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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Marszalek’s Tenors: The Standard-Bearers of Operetta (II)

Today we feature Part Two  of Mr. Darren Seacliffe's article on the tenors of Franz Marszalek!

During the 60s, Franz Marszalek would turn to another group of tenors to play the leading roles in his broadcasts and recordings. The first and least-known of the three was the German lyric tenor Reinhold Bartel. Like Franz Fehringer, he would start out singing lyric tenor roles in the provincial German opera houses; roles such as Tamino, Don Ottavio, Idamante and Jacquino. A typical lyric tenor of his time, Bartel had a bigger and more beautiful voice than Fehringer’s. Most importantly, where Fehringer’s voice was dry, Bartel’s was warm, like Groh’s, but not as large. Technically, he was more proficient than Fehringer. When he sang the high notes,
they were very pleasing to the ear. Just as Fehringer’s case has shown, a tenor didn’t need to have a beautiful voice or a good technique to have a successful singing career in operetta so long as he could touch the audience with his singing. However, for an operatic career, audiences then were more interested in witnessing a singer’s technical prowess or hearing the beauty of their singing than in leaving the opera house with a memory of a complete and intact aesthetic experience. Unsurprisingly, Bartel was able to maintain a successful career in the opera house in conjunction with his prolific broadcasting and recording career in the radio station and the studio, as opposed to Fehringer.  To showcase Bartel’s artistry, here we have two numbers from my collection; first, "Ein Spiel mit der Liebe, from Dostal's Die Vielgeliebte, and then a two-aria video featuring "Ich Will Sie Lieben, Treu Und Heiss," and  "Wie  Gerne Sagt' Ich Ihr, " from Leo Fall's Die Dollarprinzessin" 

 From my experience, Bartel, though admittedly good, pales in comparison to predecessors like Groh, Anders and Fehringer. As mentioned earlier, his voice isn’t as warm as Groh’s, his singing isn’t as elegant and polished as Anders, and even if he does sing with feeling, you can’t call that emotion when you compare it to Fehringer. Nevertheless, he does give a good performance. To me, what defines his singing is its dreaminess, if not "folksiness." His singing feels quite light and is relatively easier on the ear. When he goes for the ‘’high notes.’’ the ease and smoothness with which he does it is most attractive, even if they do not "ring" like those the great opera singers deliver. There is some feeling in the performance but he gives you the impression of someone who loves rather than someone madly in love.

 Of the three tenors whom Marszalek cast in his operetta broadcasts and recordings from the 60s, one of them was the provincial lyric tenor Reinhold Bartel, whom we discussed earlier. The other two were the Hungarian spinto tenor Sandor Konya and the German lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich.  Konya sang a wide range of German and Italian lyric and dramatic tenor roles as well, including Parsifal, Rodolfo, Dick Johnson and many more. Today, Konya is perhaps best remembered for being a near-perfect Lohengrin, a superb Walter, and a much-appreciated Edgardo. These achievements have overshadowed his work as a consummate operetta singer in Marszalek’s performances. Konya had been cast by Marszalek in his operetta broadcasts and his performances of the great operas in German on the radio even as he maintained his flourishing international singing career.

For Konya’s operetta work, here is an aria from Johann Strauss' Wiener Blut:

Sandor Konya’s singing can best be characterized by the ‘teardrop in his voice.’ For me, this ‘teardrop’ alone is enough to touch me and make emotions well up in my heart. He gives a melancholy performance which is at times strikingly contrasted against the backdrop of cheerful frothy Viennese dance music. Superficially, it may seem that his singing spoils the mood of the party but on deeper thought, it feels as though his character has a bitter-sweet recognition that the good times are not to last so he makes the most of every moment he has. In doing so, he sheds another light on the operetta numbers he sings, lending them meaning and giving them impact in a way no other tenor does.

Last but not least of these three tenors is one who needs little or no introduction, Fritz Wunderlich, a singer whom many feel was the greatest German tenor the world ever had. Looking through the list of recordings Franz Marszalek has made, Wunderlich’s name pops up quite often from the late 50s to the early 60s. It may be the case that Franz Marszalek saw Fritz Wunderlich as the successor to Peter Anders, something that Marszalek had been looking for. Of Wunderlich’s work for Marszalek, I have selected two highlights from Leo Fall’s most well-known work, Der Rose von Stambul, which I have uploaded in an extended video. The soprano Gretel Hartung accompanies him in the later duet.

