Friday, 7 December 2012

Siegfried Metropolitan Opera 1938

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Kirsten Flagstad. To mark her passing I am posting a rare extract of her in the last act of Siegfried. Of all the Ring operas Siegfried was the gives sopranos the least to do, and therefore there are comparatively few recorded examples of Flagstad in the role even though she sang the opera many times. There is a complete recording from January 1937 with Melchior as Siegfried and then some post-war examples from La Scala and Covent Garden. This short extract (44 mins) of act 3 is all that survives from this opera, but whoever recorded it captured all of Flagstad's part. She is partnered by Carl Hartman, a German tenor specialising in Wagnerian roles, who enjoyed success in Europe in particular. He sang at the Met only 16 times between 1937 and 1940. 

The sound is rough in places, but more than bearable for the beauty of Flagstad's awakening in the final scene.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 10, 1938 Matinee Broadcast


Siegfried...............Carl Hartmann
Brünnhilde..............Kirsten Flagstad
Wanderer................Friedrich Schorr
Erda....................Anna Kaskas
Mime....................Erich Witte
Alberich................Adolf Vogel
Fafner..................Norman Cordon
Forest Bird.............Natalie Bodanya

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Barber of Seville Metropolitan Opera 1938

Thomas as Figaro
The Barber of Seville returned to the Met in 1938 for the first time in 6 years with a new Figaro and new Count. American baritone John Charles Thomas (1891-1960) really made his name on the radio, gaining a wide public following before his Met debut in 1934. He continued to sing on the radio throughout his career and to record a wide range of popular songs. The Met's broadcast audience would hear him three times as this Figaro, twice as Amonasro, and once each as Germont and Valentin. 

Bruno Landi (1900-1968) had made his met debut just ten days before this broadcast. His most frequently performed role at the Met was Almaviva, but he also sang the Duke of Mantua, Nemorino and Rodolfo.

French-born Lily Pons (1898-1976) was one of the most famous singers at the Met in the 1930s and 1940s. She was the leading coloratura soprano, noted for her Lucia, Gilda and Rosina. 

The sound is rough in places, but better than other performances from this season.

Metropolitan Opera House
January 22, 1938 Matinee Broadcast


Figaro..................John Charles Thomas
Rosina..................Lily Pons
Count Almaviva..........Bruno Landi
Dr. Bartolo.............Pompilio Malatesta
Don Basilio.............Ezio Pinza
Berta...................Irra Petina
Fiorello................Wilfred Engelman
Sergeant................Giordano Paltrinieri

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

Director................Désiré Defrère
Set designer............Joseph Urban

[In the Lesson Scene Pons sang Villanelle (Dell'Acqua) and Ach ich liebte from Die Entführung aus dem Serail.]

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Der Rosenkavalier Edinburgh 1952

Modl as Octavian

This recording is of a visit by the Hamburg State Opera to the Edinburgh Festival in 1952. About 37 minutes of extracts are preserved, concentrating on the Octavian of Martha Modl. Modl is best known for her Wagnerian roles, particular Brunnhilde, Kundry and Isolde, which she would sing at Bayreuth and elsewhere during the 1950s. The recent issue by Testament of her stereo Walkure and Gotterdammerung from Bayreuth in 1955 are particularly important documents of her art, while her broadcast of Tristan under Karajan at Bayreuth in 1952 (issued by Orfeo) ranks as one of the finest performances of the opera. Her non-Wagnerian discography is more limited, and examples of her singing Richard Strauss are few. The recording is taken from the complete BBC broadcast, but no further extracts seem to survive. The sound is acceptable.

Richard Strauss
King's Theatre, Edinburgh September 5, 1952

Marschallin - Clara Ebers

Octavian - Martha Mödl

Sophie - Lisa Della Casa

Der Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau - Theo Herrmann

Faninal - Caspar Bröcheler

Valzacchi - Fritz Göllnitz

Annina - Hedy Gura

Ein Sänger - Fritz Lehnert

Marianne Leitmetzerin - Lisa Bischof

Polizeikommissar - Jean Pfendt

Der Wirt - Kurt Marschner

Ein Notar - Karl (Carl) Otto

Der Haushofmeister bei der Feldmarschallin - Horst Wegner

Der Haufhofmeister bei Faninal - Kurt Marschner

Tierhändler - Robert Bodewig

Modistin - Christine Görner

Die drei Waisen - Agathe Bomatsch

- Edith Witteborn

- Kathe Feige


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Tristan und Isolde Metropolitan Opera April 1938

