And if death gives rise
only to LIFE, / And pain gives way only to BLISS,
O how thankful I am, that / Nature gives me such anguish!
-from the Lied "Schmerzen" by Richard Wagner
courtesy: CFI; Metropolitan Opera (© Winnie Klotz, Johann
Elbers); Misako Uryu; C.McKinnon
A Tribute from KEN NODA:
It has been a year since Hildegard left us. The idea of a world
without her has been so hard. My love and respect for her went
far beyond music: she influenced the way I try to live my life
with the sound of her voice, which was not only beautiful but
the essence of who she was as a person. She was my teacher in
I had briefly met Hildegard three times before really getting
to know her. After her triumphant return to the Met in l994
as Elektra, it was a letter I wrote to her which opened a level
of communication I have never experienced before or since with
another human being. I think the last two sentences in it interested
her: “the next morning I was joyfully patient and took
quiet, profound pleasure in making mosaic-like constructive
moves inside and outside of myself. I was no longer preoccupied
about resolutions or answers but excited about a certain kind
of earned freedom which might allow me to ask unprecedented,
heightened questions.” (In the latter regard, I meant
re: life and/or music.)
Right after the ELEKTRA run was over, we met for lunch at an
Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side –
she had been by then a strict vegetarian for a few years –
and soon afterwards, Maestro Levine invited her to give two
concert performances of Schoenberg’s ERWARTUNG with the
Berlin Philharmonic in June l995. Hildegard and I immediately
made plans as to when and how we would work on it. We didn’t
actually begin until January of that year, but it was then that
I learned how disciplined she was. She would arrive at the Met
every morning at 8 AM ready to work, after having taken her
daughter Sara to school, and would continue until 11 AM without
a break. As she was still living in Manhattan at the time, every
time she was in town between engagements, we would resume our
work. I don’t know many singers who would be so conscientious
as to start preparing for an engagement five months beforehand.
And ERWARTUNG was not new for her; she had already performed
it in the l980s with Abbado and Mehta, among other distinguished
Eventually Hildegard invited me to accompany her in recitals
in Athens, Washington DC, Salzburg, New York, Birmingham (England),
Oviedo (Spain) and Philadelphia.Each one was always a special
event. She gave so much of herself on and off the stage; I remember
treasuring our conversations as much as our performances. Occasionally
I would travel first to Vienna to rehearse with her before an
engagement in Europe; she made one of her homes there, and those
visits were magical as they were often interspersed with her
performances at the Staatsoper. I recall one December in l996
when I heard her in two WOZZECKs after which she loved nothing
more than to go out in the snow and walk to a favorite Italian
trattoria for a late-night pizza. I also remember a most memorable
early-June luncheon at her dear friend Lotte’s which consisted
entirely of giant white asparagus (Spargel, it is called in
German) and huge strawberries for dessert, all topped off with
crème fraiche. Another time in May 2000, I went to Munich
to rehearse what turned out to be her last recital program in
New York (at the Met Museum) – and had the thrill of seeing
her in THE MERRY WIDOW, which was a new departure for her. Her
portrayal of Hanna Glawari was revolutionary and as Hildegard
was herself, totally unconventional. As always, she redefined
just who the character was and what her “innere Triebe”
(inner voices) were – and made her so infinitely deep.
Most of all, I admired Hildegard for raising her two extraordinary
children, Philip and Sara, as she did. To write that I respect
Philip and Sara as the rare individuals they are as much as
their mother…is as much a tribute to both of them as to
Hildegard. Long may she live through them and send her “good
vibes” – a favorite phrase of hers – throughout
the planet. Here’s to Hildegard – with love forever!
Pianist and Musical Assistant to James Levine at the Metropolitan
Opera (1991 to present)
A Tribute from Maestro LORIN MAAZEL on the occasion
of the establishment of the Hildegard Behrens Foundation and
the first anniversary of her passing:
Hildegard Behrens was an artist of passion and commitment. I
treasure the memory of our collaboration in the Munich Residence
Theatre production of Tristan and Isolde, and the Elektra in
Those were magnificent performances... vibrant, compelling,
memorable. May her spirit continue to inspire us all.
