Friday, November 25, 2005

EDWARD DOWNES: Flagstad and Nelson Eddy

Edward gave me several large scrapbooks of articles he wrote for The Boston Evening Transcript from 1937-1941. Edward left the paper in 41 to join the war effort at what later became the CIA! But here are two of his pieces, and part of another of the conversations I had with him in 1995. Edward died at ninety on Christmas Day, 2001.

Boston Evening Transcript
April 2, 1940

If rumor is true and the performance of "Tristan und Isolde" which the Metropolitan Opera Company gave last night in the Boston Opera House is the last one in which Bostonians will have the privilege of seeing and hearing Kirsten Flagstad's impersonation of the Irish princess, it will have been a worthy performance to remember her by and one which will go down in the musical annals as a historical event. It was the greatest impersonation of Isolde we have seen Flagstad give, and the miraculous thing about it was the way in which her conception of the part has increased in depth and subtlety.

Two years ago, Flagstad's Isolde, thought the finest then to be seen on the operatic stage, was still lacking in the passionate bitterness, the vitiating irony and sovereign contempt which are part of isolates emotions in the first act. At that time Flagstad still appeared too fundamentally sweet and amiable a character ever to be able to master and express the wild storms of destructive rage or the intense inward suffering which Wagner makes his heroine hide behind a mask of icy scorn.

One thing,however, has always remained true of Flagstad: her art continued to grow. You see her do the same role two years in succession invariably has meant being witness to a fascinating development,end of dramatic instinct and musical intuition. And today she has accomplished what to many spectator's seemed impossible a few years ago. As always, since she has been at the Metropolitan, Flagstad has been the greatest Wagnerian soprano to be heard since the World War, but now her acting, too, equals the greatest acting of Isolde that has been seen there in the same period.

Boston Evening Transcript
April 3, 1940

Nelson Eddy, famous all American baritone of the stage, screen and ether waves, gave a recital last night in Symphony Hall which began with Albert Hay Lamotte's setting of Shelley's "Ode to a Skylark", and ended with "The Lord's Prayer" set to music by the same intrepid composer. The program informed us "Of all vocal compositions, Maltese setting of The Lord's Prayer is requested most often, a significant indication of the reverence of a people who know how to turn to God." This last confused us considerably. Does it mean he real way to turn to God is to write a fan letter to Nelson Eddy asking him to sing "The Lord's Prayer"? Or does it mean that the number of requests Mr. Eddy receives for this kind of vocal composition is a kind of barometer of the devoutness of the American public?

talking to CP i New York, October, 1995

I can remember only one or two occasions when father
(New York Times critic Olin Downes)helped. One was the very first criticism I wrote for a newspaper. This was a song recital, a debut recital, imagine sending a kid to review a debut! It was for the New York Post. I came on as (Samuel) Chotzinoff's assistant. No critic went to the office at the Post.. You went home and late a at night a messenger came over to pick up your copy. I cam home and my father must have asked me what it was I had to write about. And he made this suggestion: If you can find something which is of legitimate interest about the songs, which throws some light, or gives some detail which is relevant, use it to add to whatever your personal opinion is...

I read my father's stuff regularly, and I remember my mother pointing out to me that one of the important things in a news story, in a reporting sense, is to get the facts straight: What, when, why, where and how?!

My first review turned out well, and the young man who gave the recital wrote a letter to the Post. I remember the boss reading this letter and saying, "Friend of yours?" which would have been bad but I was able to convince him I didn't know the man from Adam.

Writing criticism was comfortable but I wouldn't say I felt any great sense of mission. In Boston I reviewed Johanna Gadski, appearing on a vaudeville bill. I had heard her as Isolde, and she had to pay her bills. To appear at kit's orphan on a vaudeville bill, I wrote a review of this for myself...I remember writing about the ignorant audience that was giggling when they should have been listening respectfully-I was twelve at this time!-but poor Gadski looked like a caricature of a diva out of the New Yorker. She could still sing, she sang Brahms Wiegenlied and
Brunnhilde's Battle Cry, but naturally the audience at Keith's thought it was a joke. I remember my indignation was aroused that she was reduced to this."


KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD went home to Nazi occupied Norway in 1941. At the end of the war, her husband was arrested for collaborating with the Quisling government. He died in prison awaiting trial in 1946. Flagstad lived under house arrest until 1947 when she was allowed to resume her career in Europe and America. Her appearances in the US were often picketed, she was reviled in the papers as a Nazi and did not return to the Metropolitan until 1950. Flagstad was never formally charged of any crimes and nothing was ever proved against her. She died, in Norway, in 1962.

NELSON EDDY (1900-1967) Popular American baritone, known for his films with JEanette MacDonald. Edwat is being rather patronizing here. Eddy had a significant operatic and concert career. He sang the Ameircan premiere of Berg's Wozzeck with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1935. Oter opera roles included Germont, Rigoletto and Amonasro, and his recital programs always included Schubert and Brahms. He died onstage during a recital in 1967.

JOANNA GADSKI (1972-1932) Distinguished soprano, often partnered Caruso in Aida. A huge voice with a large repertoire. Her recordings are well worth seeking out. Her career was daamaged when German opera was banned World War I. She made tours singing in English until 1930. Died in a car crash, 1932.

No comments: