BEHRENS in Oldenburg: commemorating the
100th birthday of dramatic soprano ERNA SCHLÜTER
On a spring day in May 2004, the north German city of Oldenburg proudly basked in the glow of two of the region's most celebrated personages: one came to honor the other, now long gone, whose 100th birthday was being commemorated. Hildegard Behrens - born and raised in the nearby town of Varel, paid homage to Erna Schlüter - born and raised in Oldenburg: one great dramatic soprano to another from a generation past, in the best way she knew how - on soaring wings of song.
Her tribute was a moving recital of Wagnerian excerpts - from Wesendock Lieder ("Schmerzen" and "Traume"), Elizabeth's Aria ("Dich, teure Halle") from Tannhäuser, and the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung - accompanied by pianist Richard Tauber, and delivered with great aplomb to an audience of compatriots who had eagerly looked forward to her homecoming. Indeed, weeks ahead of the event the region was abuzz with news of her upcoming appearance. Hamburg NDR lined up an hour-long radio interview with her on May 14 that was broadcast live in northern Germany and on the internet. And so, the Oldenburgers came and filled the house to see and hear the local girl who conquered the musical world with the powerful radiance of her voice and the magnificence of her personality.
On this occasion, it was pointed out, Ms. Behrens with "her still incredibly powerful and lithe voice" was "splendidly representative of the singer from Oldenburg who was internationally celebrated in the '30s and '40s." Indeed their careers took strikingly similar paths - from Oldenburg (where she debuted at age 18) in the case of Erna Schlüter and from Freiburg (where she debuted following her studies in law and music) in the case of Hildegard Behrens across Düsseldorf to the great German and European opera houses and the Met in New York (where the former was the first postwar German singer to perform at the Met). Performing with the great conductors of their time (Schlüter with the likes of Sir Thomas Beecham and Wilhelm Furtwängler who chose her as his first Isolde, Behrens with the likes of Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein who chose her as his first Isolde), each made her mark as a great Wagnerian and Straussian singer. In the words of Intendant Rainer Mennicken: "They both grew up in small and mid-size cities and from there conquered metropolises" which rather "snobbishly claim to be the cultural movers of the world, as if they did not ultimately owe this distinction to the provinces where great artists are raised."
Of Ms. Behrens, Nord-West Zeitung wrote: "If one wants to imagine what Die Welt meant when it wrote of Erna Schlüter in its obituary of 3 December 1969: 'she had a certain glow' - Hildegard Behrens has that special something. One heard it in Wagner's "Schmerzen" (after the text by Mathilde Wesendonck) - she hurled out high notes that were as bright as a flash of lightning. And when Wagner shifted into a dark mood, the timbre dived into a deep, unfathomable darkness." The masterpiece of the day was of course Brünnhilde's final aria from Götterdämmerung which she sang with "expression and radiant power."
When Hildegard Behrens broke into the international scene early in her career, her two aunts were quite disappointed because she had not sung at the Oldenburg Stadtstheater - THE center of their cultural life. Well, she finally did, and it was a homecoming that turned out to be a wonderful lovefest with the audience. Amidst the many Bravos! and the thunderous standing ovations, Ms. Behrens sang a most fitting encore, Richard Strauss' "Zueignung," profusely expressing her thanks ("Habe Danke!") on soaring wings of song. Her aunts would have been so proud!
-©GJC/FanFaire 2004 photos: courtesy CFI
PROFILE PORTRAITS PERFORMANCES DISCOGRAPHY AWARDS QUOTES
BRÜNNHILDE ELEKTRA SALOME FIDELIO ISOLDE MARIE SENTA
THE KOSTELNICKA THE WOMAN 'R' KUNDRY DIE LUSTIGE WITWE
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