Maestro LORIN MAAZEL
Music Director, Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia"
(Valencia, SPAIN); Founder and Artistic Director, Castleton
Festival; Music Director of the New York Philharmonic (2002-09)
OTHER RECENT TRIBUTES
(Dec. 2009-Mar 2010)
She has not died - she, the greatest Brünnhilde of all
time is riding towards Walhall...You gave more than any other
artist on the stage. Like Wotan and with tears in my eyes I
only can say to you:
du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb wohl! Leb wohl! Leb wohl!
Villalba / Madrid, 28007 SPAIN
I am a music critic as well as a musician and I was the first
Spanish jounalist to do an interview with Heilige Behrens for
a Spanish magazine.
[Listen to an excerpt from "Leb
sung by James Morris - from the Metropolitan Opera production
of Die Walküre.]
had the immense fortune of seeing and hearing Behrens in Salome
-London, 1977, Tristan und Isolde -Munich, 1982, and Tosca.
She came to Santiago, Chile, in 1997, to sing Brünnhilde
in Wagner's Siegfried. The press and public thought
she was a bit wasted and perhaps too old to sing such a role,
but all who saw her were overwhelmed by such fabulous interpretation.
Behrens also gave a symphonic concert singing Isolde, Elisabeth,
Salome and Senta and the Teatro Municcipal became delirious.
I had no idea she had died. Fortunately, I preserve as a treasure
many of her recordings which testify to her unique, superb,
breathtaking voice. Her role as the Dyer's Wife in Die
Frau ohne Schatten, conducted by Solti, opposite Julia
Plácido Domingo and José van Dam is almost unbelievable.
-Camilo Marks / Santiago, CHILE
I'm a former lawyer, now a literary critic and a fiction writer.
I have been an opera buff all of my adult life
Ma belle amie est morte
Je pleurerai toujours
Sous la tombe elle emporte
Mon âme et mes amours.
Hildegard, you will be sorely missed.
-Amanda / New York, New York
It is the fairy dust of stars
that falls onto her shoulders;
When she lights onto the stage,
The butterflies support her feet
And the heartbeats carry her
She is the stuff of dreams.
She holds her hands to her waist
So her straight torso
can turn like a queen
And touch the nobleman
with ancient wings of desire.
She steps lightly but proudly;
her feet are small.
It must be said, if one asks,
Why is this artist different,
than the rest?
Say her shoulders are perfect;
Her eyes are as large as God's,
Her face perfect for noblest life,
And why would you say that she
For wisdom and justice and vulnerability,
And she is the Golden Eye.
We are the bearers of that gold.
She is the Fullest Heart.
And we are the bearers of that heart.
She gives her All.
And we remember All she gives.
She gives her Shining Soul.
And we lift up her light.
-© C.L. McKinnon 2010
/ New York, NY USA
Behrens gave to her audiences was always masterful. Whether
a God or a mortal, sensitive or insane, gentle or profoundly
strong, what she did was presented with artistry and integrity.
Her inspiring interpretations will live in my heart and soul
forever. My profound condolences to her family and to all those
who loved her.
-Beth Bergman / New York, New
Opera photographer who had the honor to document the Behrens
greatness at the Metropolitan Opera, 1976-1994.
Beloved opera star was passionate, kind
was far from looking like the stereotypical Wagnerian soprano.
Over the decades, from cartoons to real life, the image of the
rather portly, hugely endowed soprano singing Richard Wagner's
"The Ring Cycle" with breast plates and armor and
spear became so popular that everyone has come to use the phrase
whether for music or even a baseball game: "It ain't over
till the fat lady sings."
Hildegard Behrens, who sadly passed away suddenly and unexpectedly
last week at 72 after arriving in Tokyo to give master classes,
was anything but the typical operatic "diva." She
was slightly built and was a kind, generous and passionate personality
who as a mother and grandmother was one of those few artists
who was able to combine a fabulously successful international
career with a rewarding and devoted family life.