In almost all German operettas, there are at least 2 tenors in the cast. The lead tenor will usually be a lyric tenor. The numbers which he sings are the ‘’more operatic’’ ones, show-stealing numbers similar to the arias which we hear in the opera house. Operetta excerpts which we usually hear tenors sing mostly fall under this category. Examples will be ‘’Zwei Marchenaugen,’’ ’Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’’ and ‘Komm Zigany.’’ The other type of tenor which we see is the buffo tenor. In most cases, he is either a comprimario or a singing actor. The numbers which he sings are usually lighter fare. Their purpose is often comic relief, or they might fill in the empty spaces between the show-stealing moments and the ensembles which are key to the development of the plot.

Two of Marszalek's best buffo tenors were the German Willy Hoffmann and the Austrian entertainer Peter Alexander. Historically an operatic comprimario,  Willy Hoffmann eventually moved into operetta as a buffo tenor who took part in many radio and TV operetta broadcasts. His superb performances as a buffo tenor would earn him the nickname ‘’the national buffo.’’ For an idea of how a buffo tenor would appear on stage, you can watch the following video. This aria from Kalman’s Csardasfurstin is actually a duet. This, I think, was taken from a live TV performance, with Hoffmann in the flesh:

According to the definition of buffo tenor, one wouldn’t expect him to have any good musical numbers. But Hoffmann in fact did, and he even joined with the "buffa" for a good comic duet.  Here is a good example, featuring Hoffmann and Rita Bartos in Jara Benes' Auf der Grunen Wiese:

 Buffo Peter Alexander, on the other hand, did not come from an operatic background, but was something like the German-speaking world’s Frank Sinatra. Just as Frank Sinatra occasionally performed on Broadway, operetta was very much part of Peter Alexander’s repertoire. In the operetta broadcasts and recordings, he was good fun to listen to, bringing as much charm and sentiment to the musical numbers he sang as his operatic colleagues did.  Here he is with Herta Talmar in the Piccolo-Duet from Oscar Straus’ Ein Walzertraum

Peter Alexander’s rendition of these operetta numbers harkens back to the day when they were once performed by singing actors instead of opera singers. Though his singing may not be authentic, he does what they did; delivering these numbers in the musical style of the day with a honeyed baritone that charms and touches the hearts of the audience. If that isn’t good entertainment, I honestly don’t know what is!

It may seem that I over-stress the virtues of operetta—especially as compared to opera— but actually, what I truly feel is that operetta should simply be treated the same way as opera is. Opera is unquestionably an art form which stands above all the rest and will almost certainly be preserved for posterity. However, I feel that operetta also deserves great respect and attention.  It serves as a reminder of the things we have lost in a world where things are changing at a breakneck rate and competition is becoming increasingly cutthroat. Some, of course, may disagree. Being a dissenter in the past, I’ve this to say to these people. If you give Marszalek’s operetta recordings a chance to work the same kind of magic on you as it did on me, I believe that you’ll be able to see why operetta is a musical genre well worth preserving!  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Operetta! Marszalck's Tenors: The Standard-Bearers of Operetta!

[Today I am pleased to offer to readers another guest commentary by Mr. Darren Seacliffe, from Singapore. Darren is an undergraduate student in his early 20's pursuing a degree in a private university in Singapore. His interest in both opera and operetta spans a wide variety of genres, from Rossini to German operetta. I will only add that Mr. Seacliffe's knowledge of opera and operetta history—especially for one so young, is truly extraordinary! Here is a blossoming music critic if ever I saw one, and that is a happy sign indeed, for all kinds of reasons!  Edmund StAustell]


There are currently two forms of musical theater which we commonly encounter. One is the musical that is either produced as a movie—in Hollywood—or presented in theaters  on Broadway and in New York's West End. The other is the opera. Both are celebrated as a combination of the arts, with singing, acting,  dance, drama, orchestral music, and often, lavish sets and costumes. In fact, the word "opera" itself is a plural word—the plural of "opus," and translates as "works."  These two forms of musical theater  may sound different but the similarities they share suggest a strong relationship.  Musicals, as we recognize them today, are essentially—but not exclusively—a 20th century form, while opera has been performed for centuries.

