963. This date marked the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth and the production was produced by his grandson Wieland.

During the rehearsals, Wieland shouted to Svanholm: "Less movement, Herr Svanholm!". Svanholm, already marked by the brain tumor, was hitting his Isolde with involuntary movements of the arm, which he did not perceive himself. He took it with a smile, and said - OK, I'll do better. It stands to reason that one would not have asked Set Svanholm to represent this great role and the Wagnerian tradition on such an important anniversary had there been any question of vocal decline.

To Darren and all others who have responded: Our biography will initially be published in Swedish, but since I am 50/50 Swedish and American, I will try to ensure that the English edition appears almost simultaneously.

Thanks once again for your warm response!

EdmundStAustell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Godor! That information is much appreciated! I look forward to the appearance the book by you and Dr. Roden!

Edmund StAustell said...

And thank YOU, Dr. Roden, for an interesting and thorough response to questions. With that, Dear Readers, I will ask you to please direct any further questions to me, so we do not impose on the very busy schedules of our Swedish friends, to whom I am most grateful for an excellent contribution to the blog. Besides, the book will be one of these days, and all the answers will be there:) Som för mig, kommer jag att göra en insats för att läsa den svenska utgåvan. Det kommer att bli bra övning för min hjärna! Thanks again!

chloe hannah said...

Thank you, Prof. Rodén, for shedding light on a voice that had yet to reach my ears. Discussing a singer's career in regards to the current events of his or her time is particularly interesting when their peak is reached during the 1930s in Europe. It makes one wonder what went on in the mind of a professional whose creative development possibly depended on the elite Wagnerian musicians available in Germany at that time.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much, Chloe. It is always nice to hear from you, and now would be a good time to thank YOU once again for two superb guest articles you have done for us over the course of the last year. And you make an excellent point about the importance of time and place in the professional development of an artist. It's something I think about every time I listen to a very old recording of an artist who came to maturity in the 19th century. It was another world, absolutely. Thanks again for the comment!

chloe said...

No, thank YOU, Edmund, for continuing to educate me!

Edmund St.Austell said...

:) :) :)

Eva Sanholm Bohlin said...

Set Svanholm and Jussi Björling were close friends until the bitter end.
The story in S:t Jacobs choir goes like this:
On the rehearsal Björling did not sing because he was having a performance in the evening.
Svanholm: Herr Björling you must sing.
Björling did not sing
Svanholm: Herr Björling, there is the door.
Björling leaves with a hard bang from the door, opens it again and says: Get yourself a better tenor - if you can!
In spite of this they were very good friends until
Jussi died, and the families met rather often.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much for that comment. I am very pleased that you wrote to us, and your comment makes that instance very clear. I am happy to know that they remained friends. Two great tenors!

Marie-Louise Rodén said...

Eva, Thank you so much! The "real" version of the story is much better than the one that has circulated. I found the version cited in my article in Norstedt's biography of Jussi by Björn Ranelid, Jacob Forsell, Harald Henrysson.

Now we will be sure to get it right in the Svanholm biography!

Gioacchino Florio-Maragioglio said...

This is very interesting! I never knew of this singer before, and I am fortunate to read here, because, that voice is very, very rare. The Nordic singers often have flawless vocalism, but sometimes that characterization can be a little cold. When we would go to see Björling, my friends and I would say: «Bellissima voce, squillissimo, ma un po' fredo, solo un po'».

Clearly, this is not the case with this tenor, the great Set Svanholm. Thank you, professors, for this article.

I add one idea: if he had not decided the climb the scales, he could have been one of the greatest Verdi baritones, maybe equal to Leonard Warren.

But, he became the greatest Wagner tenor since Melchior, and this is more than enough!

In a general sense, it is so dear to hear a Wagner tenor who does not bark!

Thank you, again professors: for residents of Napoli, we do not see much Wagner or hear of the great Wagnerian personalities. This is something I will share with my friends of similar mind!

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much indeed, my friend. Very interesting comment, and very much to the point. Yes, Svanholm started out as a baritone, but the easy top made it easy for him to transition to tenor. Also, the typical heldentenor role does not exceed Bb for tenor, as a rule, and that is fairly easy. But you hit on the important thing, and that he does not bark, he actually sings, and very, very well! Thanks again for the comment!

Darren Seacliffe said...

Hello there,Svanholm as Eisenstein? That's very interesting..Did he ever record any excerpts from the operetta? Being an operetta lover, that's something I'd really be glad to try out if such recordings did exist.

Hmm..about Svanholm's vocal decline,what made me come to that conclusion was that according to the reviewers of the Wagner recordings he recorded at the Met in the 50s: Parsifal, Meistersinger, etc, Svanholm sounded more tired on them than he did in his earlier recordings.

