(1895 - 1962)
The Metropolitan Opera´s matinee performance on Saturday 2 February 1935 was broadcast.
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.