She defied the image of the Wagnerian soprano, for despite her
smaller stature, she possessed a fabulously lyrical yet powerful
voice able to soar above a huge fortissimo in the orchestra.
She put an amazingly human touch on all her roles that made
audiences react and feel with her.
In the final scene of "Die Walkure," perhaps the single
most human and emotionally gut-wrenching moment in the entire
"Ring Cycle" of Wagner, when a father must say goodbye
to his favorite (but disobedient) daughter forever, she sang
with such warmth and emotion that she became James Morris' favorite
Brünnhilde at the Metropolitan Opera. As Wotan, the King
of the Gods, Jim was able to pick up and carry Hildegard over
the rocky precipice on the stage to put her into her magical
sleep on top of the mountain surrounded by a magic fire. It
always brought tears to my eyes as well as to thousands of others.
Even though Hildegard was older than Jim, she was able to portray
so sensitively and tenderly the loving and special daughter
that Brünnhilde was, and audiences would absolutely melt.
You believed she was Brünnhilde! And anyone who was a father
in the audience had tears well up in their eyes.
I had the good fortune to work with Hildegard in Munich a few
years ago when we were mounting a new production of Lehar's
operetta masterpiece, "The Merry Widow," at the Gärtnerplatz.
Hildegard wanted very much to try her hand in operetta and agreed
to sign on and play the lead for the first time in her career.
She was so much fun to work with and worked as hard as any of
the young cast members to make it the special event it was.
Long, six-hour rehearsal days were the norm, and she regularly
joined other colleagues for meals in the Kantine between rehearsals.
All of Europe turned out to hear her in this unexpected role,
and her charm won over the audience at every performance over
the three years that she sang with us. She even threw in a couple
of "Ho jo to hos" (Brünnhilde's battle cry) in
one dialogue scene, to the surprise and delight of everyone.
On a personal note, my opera-loving father was always a tremendous
fan of Hildegard's Isolde, Brünnhilde, Salome and other
roles. He idolized her, and he and my mom always went to the
Met to hear her. So a few days before our "Merry Widow"
premiere in Munich, he called me and said to book him a room,
as he was flying over from New York in two days to hear the
premiere. He couldn't believe that his son was actually working
with his idol.
So when he was 82, he finally met Hildegard Behrens at the after-performance
reception and blushed a color of red that I have never seen
before or since.
-David Stahl, Music Director
Charleston Symphony Orchestra (Charleston, South Carolina USA)
Bavarian Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz (Munich, GERMANY)
This tribute originally appeared in The
Post and Courier. Copyright © The (Charleston)
Post and Courier 2009. Reprinted with permission of the publisher
and Maestro Stahl.
a shock it was for me to find, after watching Levine's DIE WALKÜRE
on DVD and wanting to learn more about the wonderful, beautiful
Brünnhilde that I saw, that Ms. Behrens had passed away
earlier this year. As I write this, I am listening to the Bernstein
TRISTAN AND ISOLDE that this great artist sang as Isolde. Hildegard
Behrens will forever be for me, as I am sure for countless others,
the consummate Wagnerian heroine. And I am sure that Wagner
himself would have been a devoted admirer.
-Brenan Nierman / Falls Church,
I wrote this a few days after I found out that Hildegard Behrens
had died: A Mysterious way to know Hildegard Behrens. And it
must mean something.
Three months ago I saw Die Walküre for the first
time, on DVD of the Metropolitan in NY. It was the
first time I saw and heard Hildegard Behrens. Her Brünnhilde
was the most touching opera performance that I had ever seen.
On September 18th I played my DVD again, for the second time...
because I had it present inside me. So I watched it again -
the third act of Die Walküre. I was so moved
by Hildegard Behrens' interpretation that I went to the web
to find out about this opera singer. And I found that she passed
away exactly one month ago by then. My God! I couldn't believe
it. I knew about her that day and, at the same time, I found
her away above us. What a coincidence!! My heart just couldn't
contain the pain. The coincidence moved me, the "bad news"
touched me... it brought tears to my eyes as I listened to the
DVD, having just realized that it was a really sad coincidence.