There is, however, a third form that bridges these two forms of musical theater, and that is operetta, the relatively more obscure and less regarded ‘half-brother’ of opera. Where opera's audience, historically speaking, was aristocratic, the audience for operetta was not, at least as a rule.  Even when its plots involved a fanciful notion of high society manners, they were just that—a middle-class fantasy. Just like opera, operetta requires orchestral accompaniment, but unlike opera, the musical numbers in operettas were not always performed by trained singers. Each country had its own forms of operetta. Spain had the zarzuela, France had the operettas of Offenbach, Messager, Lecocq, Audran, and others, while England had the Savoy operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, and America enjoyed operettas by Friml, Herbert and Kern.  Germany, which will be the focus of this article, had Viennese and Berlin operetta.

At the moment, Berlin operetta is rarely performed and even Viennese operetta performances are limited to the traditional New Year’s Eve performances of Die Fledermaus in opera houses worldwide, the occasional Merry Widow and rare performances of The Land of Smiles, The Gypsy Princess and Countess Mariza. Besides these, every now and then, we hear singers like Anna Netrebko singing some of the musical numbers in their recitals as though they were opera arias,  or Andre Rieu performing extracts of the dance music in his concerts and recitals. As recently as seven years ago, if anyone wanted any operetta performances on CD, the best one could find were the competent operetta performances on EMI helmed by opera singers who were past their prime; singers such as Anneliese Rothenberger or Nicolai Gedda. Unlike today’s singers, such as Netrebko, these singers either had a history of giving complete operetta performances (Anneliese Rothenberger) or could identify with the operetta tradition (Nicolai Gedda) because they had grown up at a time when it was the popular music of the day. Things have changed recently, with new German and/or Austrian labels like Membran, Cantus Classics and HAFG releasing recordings of radio broadcasts of operetta performances from the 50s and 60s by conductors like Wilhelm Stephan, Werner Schmidt-Boelcke, Max Schonherr and the most important of them all, Franz Marszalek.

Franz Marszalek was an operetta conductor whom several German and Austrian connoisseurs felt was the best of them all. Having worked with several operetta composers like Eduard Kunneke before the War, he was considered to be a ‘walking encyclopedia of operetta’, with no rivals in terms of understanding and mastery, and whose performances of the works of Kunneke and Leo Fall were felt to be the most authoritative. (Kunneke was a good personal friend of Marszalek)   After the War, having taken over as the conductor of the West German Radio Orchestra based in Cologne, he got together a group of opera and operetta singers from the neighboring provincial opera houses and musical theaters.  He also engaged several pop and folk music singers, both past and present, and both broadcast and recorded several operetta performances that set standards  which remain unsurpassed.

For the lead tenor roles in each of these operetta broadcasts, Marszalek cast reputed tenors who would go on to have successful domestic and international careers; tenors such as Fritz Wunderlich and Sandor Konya.  In addition, he added lyric tenors based in smaller German opera houses in the provinces, tenors like Franz Fehringer and Reinhold Bartel and, additionally, tenors who once had or continued to have flourishing radio careers like Herbert Ernst Groh and Peter Anders. For the comic tenor roles, most were performed by the buffo tenor Willy Hofmann, lauded by some as the greatest buffo tenor Germany ever had. In the next paragraphs.  

Of all these tenors, Marszalek considered Peter Anders to be the best of them all, the ‘ideal’ operetta tenor.  Here is  Anders singing ‘’Ich bin dein Untertan,’’ in a duet with Liselotte Losch, from Leo Fall’s Madame Pompadour:

As you can see, a fine singer with a beautiful voice and a secure singing technique. He sang a great number of roles in his operatic repertory,  from the lyric Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote to the dramatic Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name; all with equal success. At the same time, Anders was considerably successful in oratorio and lieder.  Building on this background, he always took his operetta performances very seriously, displaying the same amount of artistry and musicality as he did in his operatic, oratorio and lieder performances. In simpler terms, he dedicated some thought to his operetta performances, to be sure he provided them with the same elegance and emotional nuance which his operatic performances enjoyed. 

Though I may find the young Anders’ voice lighter and sweeter, his singing was always beautiful and elegant even when he started taking on heavier and more dramatic roles later on in life. In his operetta performances, I found him an expressive singer who displays a tasteful amount of emotion. Listening to Peter Anders’ performances, (and I know this will seem an adventurous thing for me to say) I actually feel that he may have a  stronger claim on the title "Germany’s greatest tenor than his successor Fritz Wunderlich did, based on the larger number of roles he sang throughout his career and his considerably richer artistic legacy.  Here he is singing "Sei nicht bos," an aria from Zeller's Der Obersteiger:

Unfortunately, just as Peter Anders was about to move into Heldentenor roles, he would die in an untimely car accident in 1954. Of the few recordings he managed to make for Marszalek before his sudden passing, there are complete performances of Strauss’ Der Zigeunerbaron and Karneval im Rom, Lehar’s Paganini and The Land of Smiles, Goetze’s Liebe im Drieklang and considerable extracts of several other operettas.