Flagstad and Melchior on stage in Act 2

Flagstad backstage with Melchior and Branzell
Flagstad and Melchior were probably the biggest stars the Met had on its roster of singers in 1937-8, and they were worked very hard as a result. They opened and closed the season in Tristan because the Met could virtually guarantee a full house. Melchior sang 36 Wagnerian performances during the season (November-April), Flagstad 39, her other Met role, Leonore in Fidelio, did not feature in this season. Tristan was performed 12 times and broadcast twice (January and April). Flagstad appeared in all, Melchior in 11 (Carl Hartmann took the role of Tristan on a single occasion). What is particularly remarkable about this broadcast is that it took place the day after the Parsifal broadcast I recently posted. Parsifal was a rare Friday broadcast, and in fact marked Good Friday in 1938 in recognition of the setting of the opera. The following day the last performance of the season saw large parts of Parsifal's cast appear again in the regular Saturday matinee broadcast of Tristan. Only Huehn and Branzell were 'fresh'.

Swedish mezzo Karin Branzell (1891-1974) completed the trio of Scandinavians performing Tristan at the Met. Brangäne was one of her signature roles, and she sang it 74 times at the Met between 1924 and 1944 and was heard on five broadcasts.

American baritone Julius Huehn (1904-1971) appeared more than two hundred times at the Met between 1935 and 1946. He was a noted Telramund and Wotan, and sang Kurwenal 56 times between 1936 and 1944.

The sound is not bad for an aircheck, with only the odd drop out. 

Metropolitan Opera House
April 16, 1938 Matinee Broadcast


Tristan.................Lauritz Melchior
Isolde..................Kirsten Flagstad
Kurwenal................Julius Huehn
Brangäne................Karin Branzell
King Marke..............Emanuel List
Melot...................Arnold Gabor
Sailor's Voice..........Karl Laufkötter
Shepherd................Karl Laufkötter
Steersman...............Louis D'Angelo

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Saturday, 6 October 2012

La Boheme Metropolitan Opera 1938

Grace Moore

 This broadcast of La Boheme gives us an early chance to hear American soprano Grace Moore (1898-1947) in one of her most famous roles. Moore was an early example of a cross-over artist, making her name on Broadway working with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin before making her Met debut as Mimi in 1928. During the 1930s she made several Hollywood films including Louise, a version of Charpentier's opera which was another of her signature roles. Moore died in a plane crash in Denmark at the age of just 48. 

This is the only surviving Met broadcast to feature Scottish soprano Muriel Dickson (1903-1990). Dickson appeared just 29 times at the Met between 1936 and 1940, and apart from Musetta appeared most often as Marenka in The Bartered Bride. Dickson had made her name as the principal soprano for the D'Oyly Carte and can be heard in several studio recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas made in the early 1930s. After retiring from the stage she joined the faculty of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. 

The sound, as with all these airchecks, is variable, but perhaps a little more bearable than some others from this season.


Muriel Dickson
Metropolitan Opera House
January 15, 1938 Matinee Broadcast


Mimì....................Grace Moore
Rodolfo.................Bruno Landi
Musetta.................Muriel Dickson
Marcello................Carlo Tagliabue
Schaunard...............George Cehanovsky
Colline.................Ezio Pinza
Benoit..................Louis D'Angelo
Alcindoro...............Louis D'Angelo
Parpignol...............Max Altglass
Sergeant................Carlo Coscia

Conductor...............Gennaro Papi

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Hansel and Gretel Metropolitan Opera December 1937

Irene Jessner

Queena Mario
Hansel and Gretel was the regular Christmas broadcast between 1931 and 1938. It inaugurated the matinee broadcasts from the Met on Christmas Day 1931 and was heard on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day for the next seven seasons. Apart from a solitary January performance in 1947 it would not return to the broadcast schedule until 1967.

The broadcast gives us a chance to hear soprano Queena Mario (1896-1951) as Gretel. Mario was particularly noted for her Michaela in Carmen, Marguerite in Faust, and Antonia in Hoffmann. Partnering her is Viennese soprano Irene Jessner (1901-1994). Jessner sang the lighter Wagnerian roles at the Met (Elsa, Elisabeth, Eva) and regularly made cameos as a Valkyrie. Here we get the chance to hear her early on in her Met career (she made her debut in 1936), in a role that she rarely sang.

The sound is very noisy at times, as is typical with airchecks from this season. A much better sounding recording of this opera from April 1937 (with largely the same cast) exists in the New York Public Library deriving from the original transcription discs.

