Richard Wagner(1813 - 1883)
A music drama inthree acts to the composer's libretto, second of the four parts of Der Ringdes Nibelungen
Saturday 6th December 1941 was amomentous afternoon in the history of the Metropolitan Opera
House, New York,The opera - Die Walkure - was well enough known to the theatre and radioaudiences that day, but this particular performance was eagerly anticipated asit saw the role debut of Helen Traubel as Brunnhilde - itself an auspiciousenough occasion. Making his first Met appearance in his role that day was AlexanderKipnis, singing Hunding, a part in which he had already been acclaimed inseveral European opera houses; undoubtedly that too caused much interest in NewYork operatic circles And as Sieglinde the audience was expecting to see LotteLehmann, widely admired for her vivid interpretation of this most lyrical of Wagnerian'heroines'.
It was just a fewhours before curtain-rise that Lehmann was taken ill and a replacement had tobe found. The only available substitute was a 23-year-old soprano who had neverbefore appeared on any stage and who had been studying singing for a mere fouryears; it was simply luck - what luck - that it was the operas of Wagner thathad been her subject. Astrid Varnay was to make her world debut before a radioaudience of millions, a debut that brought her immediate fame and was thestarting point of a memorable forty-year career.
Apparently notcontent with singing her first Sieglinde, Varnay astounded the New York public when, six days later, she sang Brunnhilde inthe same opera, this time replacing Helen Traubel - another first, of course!
Traubel herselfmade rather slower progress up the Wagnerian ladder. From 1935 until early 1941Kirsten Flagstad had enjoyed almost complete supremacy in that repertoire atthe Met and it was only on her departure that the field was opened for others.
Traubel was waiting, and for the next fourteen years she performed Wagner withspectacular success, floods of glorious tone and some of the world's finestsingers as her colleagues.
One suchcolleague was the bass Friedrich Schorr. Although only 53 at the time of thisperformance, his voice had already lost much of its earlier glow. It had becomehard and unwieldy, but with sufficient moments of glory to remind today'slistener, sixty years on, of what it had been at its best, which wasmagnificent. Another colleague that afternoon - Alexander Kipnis - was still athis peak His rich bass resonated uncharitably as Hunding, reluctantly welcominghis unexpected guest, Siegmund; in the 1940s at the Met, Siegmund almost invariablymeant Lauritz Melchior. Here he is, as so often, on glorious form, disgracefuland endearing in the liberties he takes with his long-held 'Walse's in the firstact. Perhaps he was determined not to be overshadowed by the debuts of his twoleading ladies.
We are notallowed to forget that he is an experienced Siegmund. After all, he sang therole 83 times with the Met company alone. As Fricka, Kerstin Thorborg berates herWotan as if well accustomed to it. It is a fine role if you are a great andimaginative mezzo and Thorborg certainly was.
So the operaticworld moved on several stages that Saturday afternoon; and the real world movedon even more memorably the following day. On 7th December 1941 the United States was at war, following events at Pearl Harbour; an historic weekend indeed.
Die Walkure was first performed on 26th June 1870 at the Konigliches Hof - und Nationaltheater in Munich.
Helen Traubel wasborn in 1899 in St Louis, Missouri,
She became aconcert singer, refusing the opportunity of a Metropolitan Opera debut in 1926,eventually appearing there in Damrosch's The Man without a Country in1937. Following Flagstad's departure in 1941, Traubel successfully took overseveral of her roles but left the Met in 1953 after a disagreement over her professionalcabaret appearances. Traubel died in 1972, remembered as the finestAmerican-born Wagnerian soprano of the twentieth century.
The daughter oftwo singers, Astrid Varnay was born in Stockholm in 1918. After her brilliant 1941 Met debut (preserved on thisrecording) she sang there continuously for fifteen years, principally inWagnerian roles, and later appeared at sixteen consecutive Bayreuth seasons Varnayfirst sang at Covent Garden in 1948 and thereafter in many major Europeanhouses; considered the most dramatically intense Isolde and Brunnhilde of her generation,in retirement Astrid Varnay moved to Munich where she still lives.
The mezzo-sopranoKerstin Thorborg (1896-1970) was born and studied in Stockholm. Following eight seasons with the Swedish Royal Opera she was invited toBerlin, Dresden, Nuremberg and Prague and, from 1936, to Covent Garden and the Met (whereshe sang for fifteen seasons). Bruno Walter engaged her for Salzburg in 1935, after which she also appeared at the ViennaStaatsoper. Mainly remembered for her success in Wagnerian roles, she sangOrpheus, Ulrica, Octavian, Marina and Dalila to equal acclaim.
Lauritz Melchiorwas born in Copenhagen in 1890 and made his debut as a baritone.
After re-training, he emerged as a tenor, soon singing at Covent Garden, Bayreuth, Berlin and the Met in quick succession. From 1930-1950 he sang mainly in NewYork, and made guest appearances throughout Europe and in Buenos Aires In lateryears he acted successfully in films (including Luxury Liner) and tookpart in a number of Broadway shows Melchior died in California in 1973.
A native Hungarian,Friedrich Schorr was born in 1888, making both his American and European debutsin 1912. He achieved particular success in Berlin where he appeared from 1923, and was subsequently heard at Bayreuth, Covent Garden and the Met (from1924) where he gave over four hundred performances. Schorr sang in a wide rangeof operas but his supremacy in the Wagnerian repertory - Hans Sachs, the FlyingDutchman, Amfortas and Wotan - was undisputed. He died in 1953.
After training asa conductor, Alexander Kipnis, born in the Ukraine in 1891, studied singing in Berlin; he becameprincipal at the Stadtische Oper in 1919 and later at the Berlin Staatsoper andVienna. Regular appearances at Bayreuth, Covent Garden and Chicago preceded his 1940 Metropolitan debut, where hisrefined bass was highly praised. Kipnis was as much admired in Lieder as in operaand made many recordings of both. Naturalised an American in 1931, he died in1978.
Erich Leinsdorfwas born in Vienna in 1912: after studying composition,piano and cello he assisted Toscanini and Walter at several pre-war Salzburg Festivals.
He first conducted at the Metropolitan in 1938 (Die Walkure), remainingthere until 1943 but later returning as guest and musical consultant Briefly directorof New York City Opera, Leinsdorf also worked extensively with the Roc