In his quest to find Peter Anders’ successor in operetta, Franz Marszalek would cast several tenors in subsequent broadcasts and recordings. In the 50s, the first of the singers he would turn to was Herbert Ernst Groh, a tenor with a  successful radio career behind him. Groh was a fellow student of Richard Tauber, whom he would eventually replace as the leading operetta tenor of the radio stations when Tauber fled from Nazi Germany. I found Groh’s voice warmer and larger than Tauber, probably because Groh’s voice was captured better on record. He had an all-encompassing voice which would literally envelop you with warmth and emotion that was just as beautiful and sweet as Tauber’s. Of Groh’s performances, these are two that I’ve selected for sampling.  Here is Herbert Ernst Groh singing "Ich hab mit freuden Angehort,"  Lieutenant Niki’s entrance aria in Oscar Straus’ Ein Walzertraum or as it is known in English,  A Waltz Dream.  Then, we hear him sing a spectacular version of "Am Rio Negro," from Maske in Blau:

Another tenor Marszalek also turned to was the German lyric tenor Franz Fehringer.  Fehringer was a lyric tenor who sang roles such as Rodolfo, Don Ottavio, Fernando (Così), and Almaviva in  provincial opera houses early in his career during the 40's. During the late 40's, he moved to radio, where he performed several operas in German and many operettas under several reputable conductors, including  Hans-Muller Kray, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Kurt Schroeder, Werner Schmidt-Boelcke and the most important of them all, Franz Marszalek. In my honest opinion, Fehringer was a typical lyric tenor. His voice was small and pleasant but dry. The dryness in his voice made it seem neither sweet nor beautiful. Technically, he was good, but not great. Nevertheless, in spite of these attributes, Fehringer was a great operetta singer. Personally, I consider him my favorite. Here he sings a waltz song form Leo Fall's Der Liebe Augustin:

On first hearing, Fehringer may sound just like any other second-string lyric tenor, but there’s an attribute to his singing which vaults him into greatness. It’s the same attribute which makes Giuseppe di Stefano special: the fact that he literally gave his all when he sang, infusing a great deal of emotion and passion in the breath of life which he gave to his stage and record characters. In Fehringer’s case, it was that heartfelt earnestness. From his performances, you can feel that he literally means what he sings. This earnestness makes his small, pleasant voice a charming and poignant one which can reach deep into the soul. It is something that imparts an inner warmth to the listener. Every one of the characters he plays, in each of the operettas he recorded, is a thoughtful, sensitive and melancholy character that is often head over heels in love head over heels with the heroine. The plots of many of these operettas, with all the bizarre twists, silly turns and incredulous coincidences, may seem paper-thin,  but  such portrayals as Fehringer's make them credible.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Great Kirsten Flagstad

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962)

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.  I am indeed honored to have so distinguished a scholar make a presentation today on Kirsten Flagstad.

December 7 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Kirsten Flagstad's death. There is little risk that this memorable Wagnerian soprano of the past century will ever be forgotten. She is considered to be Norway's foremost practicing musician of all time and her countrymen have dubbed her "The Voice of the Century (Århundredets Stemme)".

Early Years
Målfrid Flagstad was born on July 12, 1895 in Hamar as the eldest of four children to Mikael Flagstad and Marie Nielsen. Both parents were professional musicians—her father a violinist and her mother a pianist. Flagstad was surrounded by music during her youth and her parents soon recognized that she possessed an extraordinary talent. She was given a score of Wagner's Lohengrin to mark her tenth birthday, and she managed to learn and sing Elsa's part in a short time. Flagstad also recalled that her deep speaking voice led her father to presume that she was an alto, so when he presented her with a score of Schubert's Lieder, he chose the setting for lower voice. Flagstad's vocal education began with Ellen Schytte-Jacobsen and continued with Albert Westwang in Oslo. She also studied with the controversial Dr. Gillis Bratt in Stockholm, who was active both as a physician and voice teacher, specializing in the development of extended breath.