Metropolitan Opera House
December 24, 1937 Matinee Broadcast


Hänsel..................Irene Jessner
Gretel..................Queena Mario
Gertrud.................Doris Doe
Peter...................Arnold Gabor
Witch...................Dorothee Manski
Sandman.................Lucielle Browning
Dew Fairy...............Charlotte Symons

Conductor...............Karl Riedel

Monday, 1 October 2012

Parsifal Metropolitan Opera 1938

After a summer break I am resuming with some performances from the 1937-8 and 1938-9 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. Unlike the 1936-7, 1939-40, and 1940-41 seasons no transcription discs exist for these two years. They were either removed from the archives ('borrowed') or destroyed. This means that recordings we have from these two years are often fragmentary and in poor quality sound since they derive from airchecks. Having said that, they often capture unique performances. One good example is the first complete Met broadcast of Parsifal in 1938, indeed it would not be broadcast again until 1952. It captures the only complete recording of Melchior and Flagstad in this opera and is therefore of great historic interest. The sound is problematic, with gaps for disc changes every 5 or 7 minutes, and might be classed as hard work. If you can listen through the noise there is certainly a great performance to be heard. There are rumours of a better sounding copy, without gaps, in existence, but it has yet to be issued.
Flagstad in full cry in Act 2

Flagstad's costume which she can be seen wearing in the other photo

Metropolitan Opera House
April 15, 1938 Matinee Broadcast


Parsifal................Lauritz Melchior
Kundry..................Kirsten Flagstad
Amfortas................Friedrich Schorr
Gurnemanz...............Emanuel List
Klingsor................Arnold Gabor
Titurel.................Norman Cordon
Voice...................Doris Doe
First Esquire...........Natalie Bodanya
Second Esquire..........Helen Olheim
Third Esquire...........Giordano Paltrinieri
Fourth Esquire..........Karl Laufkötter
First Knight............George Cehanovsky
Second Knight...........Louis D'Angelo
Flower Maidens: Susanne Fisher, Irra Petina, Helen Olheim,
Hilda Burke, Thelma Votipka, Doris Doe

The Flower Maidens
Group I: Susanne Fisher, Irra Petina, Helen Olheim
Group II: Hilda Burke, Thelma Votipka, Doris Doe

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky, Acts I, III
Conductor...............Erich Leinsdorf, Act II

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Die Walkure Bayreuth 1951

Leonie Rysanek
 When the Bayreuth festival reopened after the war, recording engineers from Decca and EMI were there to record complete Wagner performances.  Meistersinger and Parsifal were ultimately issued commercially but both ring cycles were also recorded, the first one under Knappertsbusch by Decca and the second one under Karajan by EMI. The Decca tapes were consigned to the vaults, partly due to producer John Culshaw's dislike of live recordings, and only Gotterdammerung seems to have been kept (and was later issued by Testament). EMI only issued Act 3 of Die Walkure but the entire ring remains in their archive. Rheingold and Siegfried later emerged on pirate labels but the complete Walkure has not been released. The Bayreuth performances of 1951 were broadcast throughout Europe and someone managed to capture this off-air extract from Act 1 of Die Walkure, the final 20 minutes. This is the earliest recording of Leonie Rysanek's Sieglinde, a part she would make her own for a large part of the 1950s and 1960s. Her trademark scream as Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree, famously heard on the Bohm live Bayreuth recordings from 1966/7 is absent here, so clearly was something later added to her characterisation. Treptow is a very fine Siegmund.

Die Walkure
Bayreuth August 12, 1951

Sieglinde - Leonie Rysanek
Siegmund - Gunther Treptow

c. Herbert von Karajan

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Meistersinger Leipzig 1938

Josef von Manowarda as Hans Sachs
Here we have most of act two of Die Meistersinger, broadcast live from Leipzip and relayed via shortwave to the USA where it was heard on WEAF New York between 2 and 3pm. It's a rare chance to hear Austrian bass Josef von Manowarda (1890-1942) in an extended recording. Other surviving examples of his art tend to be fragmentary, such as various 1933 performances recorded in Vienna (issued as part of the Koch Swan series), and some pre-war Bayreuth extracts. The only complete role of his that survives, so far as I know, is Sarastro in Die Zauberflote from a 1937 Stuttgart radio broadcast.
The cast of this Meistersinger was a very good one for the time. Frantz was a noted Wagnerian and would go on to be a noted Sachs himself as well as a famous Wotan. Max Lorenz was the leading European heldentenor during the 1930s, dominating particularly at Bayreuth. Margarethe Teschemacher was a leading soprano in Germany during the 1930s and created the role of Daphne for Richard Strauss.
The sound is actually not bad for a shortwave transmission, and some commentary is retained. Particularly interesting is the German announcer sending greetings to America at a time when Germany had recently annexed Austria and was moving against Czechoslovakia.

