Gillis Bratt, she pursued a career in opera and operetta in Norway. In 1919, she married her first husband Sigurd Hall. Later that year she signed up with the newly created Opera Comique in Oslo, under the direction of Alexander Varnay and Benno Singer. Varnay was the father of the famous soprano Astrid Varnay.
Her ability to learn roles quickly was noted, often only taking a few days to do so. She sang Desdemona opposite Leo Slezak, Minnie, Amelia and other lesser roles at the Opera Comique. She sang at the city theater of Göteborg, Sweden, between 1928 and 1932. It was there that Flagstad made her debut singing Agathe in Der Freischütz by Weber.
In 1930, a revival of Carl Nielsen's Saul and David featured Flagstad singing the role of Michal. On 31 May of that same year, she married her second husband, the Norwegian industrialist and lumber merchant Henry Johansen, who subsequently helped her in expanding her career. In 1932 she made her debut in Rodelinda by Handel. Some critics claimed that her voice was too big for Handel and much more suited to Wagner. After singing operetta and lyric roles such as Marguerite in Faust for over a decade, Flagstad decided to take on heavier operatic roles such as Tosca and Aida.
The part of Aida helped to unleash Flagstad's dramatic abilities. At the time she was almost forty years old, and was already considering retirement. In 1932, she took on the role of Isolde in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde and appeared to have found her true voice. Ellen Gulbranson (1863-1946), a Norwegian soprano at Bayreuth, convinced Winifred Wagner to audition Flagstad for the Bayreuth Festival.
Flagstad sang minor roles in 1933, but at the next season in 1934, she sang the roles of Sieglinde in Die Walküre and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung at the Festival. Her Metropolitan Opera début as Sieglinde, broadcast nationwide on 2 February 1935, created a sensation. Four days later, Flagstad sang Isolde, and later that month, she performed Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung for the first time. Later that season, Flagstad sang Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and her first Kundry in Parsifal. Almost overnight, she had established herself as the pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano of the era.
According to most critics, she still remains the supreme Wagnerian dramatic soprano on disc by virtue of her unique voice. Fidelio (1936 and later) was her only non-Wagnerian role at the Met before the war. It has been said that she saved the Metropolitan Opera from looming bankruptcy. In 1936, she performed all three Brünnhildes in the San Francisco Opera's Ring cycle.
In 1937, she first appeared at the Chicago City Opera Company. In 1936 and 1937, Flagstad performed the roles of Isolde, Brünnhilde and Senta at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden under Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Reiner and Wilhelm Furtwängler, arousing as much enthusiasm there as in New York. Her rendition of Brünnhilde's Battle Cry from Wagner's Die Walküre was captured on-screen in a segment of the anthology musical The Big Broadcast of 1938. However, her career at the Met was not without its ups-and-downs. Flagstad got involved in a long-running feud with costar Lauritz Melchior after Melchior took offense to some comments Kirsten made about "stupid publicity photos" that Flagstad felt Melchior pressured her into doing. Flagstad also feuded with Edward Johnson after Arthur Bodansky's death, when she wanted to be conducted by her accompanist, Edwin McArthur, rather than Erich Leinsdorf. When she left the Met during the early 1940s she had patched up her differences with both Melchior and Johnson.
Melchior and Johnson, however, did little to help Flagstad when she was attacked after World War II. In response to repeated entreaties from her husband, Flagstad returned to Norway via Berlin in 1941, though she only performed in countries (like Sweden and Switzerland) not occupied by Germany. Her husband was arrested after the war for profiteering from war-time sales to Germany, and this, together with her decision to remain in occupied Norway, made her unpopular, particularly in the United States. The Norwegian ambassador and the columnist Walter Winchell spoke out against her, and Arturo Toscanini bypassed her to choose Helen Traubel for his NBC radio broadcasts. Nevertheless, Flagstad returned to the Metropolitan Opera, invited by Sir Rudolf Bing who was furiously criticized for this choice: "The greatest soprano of this century must sing in the best opera", he replied. Bing knew that she had never been involved with the Quisling administration of wartime Norway; only her husband had. During four consecutive Covent Garden seasons, from 1948 to 1952, Flagstad repeated all her regular Wagnerian roles, including Kundry and Sieglinde.
It was also during this time that she gave the world premiere of Richard Strauss's "Vier letzte Lieder" under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Royal Albert Hall. The final rehearsal on 22 May 1950, was a legendary performance and was captured on tape and is commercially available today, although the sound is unfortunately quite poor. She toured South America in 1948 and returned to San Francisco in 1949 but was not invited back to the Met until Sir Rudolf Bing became manager. In the 1950-1951 season, although she was well into her 50s, Flagstad showed herself still in remarkable form as Isolde, Brünnhilde and Leonore. She gave her farewell operatic performance at the Met on 1 April 1952 in the title role of Gluck's Alceste, and in London as Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Mermaid Theatre (in the 1951 Festival of Britain season): the portrayal was recorded (in studio), and issued by EMI in January 1953 (see: Recordings). After her retirement from the stage, she continued to give concert performances and record, primarily for Decca Records.