Anonymous said...

Svanholm sang a total of 12 performances of "Die Fledermaus" at the Met. Unfortunately, no recordings were made, at least not as far as I know. Svanholm was alternating with Charles Kullmann, and one of the performances with Kullmann was broadcast and recorded (Jan. 20, 1951). Other cast members of those performances were Welitsch/Piazza/Jeritza (Rosalinde), Stevens/Novotna (Orlofsky), Tucker/Conley (Alfred). Quite a luxurious cast.

So, nothing against Piazza and Kullman (the latter doing an excellent job), but could they not have recorded Svanholm and Jeritza as well?


Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much for the information!

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. St. Austell...I would like to thank you for running such a wonderful much good insights...for example, Lauri-Volpi I would never have thought quite so highly of if not for you, now he is easily in my shortlist of the very greatest tenors we can hear (with [I really wanted to make this list sometime so I shall make it here since I have no real opera loving friends] Gigli [for sheer beauty] Corelli [so amazingly powerful without bad taste, and the very very best high notes (except that astounding Lauri-Volpi Db in "Gli Uginotti" which you linked to right when you started this blog) of any tenor I have heard], Pavarotti [I mean of course when he was younger and sang lyric roles mostly, he really although we often forget had one of the very most beautiful voices ever ever ever] Di Stefano, Gedda [although I must admit I do not think him the most beautiful voiced] Caruso [partly from the sheer weight of opinion on his side, partly because in certain recordings I can simply hear that he is truly very great], Domingo [though he sometimes sang stuff he shouldn't have and is slightly overrated due to his astonishing number of roles, longevity and good acting], Pertile [in what I have heard of him], BJOERLING, LEMESHEV [amazing lovely lovely voice] and I must say sometimes Del Monaco [although he can also be very bad] and now also Tagliavini when he still sang appropriate roles [unbelievably lovely voice] and finally [although I do not rate him yet as I know not enough of him] Alessandro Bonci, whom I have heard singing beautifully some lyrical pieces like "A te o cara" in I think a very nice belcanto style much prettier than de Lucia, I think his voice exceedingly wonderful also). Those are my top tenori with Lauri-Volpi (when young of course). I was wondering if you, being so good at these sorts of analyses, would do a piece on M. Jose Carreras, who is so renowned among many for the beauty of his voice before his illness and before he started singing terrible parts for him like Calaf. I have never been quite able to appreciate or like his voice a lot, and I was wondering if you would do a piece on him so that I could understand him better. And if you have the time also I would LOVE it if you were to write about Alessandro Bonci, as he seems to me to be very unknown despite his (as it seems to me) LOVELY voice. Thanks so much and GOD bless you sir.

Anonymous said...

Would you please post on Jose Carreras? Thanks so much.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much for a most interesting and broad-ranging comment! I certainly appreciate it. And yes, I will be doing Carreras in a couple of weeks. Thank you for asking!

Stephen John Svanholm said...

I very much enjoyed the article, and look forward to the reading the book. Being brought up in the Svanholm clan, I always remember all the stories that my grandmother Nini would recount about the operatic life, famous conductors etc.

And my mother also remembers very well the evening when the teenage children were told to be on their best behaviour and to help with serving the food because a very important, very, very old man was coming to dinner.

His name?

Igor Stockholm for the opening of The Rake's Progress when Set had been made opera chief!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed for a fascinating first-person recollection! Very interesting and very much appreciated. The Svanholm family certainly has a lot to be justly proud of!

gaytenor said...

A very interesting piece on the tenor Set Svanholm. Svanholm always seemed to be a vastly underrated singer with a beautiful voice, fabulous musicianship,and a real understanding of both the text and the music of the score in question. I had a voice teacher who preferred Svanholm to Melchoir and while I do not agree with this view I can fully understand his reasoning. The final scene of Seigfried was recorded twice in the studio by Svanholm with first Kirsten Flagstad and then Eileen Farrell and, in my opinion Svanholm's voice was much better suited to this beautiful scene than those of Melchoir, Windgassen, etc.

Svanholm was also able to handle the high terrain of Strauss' tenor torture chamber known as Ariadne auf Naxos in a performance with the young Brigit Nilsson.

Both Set Svanholm and Franz Volker were blessed with a beautiful sound that was very, very well used. The only tenor who has approached their level of performance of late has been Ben Heppner a great tenor who may well have been their equal.

Much thanks are due for the interesting blog.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for an excellent and well written comment! And welcome to Great Opera Singers. You are always welcome here; hope we see you again!

Edmund StAustell