Richard Wagner
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Act II
Reichssender Leipzig - 22 May 1938

Hans Sachs - Josef von Manowarda
Veit Pogner - Ferdinand Frantz
Sixtus Beckmesser - Gerhard Hofmann
Walther von Stolzing - Max Lorenz
Eva Pogner - Margarethe Teschemacher
David - Paul Reinecke
Magdalene - Martha Rohs

Chor und Orchester des Reichssenders Leipzig
Cond. Hans Weisbach

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Parsifal Carnegie Hall 1938

Rare Picture of Norman Cordon
Although the entire first act of Parsifal was broadcast as part of this NYPSO concert, only 23 mins seem to survive. These airchecks were recorded by a professional company in New York for Norman Cordon, who sang Titurel in this performance. Some singers were anxious to document their broadcast performances (Lawrence Tibbett did it often) and paid others to record off-air transmissions. Perhaps the company was only commissioned to record Cordon's part, understandable given the expense involved.
After Cordon's death these discs were donated by his family to a charity shop run by a local PTA in Carborro, NC. They were spotted by an opera enthusiast who rescued them and now we are able to hear part of this performance.
Englishman John Barbirolli had taken over from Toscanini as the principal conductor of the NYPSO in 1936, not a universally acclaimed decision with some critics particularly taking offence the job had not been offered to a more famous conductor. The survival of air-checks of Barbriolli's concerts permit us to judge his ability on the podium for ourselves and I think in general JB comes out pretty well as a result.

New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Concert
Carnegie Hall April 17, 1938 broadcast over WABC 3-5pm.
Act 1 grail scene, Norman Cordon (Titurel), Richard Bonelli (Amfortas)
c. John Barbirolli

Monday, 9 April 2012

Otello Covent Garden 1937

Martinelli as Otello
There are plenty of other recordings of Martinelli as Otello, four complete ones from the Met alone often in very good sound. Yet this short extract from Otello (about 4mins from act 2) is interesting because it is the earliest surviving aircheck of a Covent Garden BBC broadcast. Unlike in the US where opera lovers recorded many opera broadcasts dating back as early as 1930 (see the Lotte Lehmann Tannhauser extract previously posted), and were able to capture complete broadcasts from 1934, British opera lovers simply lacked the right equipment to do the same. Not only were disc cutters very expensive, you needed two of them to be able to capture a broadcast without breaks every 4 or 5 minutes. Thus although the BBC broadcast regularly from Covent Garden,  usually just one act rather than a complete opera, very few recordings have turned up over the years. This opera was one of the first to be broadcast complete, Martinelli was of course world famous in the role of Otello. Some opera lover managed to capture this part of act 2, so we can enjoy it seventy-five years later.

Otello Covent Garden April 19, 1937
Otello - Giovanni Martinelli
Iago - Cesare Formichi
c. Thomas Beecham

Monday, 26 March 2012

Don Giovanni St Louis 1941

Pinza as Don Giovanni
American Radio often broadcast from regional opera houses such as San Francisco, Chicago and St Louis during the 1930s and 1940s. Not many operas were broadcast complete, and not many recordings survive. Ezio Pinza was the Met's reigning Don Giovanni during the 1930s and 1940s, featuring in many broadcasts, and so the management of the St Louis opera house had secured themselves a real star for their production of the opera. With him is the Italian tenor Tito Schipa, a light-voiced stylish singer who is approaching the end of this career here, but still very much worth hearing.

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II (part)

Anne Roselle: Donna Anna
Vivian della Chiesa: Donna Elvira
Margit Bokor: Zerlina
Tito Schipa: Don Ottavio
Ezio Pinza: Don Giovanni
Lorenzo Alvary: Leporello
Carlo Alexander: Masetto
St. Louis Opera, cond. Laszlo Halasz, April 16, 1941

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Forza RAI 1938

Gina Cigna
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the birth of Verdi RAI in Rome broadcast La Forza del Destino throughout Europe. All that seems to survive from this earliest live broadcast of Forza is Act 2 Scene 2 recorded from a shortwave relay by NBC station WJZ New York.
The recording features the famous Italian soprano Gina Cigna (1900-2001) who was most noted for her interpretation of Verdi heroines. She made a number of important early studio operas including Turandot, and can be heard live on stage in Aida and Norma from the Met. So far as I know this is only live recording of her in Forza.