In 1913, Flagstad made her operatic debut as Nuri in Eugene d'Albert's Tiefland, and during the early part of her career sang roles in both opera and operetta. In 1919 she married Sigurd Hall and her only child Else was born the following year. The marriage failed after a few years and in the 1920's Flagstad resumed her singing career. She did so with a voice that had grown considerably in size and now took on more dramatic roles in the Italian repertoire, such as Desdemona, Tosca and Aïda. Norway did not yet have a permanent National Opera, so many singers from that country had to find other opportunities, and therefore Flagstad sang at the opera in Gothenburg, Sweden from 1928. Her years at Stora Teatern have unfortunately not been documented in any known "in-house" recordings, for this was the last period in her career in which she sang a great variety of roles in French and Italian repertoire.

In 1930 she married the wealthy Norwegian industrialist Henry Johansen (1883-1946) and, together with him and her daughter Else heard her first performance of Tristan und Isolde at the Staatsoper in Vienna—or at least part of it. Her American accompanist and friend Edwin McArthur recounts that "[s]he confessed many times later that she was so bored that she could hardly stay awake. Actually, she would not have stayed through the performance except for Johansen's insistence: he wanted her to know the work."
She could not have guessed that she would sing the role of Isolde as soon as 1932, when the National Theater in Oslo decided to stage the music drama, giving Flagstad only six weeks to learn the part. The performance was a great success and now word of this talented Wagnerian began to spread outside her native country. Alexander Kipnis had sung the role of König Marke in the Oslo performance and was convinced that Flagstad should perform at the Metropolitan Opera. In the meantime, she did participate in two seasons at Bayreuth—1933 and 1934 -- but mainly in smaller roles. The Metropolitan Opera was in need of another Wagnerian soprano at that time, and Flagstad finally agreed to travel to St. Moritz in Switzerland to audition.

Historic Debut
Present at Flagstad's audition in 1934 were Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the General Director of the Metropolitan, and the conductor Artur Bodanzky. The audition took place in a hotel room with heavy draperies and curtains: for that reason the representatives of the Metropolitan did not receive a correct idea of Flagstad's vocal resources. According to Robert Tuggle,  archivist of the Metropolitan Opera, the telegram that went back to New York simply stated "We've heard Flagstad and we think she'll be fine." It was therefore only a few days before her debut that Bodanzky really understood what kind of singer he had recruited. During a dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung he simply dropped his baton and ran to get Gatti-Casazza so that he too could come and hear for himself. Flagstad's first Saturday afternoon broadcast on February 2, 1935 was thus almost unheralded. The renowned soprano Geraldine Farrar had been engaged to speak during broadcast intermissions, and she too dropped her prepared manuscript to announce: "a new star has been born". Let us share what thousands of American listeners heard on that Saturday afternoon. Here is Kirsten Flagstad in "Du bist der Lenz" from the first act of Wagner's Die Walküre. (Be patient.  There is a 30-second pause before the singing begins on this video):
The young American pianist and conductor Edwin McArthur (1907-87) was among those who heard that historic broadcast. He immediately obtained Flagstad's address in New York and wrote a letter requesting an interview for the position of accompanist, and sent it off by special delivery. Flagstad asked him to meet her at the Astor Hotel and after a pleasant chat requested that he play two songs by the Norwegian composer Eyvind Alnæs (1872-1932). The interview ended with a cocktail and the soprano later revealed that she hired McArthur not only because he was an excellent pianist with a good knowledge of Scandinavian music, but also because he was so very tall. They would therefore look good together onstage and Flagstad, who was quite tall herself, would not appear as a giant at his side. Let us listen to a recording where McArthur accompanies Flagstad in Edvard Grieg's "En Drøm":

Flagstad's debut in Tristan und Isolde followed on February 6 and before the month was over the Metropolitan audience had heard her as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and in Götterdämmerung. The same season she added the role of Kundry in Parsifal to her repertoire but wisely refused to take on the role of Norma in Bellini's opera of the same title. She neither felt comfortable with the Italian language or the stylistic demands of the work. The leading Wagnerian tenor of that generation at the Metropolitan was the Danish-born Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973). Flagstad and Melchior were soon hailed as the greatest soprano-tenor couple since Caruso and Ponselle, but their partnership off the stage was not equally cordial.

