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Episode 18. Elisabeth Söderström Sings Everything (Needle Drop IV)
Elisabeth Söderström, the elegant, vibrant, vulnerable, musically scrupulous, dramatically committed, Swedish soprano (7 May 1927 – 20 November 2009) is celebrated in this episode with an airing of her rare 1972 vocal recital for Swedish EMI which features her in a wide range of musical styles from early Baroque opera to the Swedish composer Ture Rangström, with side trips to Mozart, Gluck, and Debussy. These works buttress vocally sumptuous, dramatically-charged performances of extended scenes from two of her signature roles, Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin and the Gräfin in Capriccio, representing this beloved artist in her absolute vocal and artistic prime.
Before I get into a short description of each item heard on this week’s episode, I wanted to offer you a few links of interest.
I mention on the podcast having heard a live performance of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier on 20 May 1983 during the Minneapolis leg of the Metropolitan Opera tour with the dream cast of Elisabeth Söderström as the Marschallin, Frederica von Stade as Octavian, and Kathleen Battle as Sophie. I found a YouTube link to a performance of the Act III trio with this same cast. This clip is from the Met’s 100th Anniversary Gala the following fall, 22 October 1983 and gives a sense of what I heard at Northrop Auditorium several months earlier, but without costumes. Amazingly, apart from two performances by these three singers of the excerpted trio, this cast was only heard on the Met Tour, which unfortunately are a thing of the past. Söderström sang the role of the Marschallin in the Met house only three times, in the Winter of 1987, where her colleagues included Brigitte Fassbaender and Barbara Hendricks (!)
Desert Island Discs Interview
Söderström’s command of the English language was impeccable and, like her persona, charming and engaging. I listened to and read a number of interviews with her in preparation for this episode. Here is a link to her 14 December 1979 appearance on the legendary BBC radio program Desert Island Discs. Her ability to spin a wonderful narrative and her sometimes self-deprecating sense of humo(u)r come through in a deliciously vivid way. Please give it a listen.
Living Opera interview
Here is a link to a 1959 interview on Living Opera program which was hosted by Alan Wagner and which ran from 1958-1968 on WNYC Radio. Söderström had recently debuted her Figaro Susanna at the Met. She speaks about Susanna, her wide-ranging repertoire (which even at the time also included Marie in Wozzeck and Butterfly), and what it was like being a member of the ensemble of the Royal Swedish Opera. One can explore the archives of this program on the WNYC website. Featuring rare and often revelatory interviews with some of the greatest operatic practitioners of that era, it is an invaluable resource, to say the least.
Bruce Duffie Interview
The prodigiously prolific music journalist Bruce Duffie conducted an interview with today’s Woman in Question in August 1997. Once again, her warmth and insight come through here in full force. Below are the covers of some of Söderström’s many recordings.
RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE
All of these selections were recorded in Norrköping on 23 & 24 October 1972 and issued in 1973 by Swedish EMI (4E 061-34788), Elisabeth Söderström is accompanied by the Symfoniorkestern Norrköping [SON] conducted by Ulf Björlin (1933-1993).
Anonymous Italian: Neapolitan Mourning Song, arr. Claude Génetay (1917-1992)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838): Non so più cosa son (Le nozze di Figaro)
Ture Rangström (1884-1947), Bo Bergman (1869-1967): Hennes Ord [Her Words]
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837): Пускай погибну я [Puskay pogibnu ya] (Tatyana’s Letter Scene) (Yevgeny Onegin)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Édouard Guinand (1838-1909): L’année en vain chasse l’année (L’enfant prodigue)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787), Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (1714-1795), François-Louis Gand le Bland du Roullet (1716-1786): Divinités du Styx (Alceste)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Clemens Krauss (1893-1954): Morgen Mittag um elf! [Schlußszene] (Capriccio)