Flagstad Tribute

Flagstad Tribute - Obituary 1962

Metropolitan’s Dependable Star

Soprano Kirsten Flagstad – A Great Voice Under Sure Control

If ever a woman seemed indestructible, it was Kirsten Flagstad, who died last Dec. 7 in her native Norway at the age of 67.

During her years at the Metropolitan Opera, she, the sun, moon and tides all seemed to operate with equal dependability.

Edward Johnson, then the general manager, called her "our most expensive singer-and our cheapest, because she never cancels."

One does not remember Flagstad ever postponing a performance because of illness. Indeed, one does not remember hearing her when she sounded tired. The durability of her voice was fantastic. In 1937 she sang three heroic roles on successive days — the "Gotterdammerung" Brunnhilde on the matinee of March 2, Elsa in "Lohengrin" the following evening, and Isolde the evening after that,

Even-Tempered - Flagstad Tribute

Nor does one remember hearing stories of great bursts of temperament from her. She was always on time for rehearsals and performances, she was a good colleague, and she was loved by the personnel of the house. This kind of even disposition—some called it placid—was reflected in her singing.

She was not an impulsive singer. Frida Leider, the greatest of Wagnerian sopranos in the generation immediately preceding Flagstad's at the Metropolitan, was a more womanly Isolde, and a warmer one. Flagstad never threw herself into a role as Leider did; that was not her way. A large woman with a handsome and serene face, Flagstad never pretended to be much of an actress.

Hence she would stand more or less immobile on stage, contenting herself with pouring out glorious tone after glorious tone. At that, her restrained approach was preferable to that of singers who cannot act but think they can.

Flagstad Tribute

That voice! How can one describe it? It was enormous, but did not sound enormous because it was never pushed or out of placement. It had a rather cool, silvery quality, and was handled instrumentally, almost as though a huge violin were emitting legato phrases. It was never a passionate sound that Flagstad produced, and yet her singing had emotion and musicianship. And what authority. A Flagstad phrase, with its ultimate finish and exquisite taper, was unmistakable.

Paced Career

Her career was very long. She made her debut in 1913 and was singing until the middle Nineteen Fifties. One reason why she could keep it up was the strength of her singing method. Another was equally important—the fact that when she was young she did not rush into the heavy roles. At first she sang in operetta. Then she took some of the light soprano roles. Little by little she prepared herself .for the day when she would sing the great Wagnerian parts; and even though she had the role of Brunnhilde memorized when she was very young, she did not step on the stage with it until the 1930's.

This kind of foresight and planning is not being emulated by many singers today, who rush into roles before they are ready, and who hurtle by jet from continent to continent without giving their voice a chance to rest. Flagstad represented a generation that had more leisure, as did her great partner, Lauritz Melchior.

Flagstad Tribute

Since those two left the Metropolitan, we in New York simply have not heard Wagner.

It is true that Birgit Nilsson, currently the greatest Wagnerian soprano, is a brilliant singer, though without, Flagstad's control (who in any generation does have that kind of control?). But Nilsson has no tenor with which to sing.

Fortunate are we who had the privilege of hearing Flagstad and Melchior in their prime!

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on Feb. 2, 1935, in the matinee performance of "Die Walkure." The amazing thing is that she came here unheralded. .Who had ever heard of Kirsten Flagstad? We students in those days certainly hadn't.

But on hearing her, we agreed, young critics that we were, that Flagstad was all that the professional critics found her to be. And we kept on agreeing, and so did the public for another twenty years.

And so, listening to her recordings, will future generations.

--- BY Harold C. Schonberg, (c) 1962 New York Times News Service, New York.

Flagstad as Isolde - Posters

Flagstad Tribute