Biography of Famous Soprano Opera Singer Kirsten Flagstad Part 1

About the famous Norwegian soprano opera singer Kirsten Flagsted, his history and biography.

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962). In her debut as Die Walkure's Sieglinde on February 2, 1935, Kirsten Flagstad took her place as one of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos in the 20th century. It was a role she had learned just 8 months before. Her sole previous experience with Wagner had been in Europe, singing lesser parts except for Isolde, which she knew only in Norwegian. A quick study, she had mastered Isolde within 6 weeks for a 1932 performance. Until 1935, he name was completely unknown outside of Scandinavia.

Born on July 12, 1895, in Hamar, Norway, she became familiar with Richard Wagner's operas at the age of 10. The score for Lohengrin was given to her for a birthday present and she learned the role of Elsa, unaware then that she would later sing it on stage. At 16, she began a program of formal voice study, making her Norwegian debut as Nuri in Eugene d'Alberts' Tiefland on December 12, 1913, 5 months after her 18th birthday.

Following an unsuccessful 1st marriage to Sigurd Hall in 1919--during which her only child, Else, was born--she resumed her singing career. In 1929, Norwegian lumberman Henry Johansen arranged to meet her after seeing a Flagstad performance as Elsa; they were married a year later. It was Johansen who forced Flagstad to attend the Staatsoper in Vienna, to hear Tristan and Isolde. The opera--her talisman in later years--nearly put her to sleep.

In 1934, the Metropolitan Opera Company, badly in need of a new Wagnerian soprano, sent director Giulio Gatti-Casazza and conductor Artur Bodanzky to St. Moritz, Switzerland. There they auditioned this widely acclaimed Norwegian singer and signed her to a one-year contract. Neither man realized then what they had accomplished until a year later, when her debut made all of America's music lovers Wagner-conscious.

Flagstad, perhaps because of her peasant shyness, insisted on near-fanatical privacy during much of her public career. She avidly read movie magazines and from them adopted the "Greta Garbo complex," wanting to be left alone. Flagstad frequently barred the doors of her dressing room to all visitors. On other occasions, she skipped out immediately after the performance, leaving critics, well-wishers, and important persons fuming. Before going on stage, she passed the time by playing countless games of solitaire, for years keeping meticulous count of the results. For good luck she adopted another ritual before the performance: Either her accompanist, Edwin McArthur, or her husband would blow cigar smoke--which she loved--in her face. Flagstad kept in touch with her admirers by personally sending out autographed photographs, and she had an alphabetical file of the people who had requested these pictures. One of Flagstad's habits brought hurt accusations that a "secretary" was signing the pictures: The signature on the pictures and the addressing on the envelopes were by the same hand. The fans were wrong. Flagstad was her own "secretary."

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