Kirsten Flagstads Voice

This is the story of Kirsten Flagstads Voice,

the voice of a little Norwegian girl who was born in Hamar on July 12, 1895, and lived to become one of the world's greatest singers.

Her father was an amateur musician and her mother was a professional opera coach.

Her grandparents were sturdy Viking stock. If you are a farmer's daughter on a ranch “way off behind them thar hills" or if you are a salesgirl, a clerk or a waitress who aspires to reach the topmost heights of an opera or concert career, it will behoove you to invest in this new book if only to have your eyes opened to what a prodigious amount of labor and experience is demanded by such a career.

Kirsten Flagstads Voice

In 293 pages Mr. Biancolli has, with great clarity, put down in Kirsten Flagstad's own words what it takes to get to the top and stay there.

Kirsten Flagstad at the Metropolitan - as Elisabeth in Tannhauser

The music critic Gilman of the New York Herald Tribune wrote of Kirsten Flagstads voice and her first New York “Elisabeth”:

"Even if Mme. Flagstad were less richly gifted than she is, even if she had a less beautiful and searching voice, a less nobly gracious mask and personality, her remarkable art of revelation and projection would still distinguish her beyond her known colleagues of the lyric stage.

Kirsten Flagstads Voice - From the moment that she appeared last evening in the Hall of Song, joyous, virginal, irradiated, she was not only indissolubly and completely Elisabeth - as if the ardors and exaltations of Isolde and Brunnhilde had never been conceived - but she became the exquisite and sensitive instrument of Wagner's music and his drama, neither over-stressing nor under-stressing its inherent values, but simply realizing them to the last nuance and the last magnificence."

Kirsten Flagstads voice -
the greatest Scandinavian voice and singer since Jenny Lind

Kirsten Flagstads voice makes her unquestionably the greatest of Scandinavian singers since Jenny Lind. Indeed, her huge repertory and her glorious art put her in an entirely different category from that in which we find Jenny Lind. As an instance of this take just one of Flagstad's famous roles, that of Isolde, which requires tremendous physical and emotional energy and a consummate musical understanding. Flagstad has given Wagner's masterpiece over one hundred and eighty-three performances in this powerful role of Isolde. Nothing could be a more vivid illustration of the power of Kirsten Flagstads Voice and artistry.

One performance of such a part puts more strain upon the singer than a dozen such roles as Jenny Lind sang. In fact, Mme. Flagstads voice and artistry must be ranked among the topmost singers of musical history such as Grisi, Patti, Galli-Curci, Melba, Sembrich, Mary Garden, Schumann Heink, Louise Homer, Materna, Gadski, Lilli Lehman, Lablache, Mattia Battistini, Caruso, Chaliapin, Jean de Reszke, Pinza, and others.

The mere task of memorizing fifty-two operas such as she sang in her early years, and the solo roles of eleven major oratorios and choral works is, in itself, a huge artistic operation. In the first part of her life story she tells of the more or less customary activity of the young singer in gradually building up a repertory. The great concentration and persistence necessary are emphasized.

Kirsten Flagstads Voice

One interesting observation is her tribute to the Jaques-Dalcroze system which has proven a life-time asset in influencing Kirsten Flagstad's stage gestures.

The engagement at the Metropolitan Opera in New York did not come before years of experience in European Opera Houses. Kirsten Flagstad describes with fervor her arrival on a steamer at New York in 1934 at the age of thirty-nine. A heavy fog delayed the disembarkment for two and a half days. On the last day, as night came on, the clouds suddenly lifted and the immense city with its myriad lights from the towering skyscraper windows was revealed like a scene from the Arabian Nights.

She says of this, "I was never so impressed in my life. I had read about it and seen pictures of it, but they were nothing beside the real thing."

From the start Kirsten Flagstads Voice and artistry was warmly welcomed not only by the management, the conductors, and the artists at the Metropolitan, but by the music critics as well, many of whom were customarily very capricious.

Her appearances at the Metropolitan and in concert became progressively more and more triumphant. However, broadcasting before a studio audience was distasteful to her. She said, "It confused me horribly at first. When I broadcast, I don't need the stimulus of applause, and when I listen I am annoyed by the applause."

As Mme. Flagstad's concert work increased, she began to look for an exceptional accompanist and engaged the brilliant young American pianist and conductor, Edwin McArthur, now conductor of the Harrisburg Symphony. He, with his charming wife, became intimate friends of Mme. Flagstad and the association lasted during her entire career. He conducted many leading orchestra and concert performances Mme. Flagstad pays great tribute to him for his assistance.

Kirsten Flagstads Voice - a major asset to the Metropolitan.

At the Metropolitan Kirsten Flagstad became the leading Wagnerian soprano and won even greater success than Nordica. Gadski, and Lehman. She sang all of the great Wagnerian music-dramas in New York many times!

In 1940 when hostilities broke out in Germany, she was "all packed up" ready to return to her home in Oslo. She expected to devote the rest of her life to her home and to occasional opera and concert appearances. Her devoted husband, a prosperous business man of Oslo, was anxious to have their home life restored.

Worst of all, sensational papers in Arnerica made it appear that she and her husband were anti-Semitic. The contrary was true as she was then giving-her services free for Jewish charitable concerts in London.

On her return to America for a concert tour she was abominably treated by those who sought to persecute her. Her concerts were picketed in different cities. Gradually she proved to the world the innocence of her husband and herself.

The injustice of the cabals and the frustrations resulting had a very severe effect upon her health. Naturally the discussion of her treatment makes many exciting pages in the book.

After much persuasion, Kirsten Flagstad returned to the Metropolitan in New York and closed her career by a series of triumphs which sent New York critics into rhapsodies.

May we hope that her retirement may be like that of Patti and Bernhardt - the overture to another tour. (End of bookreview).

The Flagstad Manuscript, An Autobiography, Narrated to Louis Biancolli

(Excerpted from the book review in “Etude”, April 1953)

Alas, her retirement did not turn out that way – though she made numerous recordings after retiring from the stage – she preferred the quiet life at her home near Kristiansand, Norway. She was briefly the director of the Norwegian Opera in Oslo, until illness forced her to give up that post. Flagstad was an artist of immense stature, the great suffering in her personal life was revealed in her simple statement in the preface to the book:

“Before all else I wanted a simple and tranquil home life, and a husband to love and respect me. I had both and I lost them.”

Read the preface to the book - in her own words

In the end it did not deter a career that stands on its own merit. She set the standard for dramatic sopranos particularly in the music of Wagner, a standard to which many aspire but few, if any, attain.

"The Big Broadcast of 1938" showcases a young radiant Flagstad in a cameo appearance as the Walkure "Brunnhilde".

Ivor Newton, the renowned accompanist of great artists, writes in his book "At the Piano":

"In quietness and confidence shall be your strenght."

"Quietness and confidence were the strength of Kirsten Flagstad; fame never disturbed her judgment or adulation her sense of proportion; she was not broken by life's storms or soured or embittered by illness.

She was, as well as a great artist, a great woman."


The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century

Kirsten Flagstads Voice - her only appearance on film "Big Broadcast of 1938"

Flagstad sings "Traume"

Flagstad sings "Mild und leise"

Flagstad and Melchior in Tristan


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