Verdi - La forza del destino - Act 2 Scene 2
RAI broadcast, 10 October 1938
c. Oliviero De Fabritiis
Orchestra & Chorus - EIAR Roma

Leonora di Vargas - Gina Cigna
Fra Melitone - Emilio Ghirardini
Padre Guardiano - Giacomo Vaghi

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Otello La Scala 1939

Merli as Otello
Recorded lived at Castello Sforzesco in Milan and transmitted via shortwave to the USA we have nearly all of act 1 of Otello. This post allows us to hear the famed Italian tenor Francesco Merli (1887-1976) in one of his signature roles, Otello. Merli made studio recordings but live recordings of him on stage are rare. World War II, which would break out just weeks after this broadcast, would effectively end Merli's career. The broadcast was aired on WJZ New York (4-4.35pm).

Verdi – Otello – Act 1
Castello Sforzesco, Milan August 15, 1939

c. Arturo Lucon

Otello - Francesco Merli
Desdemona - Delia Sanzio
Iago - Enrico de Francheschi
Cassio - Alfredo Poggianti
Rodrigo - Erminio Benatti
Lodovico - Giuseppe Meraina
Montano - Luigi Sardi
Emilia - Rina Gallo Toscani

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Meistersinger Covent Garden 1951

Hotter as Sachs
 This is a rare opportunity to hear Thomas Beecham conducting Meistersinger. A large part of some 1936 performances were recorded by HMV but very little now survives. Here we have a complete act 1 and a complete act 2. The entire opera was broadcast by the BBC but a recording of act 3 has never surfaced. The cast is a mixture of home-grown talent and international stars. There are only two other complete recordings of the great bass-baritone Hans Hotter singing Sachs, in Munich in 1949 and Bayreuth in 1956. Austrian Ludwig Weber, normally associated with the ring villans Hunding and Hagen, sings Pogner. Liquid-voiced Elizabeth Grümmer would record the role of Eva in the studio under Kempe and then sang the role at Bayreuth between 1957 and 1961, but this is her earliest recording of the role. Singing Walther is Peter Anders and this is a rare example of him singing one of the Wagnerian roles that he was moving into at this stage of his career. He died in an accident aged just 46 in 1954.
Among the local singers performing are Constance Shacklock, and a young Geraint Evans.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Acts I, II
Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra, London
Sir Thomas Beecham, Conductor
July 2, 1951

Hans Sachs - Hans Hotter
Veit Pogner - Ludwig Weber
Sixtus Beckmesser - Benno Kusche
Fritz Kothner - Rhoderick Davies
Walther von Stolzing - Peter Anders
David - Murray Dickie
Eva - Elisabeth Grümmer
Magdalena - Constance Shacklock
Nachtwächter - Geraint Evans
Kunz Vogelgesang - Edgar Evans
Konrad Nachtigall - Ernest Davies
Ulrich Eisslinger - Dennis Stephenson
Balthasar Zorn - Emlyn Jones
Augustin Moser - David Tree
Hermann Ortel - Marian Nowakowski
Hans Schwarz - Charles Morris
Hans Foltz - Ronald Lewis

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Tosca, Metropolitan Opera House 1956

Jussi Bjorling as Cavaradossi
So far as I know this is the earliest in-house recording from the Met, made most likely from the prompter's box as he is audible throughout. It is notable for capturing Jussi Bjorling's earliest live Cavaradossi, and together with Zinka Milanov he would record the complete opera in stereo for RCA in 1957. The preserved extracts are most of acts 1 and 2 - both start from Cavaradossi's entrance and run through the end of each act. The sound is extremely variable, parts are not bad at all, but sections towards the end of act 2 are pretty dreadful. Both Jussi and Zinka are on top form though and I think it's worth persevering with.

Metropolitan Opera House
April 4, 1956

Tosca...................Zinka Milanov
Cavaradossi.............Jussi Björling
Scarpia.................Walter Cassel
Sacristan...............Gerhard Pechner
Spoletta................Alessio De Paolis
Angelotti...............Clifford Harvuot
Sciarrone...............George Cehanovsky
Shepherd................Rosalind Elias
Jailer..................Calvin Marsh

Conductor...............Dimitri Mitropoulos

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Aida Mexico City 1950

Callas on stage as Aida
Here are just over half an hour of extracts from one of Callas's earliest Aidas, captured in Mexico City in 1950. The extracts concentrate on Callas, and her main showpieces are here. The sound is only moderate, probably from off-air acetates, but her artistry shines through and we hear her long before her voice began to decline. 

 JUNE 3, 1950