When Ingrid Bjoner stood at the beginning of her career she participated in a complete recording of Gotterdammerung, with the famed Kirsten Flagstad, in Oslo.
Ms. Bjoner sang the roles of Gutrune and the Third Norn. She recalls that she took the opportunity of asking Kirsten Flagstad about everything concerning the opera.
"It was a fantastic opportunity for the younger members of the cast to collaborate with her who was so supreme in Wagner. I asked her directly about being our teacher, to give us lessons. She laughed and said: "How should I be able teach, I have no idea how to explain how I sing. I simply don't know".
I said it was never my intention to have her teach me vocal technique, but I was interested in learning how she prepared her operatic roles. Mme Flagstad put her arm around me and said warmly: "But my dear child, that I can teach you any time. Travel with me to Kristiansand when we are finished here. Stay as long as you like. We can go over the roles that interest you."
But as long as we were in Oslo, we worked in her hotel room. She introduced me to her methods of working, taught me how she built up a role, vocally and psychologically. We worked on Elsa in Lohengrin.
I remember she said: "It is not enough to know the role, music and words. You have to know the background for Elsa's actions. Find out what is behind every musical phrase, every movement. While you work on the role, you have to try to find out the other characters' thoughts and feelings.
The actions of human beings are in large part decided by their relationship to others."
What Mme. Flagstad taught me has been invaluable to me. As I have gradually been asked to appear on great operatic stages with fully prepared parts, and have had to enter performances without rehearsal. Then I have sent Flagstad a grateful thought that she took the time to introduce me to her way of working.
Above: Ingrid Bjoner as Elsa in Lohengrin at the Metropolitan Opera, New York
One of the last things she said to me before we parted was: "By all means, don't go and acquire nerves!" "Acquire nerves," I answered. "The question is rather how to eliminate them. How do you go about that?" She laid her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and said: "By knowing it all (by being prepared)." (In Norwegian: "Ved aa kunne alt".)
Personally I have no doubt that exactly this was one of the secrets to Flagstad's extraordinary career, her preparation: "Hun kunne alt. (She always knew her part - she was prepared)."
Not only did Ingrid Bjoner sing with Flagstad, in the dream cast of the 1976 Munich "Frau ohne Schatten", conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, she is joined by Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and James King.
One reviewer had this to say:
This is a fascinating and extremely important document. First, this is the first of Birgit Nilsson's Dyer's Wife on record. The Dyer's Wife was the last role that Birgit Nilsson added to her repertoire in 1975.
Here she is in superb voice - her performance is absolutely stunning!! Her top notes are incredibly powerful and, truth to tell, her voice is more powerful as recorded here than in the Solti Ring. Sheer sensation - her voice here is like liquid fire pouring across the floodlights.
Second, we have Astrid Varnay's Nurse. Varnay performed the Nurse 22 times in her career and this is the only recorded performance of her Nurse that I know of. She is in marvellous form!
Varnay is a true dramatic soprano. Imagine, two of the great Brunnhildes of the 20th century in an earth shattering performance of Die Frau Ohne Schatten.
Bjoner makes a very exciting Empress. She is in thrilling voice and attacks all her notes fearlessly - they ring out gloriously in this recording.
Dieskau takes the role of Barak and makes it his own.