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In the first of three linked posts (http://operapost.blogspot.com/2019/03/wagners-last-golden-age-at-met-i.html) we undertook a fleeting review of the dramatic soprano during the fourth and last Wagnerian Golden Age at the Metropolitan Opera. The second post (Wagner's Last Golden Age at the Met: II, The Heroic Tenor) was devoted to the Heldentenor, and specifically to Lauritz Melchior. In the third and last post of the series we turn our attention to other voices that drew clamoring audiences to 39th Street and Broadway during the brilliant Wagnerian decade of the 1930s--the Jugendlich dramatischer (literally the young dramatic soprano), the dramatic mezzo, and the Heldenbariton (the heroic baritone).
The Jugendlich dramatischer is endowed with a lyric instrument suited to the gentler vocal demands placed on Elsa, Elisabeth, and Eva, the heroines of Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Die Meistersinger. Her repertoire extends to Mozart’s Contessa and Verdi‘s Aïda. So it was for the versatile Elisabeth Rethberg who took on nearly thirty German, Italian, and French roles at the Met. We hear her in a 1932 recording as Elsa in Act I of Lohengrin. A warm yet silvery sound and limpid legato suffuse her recital of the dream in which a virtuous knight comes to her rescue.
Another remarkable Jugendlich of the time, Lotte Lehmann, yearned to sing Isolde, one of the great Hoch dramatischer roles. But she understood that while dramatic sopranos might poach in the precinct of the lyric soprano, the reverse was fraught with peril. She feared for the survival of her voice. In this 1930 recording she lent her passionate temperament to the “Liebestod” but never sang the whole of Isolde’s long and arduous part.
The Wagnerian dramatic mezzo sometimes ventures into lead soprano territory—Ortrud in Lohengrin, Kundry in Parsifal—but is most often obliged to content herself with important yet secondary parts. Here is Kerstin Thorborg whose rock-solid technique fills out Brangäne’s exceptionally long phrases as she warns the adulterous Tristan and Isolde of the danger that awaits them.
Friedrich Schorr was the undisputed dominant Heldenbariton of the interwar period. In New York and elsewhere he was called on to sing Wotan (three “Ring” operas), Amfortas (Parsifal), Kurwenal (Tristan und Isolde), the Dutchman (Der Fliegende Holländer), and Hans Sachs (Die Meistersinger). In this 1927 recording, he applies his sweet tone and silken phrasing to Wolfram’s hymn to the Evening Star from the last act of Tannhäuser.
Rethberg, Lehmann, Thorborg, Schorr, and the other artists mentioned in our two previous posts formed a constellation surrounding the two most luminous stars, Flagstad and Melchior. There is not today, nor has there been since 1950, a roster of singers sufficient to sustain a Wagnerian golden age at the Met or, indeed, anywhere.