The diplomatic McArthur successfully mitigated some of the feuds in which the two Scandinavians were engaged, and conducted them on several occasions. Recordings of excerpts from Wagner's works made in November 1939 under McArthur's direction are among the finest that document these two singers. The very same month Flagstad appeared in a production of Tristan at the Chicago Opera with Giovanni Martinelli -- she was convinced that the Italian tenor would make a very fine Tristan and McArthur conducted even on this occasion. In February of 1941 he became the first native-born American to conduct Wagner at the Metropolitan, and also did so in Flagstad's final pre-war performance of Tristan und Isolde on April 12 of that year. Acceding to her husband's wishes, she had decided to return to Norway, occupied by Nazi Germany almost exactly a year before. Here is Kirsten Flagstad in an exceptional recording of the "Liebstod" from Tristan, recorded in London in 1948. She performed Isolde's role 182 times in the course of her career.
Years of Silence
Kirsten Flagstad's decision to return to Norway in 1941 was catastrophic in terms of her career, but she had always considered private life to be her first priority. Flagstad never sang in Germany during the war and never sang officially in occupied Norway. During these years of silence she gave a couple of performances in Sweden and Switzerland, which were both neutral countries. Her husband Henry Johansen was a conservative businessman and member of the party founded by Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), Nasjonal Samling (NS). He was eventually persuaded by Flagstad and his daughter to leave the party, but was arrested at the end of the war and accused of war profiteering. He died in prison before a trial could ever take place.

The Norwegian government now accused Flagstad of complicity in her husband's affairs. They would not renew her passport, fearing that she would leave the country with some of the wealth that Johansen had accumulated. She was only exonerated from all charges against her— which included not only economic matters but also performing German Lieder in concerts in the United States -- once Edwin McArthur traveled to Norway to witness at the Torridal County Court in Kristiansand in October of 1946. But the rumors of her Nazi sympathies were persistent, especially in America, and after the war she initially had great difficulties in obtaining any engagements. Organized protesters marched outside concert halls where she was to perform and hired claques disrupted concerts with shouting and stink bombs. An invitation to return to the Metropolitan would have helped her greatly during this dismal period, but the General Manager Edward Johnson, soon to retire, was hesitant.

The situation was eventually resolved when Sir Rudolf Bing succeeded Johnson in 1950 and established that Flagstad was completely innocent of any involvement in her husband's economic affairs and of any sympathies for the Nazi regime: she would thus return in his first season as General Manager. Lauritz Melchior had questions about this decision, and made it fairly clear that he did not wish to share the stage with Flagstad again. Bing in turn stated that he did expect a certain  level of professionalism from his artists  and felt that he had been forced into a position where he had to take a stand, whatever his personal feelings may have been. He therefore dismissed Melchior.  In 1951, Flagstad sang a number of performances of Tristan, an entire Ring cycle and the following year Gluck's Alcestis marked her farewell to the Met.

Some of Flagstad's most significant activity in the post-war period took place in the recording studio. Stereophonic recording technique was in a process of development in the 1950's and therefore we have a fine record not only of her Wagnerian roles, but also of Lieder repertoire and sacred music. Her most frequent partner on stage and in the recording studio during this period was the Swedish tenor Set Svanholm (1904-64). Among the memorable recordings from this last period in Flagstad's career are a complete Tristan conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler with Ludwig Suthaus from 1952; the first act of Die Walküre with Svanholm, conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, the third act of the same music drama and the "Todesverkündigung" from the second act with Svanholm, both conducted by Sir Georg Solti and recorded in 1957; and finally a complete Norwegian Radio broadcast recording of Götterdämmerung, also with Svanholm and conducted by Øyvin Fjeldstad from 1956. Flagstad's voice had grown deeper in the late 1940's and '50's, and thus she made some rare recordings of alto repertoire as well as taking on the mezzo-soprano role of Fricka in Das Rheingold in the first part of the "Solti Ring", recorded in 1958.

Though we today associate Flagstad mainly with the works of Wagner, it should not be forgotten that she even in later years made other valuable contributions to both German and Scandinavian repertoire. She was the soloist in the first performance ("Uraufführung") of Richard Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder in London 1950 with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and has left us as an outstanding interpretation of selected songs of Jean Sibelius from 1958. The same year Flagstad was appointed first General Manager of the Norwegian National Opera, whose initial activity she generously supported with private funds. She could only retain that position until 1960, when she retired due to a cancer that she had been fighting for several years.

During the last years of her life she confined her performances to benefit concerts in the local churches of Norway. In remembrance of Kirsten Flagstad's commitment both to her native country and to sacred music, I would like to close with her rendition of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's beautiful motet "Oh for the Wings of a Dove."