And I thought that it must mean something!!!
So, before I came to write this, I read some reviews about her
career and watched some videos on the internet. And reading
about her life, I found an exquisite parallel with my life.
What a coincidence, isn't it?
I read that she did not begin vocal studies, at the Freiburg
Academy of Music, until she was 26. And she debuted at the age
of 34. What a surprise!... a beautiful one!: I am 29, and I
started my vocal studies 2 years ago... I am a theater actress,
but I always loved lyrical singing and wanted to sing opera,
so 2 years ago I decided to start it. Knowing this about Hildegard
Behrens has just injected into my life a breath of hope. I don't
think I'll be a professional opera singer, but it definitely
gave me an example for my own life: it is possible, no matter
when you start... you just must love it with your heart. I found
this discovery to be a gift from God. And I also must
say "thank you" to her!
It is very sad to know about her after her death. It is very
sad, the feeling that I knew her late. But it is very moving
and incredible, the feeling that that night, she kind of spoke
to me. Maybe, all this wasn't a regular coincidence. Actually,
I think it was meant to be that I knew about Hildegard Behrens
for the first time in my life one month after her death. On
her first month anniversary of her death I "met her"...
and discovered her as an example for those who start their vocal
studies later than most opera singers. So I thank you Hildegard
I must say that definitely my relationship with opera has been
one of the most mysterious and magic things that I have in my
life. This kind of coincidence has set a mark for me along the
way, a clue that says to me I am on the right path.
Now Hildegard Behrens has become a point of reference to me...
not only because of this story, but also because of her skills
in sharing that kind of feeling as she interprets the best Brünnhilde
ever. She was a singer and an actress... with the strength of
the sun (the shiniest star)... and from
the depth of the soul. Behrens singing/acting is pure truth
PS: Excuse my English... it is not my first language!
- Cristina Hernandez / Caracas,
I am too young to have seen Mme. Behrens on stage in her prime,
but through her recordings and her videos - which very fortunately,
especially for us listeners, preserve her achievements - I have
become a huge fan of this woman who had one of the most sensitive,
womanly and, quite simply, human voice and artistry.
Behrens exuded feminine beauty and an intense humanity even
in the most tragic or raging moments of the roles she sang.
She seemed to understand how complex feelings are, so that her
Brünnhilde was a heartbroken woman in huge pain, even in
the famous Vengeance Trio; and we could feel intense pity for
Elektra even in her most angry moments in the opera. Besides,
she had a voice of utter purity, a combination of youthful,
silvery tones with the necessary heft and metal for a dramatic
soprano: there we had a dramatic soprano who was convincing
as a powerful yet fragile heroine, as are most opera heroines
(in fact, most real people).
My condolences to her family - from Brazil, where opera fans
like me truly idolize her many recordings and videos. May the
much beloved Hildegard Behrens rest in Peace and bring intensity
and human fire to Heaven, where certainly she is now rejoicing
in the beautiful, unforgettable work she left on Earth.
-Ygor Coelho / Fortaleza, Ceara BRAZIL
When each of us estimates the value, the worth of another human
being, we do so by several criteria. There is the value this
person has to the world at large, then to the more specific
"world" they inhabited, and then - more personally
- the value they had to us as an individual.
Though I never met her in person, Hildegard Behrens is one of
the most important people in my life. She has been--since I
was a teenager and first opened that EMI recording of her as
Salome back at the start of her career--and my obsession. To
say that her death has had some effect on me would be an understatement.
Her larger-than-life personality, her artistry, the integration
of everything she was and had into one of the greatest and most
challenging, thrilling artists to have graced the stage in the
past century - it is these things I choose to concentrate on,
to celebrate, and to remember.
I remember that very first time hearing her Salome, placing
those black vinyl discs onto my father's turntable and dropping
the needle. For the next two hours our living room became the
ancient Judean court of Herod and his household. (The fact that
our house was surrounded by cedars and cypress trees giving
off their scent on that warm afternoon only added to the sense
of occasion, the mystery, and the allure.) By the end, my entire
body was covered in gooseflesh, my heart was pumping wildly,
and I could almost feel the blood coursing through my veins.
