(1895 - 1962)
The Metropolitan Opera´s matinee performance on Saturday 2 February 1935 was broadcast.
During the first intermission, the General Manager, Gatti-Casazza, was in his office when the telephone rang. It was his former wife, soprano Frances Alda, calling from her home in Long Island.
Who was that singing Sieglinde?
Perchè ha una bellissima voce e canta molto bene.
Una certa Flagstad ...
After several years of singing operetta and light opera in Norway, Kirsten Flagstad had been persuaded to take on heavier, dramatic rôles, including those of Verdi and eventually Wagner. Working on the rôle of Isolde in particular, for a production in Oslo in 1932, seems to have irreversibly changed her voice, increasing her power and stamina.
On the recommendation of Ella Gulbranson, a Norwegian singer who had appeared at the Bayreuth Festival, Winifred Wagner invited Flagstad to audition for the Festival. In her first season there she sang the minor rôles of Ortlinde and Third Norn and the following year Sieglinde.
As a result of her appearances in Bayreuth, Flagstad was invited to audition for the Metropolitan opera and engaged to sing Wagner. This led to an American career that lasted until the World War. Together with the Danish singer, Lauritz Melchior, she contributed to keeping the Metropolitan Opera alive through difficult years.
With the outbreak of war and then the occupation of Norway, Flagstad wished to return home, to be with her husband, Henry Johansen. Her decision was natural but naive. Although she never sang for the German occupiers, there were those, both in Norway and elsewhere, who saw her return to her occupied homeland as a gift to the oppressors.
Kirsten Flagstads home in Hamar.
At the liberation, Henry Johansen, although seriously ill, was arrested as a war profiteer (as were many businessmen who had supplied goods to the occupying forces) despite the fact that he had also helped the resistance. His death a year later was a serious blow to Kirsten. The post-war years were difficult for her, while her husband´s business and estate, including some of her own property and savings, were held by the state; and Flagstad was met with malicious newspaper article and demonstrations wherever she performed.
Flagstad´s voice had always had something of a mezzo character, making it ideal for the "Walküre" Brünnhilde and Kundry. In later years, her voice darkened and she lost some of her previously brilliant upper register. It is well known that some of Isolde´s high C´s in the 1951 recording of "Tristan und Isolde" were interpolated by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.
In many ways, Kirsten Flagstad was not a typical diva. During performances, she would sit in her dressing room knitting. She was proper, even slightly prudish perhaps, rather shy and introspective, and really wanted nothing more than to be an ordinary homemaker. Throughout her career, she repeatedly talked of retiring from the stage.
In 1951, Flagstad´s fee at the Mermaid Theatre, London included a bottle of stout a day; her contract stated that she was not to brag about the Vikings!
In her later years, Flagstad gave mostly concert performances. She made a number of recordings of songs by Mahler, Grieg, Sibelius and others, and she took part in Bernard Miles´ Mermaid Theatre project, appearing there in a production of Purcell´s "Dido and Aeneas" which was subsequently revived in Oslo. In 1958 she was invited to become the first General Manager of the Norwegian National Opera, based in the capital. Kirsten Flagstad was born in Hamar july 12, 1895 and died in Oslo december 7, 1962.