During the first half of the 20th century, Kirsten Flagstad was THE Wagner soprano, her interpretations of the repertoire among the most famous of all time.
Flagstad, for all her greatness, did not leave a lot of opera recordings, a true shame, especially considering the plethora of options available to singers shortly after her prime. The Metropolitan Opera did preserve numerous live performances of the great soprano between 1935 and 1952, but her overall catalogue is not as big as one would hope from such a historic figure.
Here is a look at the essential recordings by this great Norwegian soprano, born on July 12, 1895.
Tristan und Isolde
This recording of her famed interpretation still stands as arguably the greatest of the entire opera. Paired with Furtwängler, Flagstad’s singing as the great Wagnerian heroine is simply peerless. The Liebestod, in particular, is magical, but the entire opera is well-paced and Flagstad’s way with text has never been surpassed. Fun fact – the high Cs in the second act of this recording were provided by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, as Flagstad, then aged 57, was unsure of being able to hit the notes cleanly.
Der Ring Des Nibelungen – La Scala
The 1950 set is essential for all Wagner lovers. Flagstad gives us her only complete account of her famed Brünhilde (other recordings exist, but only in snippets). She is a bit past her prime, but still in splendid voice. Furtwängler leads the cast in his only full account of the famed work, making this recording all the more essential.
The Four Last Songs
Prior to his death, Richard Strauss wrote to the famed soprano with the request that she premiere his famous pieces.
“I would like to make it possible,” he wrote to her, “that [the songs] should be at your disposal for a world premiere in the course of a concert with a first-class conductor and orchestra.”
She duly obliged, performing the set with none other than Furtwängler and the Philharmonia Orchestra on May 22, 1950, a performance that was recorded and remains available for purchase. It is remarkable to consider that we have the very first performance of this iconic work making this recording all the more precious.