On This Day: 4 Mad Scenes in Hildegard Behrens’ Repertoire

By Francisco Salazar

Hildegard Beherens is regarded as one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of the 20th century as she delivered intensity in everything she portrayed. Sometimes criticized for her over acting, whatever Behrens did on stage was still effective and memorable.

In celebration of the great soprano’s birthday, OperaWire takes a look at the mad scenes that Behrens portrayed.


One can question whether or not Salome has gone mad by the end of the opera but it’s that obsessive want for the head of John the Baptist that really makes the case for her madness. In Behrens, Salome is in full ecstasy as she caresses the head of John and relishes the kiss she has been waiting for. She is essentially in a trance that can only be stopped by her death.


One of Behrens most famous roles is Strauss’ “Elektra.” In the role Behrens demonstrates an unrestrained intensity that captures the character’s thrill for revenge. During the opening aria “Allein, Weh ganz allein,” she digs into the text with so much passion and force. Behrens gives some of the lines a tenderness and a grief for her father’s death. But it is not until the second part of the aria that one can see the excitement in Elektra’s plan as Behrens dances away to the wicked music waiting for the revenge of her father’s death. And by the end of the opera one see how Behrens’ “Elektra” is consumed by the thrust of revenge.


As a dramatic soprano Behrens always found ways to keep her voice as flexible as possible and as a result she sang many Mozart roles. Most notably she sang the role of Elettra in “Idomeneo.” When Idomeneo gives the throne to Idamante and Illia, Elettra is driven by revenge and longs for her own death. In the famous final aria “D’Oreste D’Aiace” Behrens conjures up all of the character’s anger and balances it with an unstable women. Filled with a breathy quality and some choppy phrases, Behrens captures the character’s torment and madness.


Tosca is driven to kill Scarpia. She is the victim of circumstances and perhaps that is what Behrens plays on when she kills Scarpia on stage. The scene is filled with many mixed reactions from fear to bravery to torment. Behrens’ repeated utterances of “Muori” are yelled out in full voice almost as if she is unable to control herself. The beauty of her voice is gone. It’s all about the action she has just committed and in many ways this can be described as a Behrens Mad scene.


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