She even made some stereophonic recordings, including excerpts from Wagner's operas with Hans Knappertsbusch and Sir Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1958, she sang the part of Fricka in Wagner's Das Rheingold, the first installment in Solti's first complete stereophonic set of the Ring Cycle, released by Decca on LP and reel-to-reel tape. From 1958 to 1960, Flagstad was the general manager of the Norwegian National Opera. She died in Oslo from bone marrow cancer in 1962 at the age of 67. The Kirsten Flagstad Museum in Hamar, Norway, contains a private collection of opera artifacts. Her costumes draw special attention, and include several examples on loan from the Metropolitan Opera Archives.
Her portrait appears on the Norwegian 100 kroner bill. Recordings: Of her many recordings, the complete Tristan und Isolde with Furtwängler is considered the finest representation of her interpretive art in its maturity. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest recordings of the work. Throughout her career she recorded numerous songs, by Grieg and others, and these are evidence of a voice that maintained its stable beauty during her many years in the limelight. A comprehensive survey of her recordings was released in several volumes on the Simax label. Her pre-war recordings, which show her voice in its freshest brilliance and clarity, include studio recordings of Wagner arias, Beethoven arias, and Grieg songs, as well as duets from Lohengrin, Parsifal, and Tristan und Isolde with Lauritz Melchior.
These have been (and probably still are) available on RCA/BMG CDs, as well as on good transfers from Preiser and Romophone. Many Metropolitan Opera broadcasts also survive and have circulated among collectors and more recently on CD. These include: * Die Walküre, Act I and fragments from Act II from her 1935 début broadcast. * Tristan und Isolde, performances from 1935, 1937, and 1940 all readily available. * Tannhäuser: 1936, with Melchior and Tibbett, and 1941 (the latter having an official release on Metropolitan Opera LPs). * Siegfried: 1937, Lauritz Melchior and Friedrich Schorr (available on Naxos and Guild labels). * Lohengrin: 1937, with René Maison * Fidelio: 1941 with Bruno Walter (available on Naxos) * Die Walküre: 1940, various labels. * Alceste: 1952 (available on Walhall) After World War II, many important studio recordings followed including: * Wagner Scenes including the final duet from Siegfried (Testament CDs, licensed from EMI) * Götterdämmerung: Final Scene, with Furtwängler - EMI * Tristan und Isolde: Complete opera with Furtwängler - EMI * Norwegian Songs: EMI * Götterdämmerung: Walhall. With Fjeldstad and Bjoner and Set Svanholm. 1956 * Der Ring des Nibelungen: Gebhard.
From Teatro alla Scala with Furtwängler, Lorenz, Svanholm, Frantz. 1950 Perhaps her most famous operatic recording is the 1951 Tristan with Furtwängler, which has never been out of print. It is available from EMI and Naxos, among others. Another Tristan of note is the live performance from the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), with Viorica Ursuleac as Brangäne, Svanholm as Tristan, Hans Hotter as Kurvenal, conducted by Erich Kleiber. Two live concerts are of particular historical significance: * Four Last Songs (Richard Strauss), final rehearsal for world premiere, (Philharmonia Orchestra, cond.
Furtwängler), London 22 May 1950. (Cetra Records LP (Italy only) Lo 501). * Carnegie Hall American farewell concert (Symphony of the Air, cond. McArthur), 20 March 1955. (Includes Die Walküre Act I excerpts; Götterdämmerung final scene, Tristan Liebestod, and Wesendonck Lieder (orchestral version).) (World Records LP T-366-7.) * Flagstad's celebrated 1951 appearance at the Mermaid Theatre, London in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is represented by a cast recording in which the Mermaid Belinda (Maggie Teyte) was replaced by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, but under the original direction of Geraint Jones.
(HMV ALP 1026, EMG review January 1953). A live performance with Teyte is available on the Walhall label. * The Alceste (original Italian version edited by Geraint Jones) in which she also made a farewell was recorded with Raoul Jobin, Alexander Young, Marion Lowe, Thomas Hemsley, Joan Clark, Rosemary Thayer, Geraint Jones Orchestra and singers, Geraint Jones (Decca LP LXT 5273-5276;. c. 1952) After about 1955, she moved to Decca where in the autumn of her career further important studio recordings followed: * Several albums of Grieg, Sibelius, Brahms, etc., with orchestra and piano * Wagner arias with Knappertsbusch (stereo) * Acts I and III of Die Walküre (as Sieglinde and Brünnhilde respectively) as well as the Brünnhilde/Siegmund duet from Act II (these conducted variously by Knappertsbusch and Solti, as a sort of preparation for Decca's complete Ring project). * And her great valedictory as Fricka in the Decca Rheingold of 1958. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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