Who was this woman?
Over the ensuing decades, I was transported by "this woman's"
performances and recordings. When she brought her Brünnhilde
to the Met - I remember watching the telecasts, every night,
eschewing invitations from friends so I could make sure my VCR
was loaded with tapes enough to not miss a beat. Few evenings
in my life had been as thrilling, moving, and enthralling as
those four nights in front of my television set in my little
DC basement apartment.
Elektra, Elettra, Marie, Leonore, Senta, Isolde, Tosca . . .
Tosca? Yes, Tosca. Though audiences seemed divided (and wildly
so) on Behrens as this most Italianate of characters, Behrens
remains one of my favorite Toscas. Every note, every gesture,
those amazing, beautiful, liquid eyes (which would, in a few
more years make the world weep as Wotan bid farewell to his
daughter), the violence - wild yet fully feminine, and the most
spectacular leap any diva made from a parapet, thrilled me as
Tosca should. I recall the first time seeing that leap of hers
- I'd never seen a Tosca jump UP from the parapet, and Behrens'
Roman diva - for a moment, made me think she was willing her
ascension to heaven for that meeting with Scarpia and God .
. . and then the violent plunge down to earth. Brava, diva!
Not everything went swimmingly for this great lady, and I recall
how, when the Met presented its new Elektra, Behrens
was found wanting. A "disaster," claimed many - saying
she left the house in shame never to return. Ha! Behrens was
to make one of the greatest triumphant returns any singer had
to that august company - and in the same role and production.
I recall listening to the Saturday broadcast, and the roar that
went up as the lights came back, nearly obliterated my speakers.
When it was telecast, I realized I was probably watching THE
video I would review and obsess over the most for the rest of
my life - or at least a good part of it. Few performances of
anything I've witnessed have been as emotionally raw, as heartstoppingly
beautiful and terrifying - and as cathartic as "Hildegard
A year or two after the actual event, a friend dropped in to
watch this with me one hot summer night, and he used a phrase
I've grown to love "Paolo, she's singing like there's no
tomorrow!" That phrase describes this lady to the teeth:
singing like there's no tomorrow!
Recently I watched the now legendary Met Ring and could
only sit in wonder and awe, just as I had in my youth. Perhaps
more so. The entire thing moved me, but nothing more than Behrens'
Brünnhilde. I wavered back and forth between which I loved
more, her Walküre or Götterdämmerung,
and realized: I don't have to choose. Saying that, however,
I can think of no more tender, beautiful scene in all of opera
than Wotan's Farewell, and here, Behrens, not singing a note
- turned this scene into a visual duet as James Morris - simply
remarkable as Wotan - bade farewell to his beloved child. Though
far from home, I watched that scene last night via the miracle
of the internet - and its poignancy, its genius from composer
and artists alike - shattered me in that way that only the greatest
works of art can do.
There is so much more to say about this great lady, so many
memories flood my mind and make my heart race, but they don't
need to be said - they've been felt. They've been felt down
to my marrow. She will always be with us and her legacy shall
ever speak for itself.
Thank you, Hildegard, for the abundant joy you brought to my
life. Your loss is so difficult to take, but your life and light
they will continue to burn, to warm, provoke and thrill. "Ruhe,
ruhe, du Gott."
- Paul Padillo / Portland, Maine
back to top
Hildegard Behrens - such an artist, a singer self-giving to
the art she loved so much. We're going to miss her fire and
her love for opera. Her voice will sound on our stereos so loud
that she'll be able to listen to herself from heaven!
Her interpretation of her many roles filled my life with joy
and showed me that art is still among us, that we must believe
and give ourselves to what we really care about. Rest in Peace
Diva Behrens! We'll miss you.
- Phillip Gregory / Belo Horizonte,
Minas Gerais BRAZIL
In 1976 (I believe I have the correct year) I ran into a friend
who worked at Covent Garden. She grabbed my arm and told me
she had just heard the most remarkable new singer, and I should
do anything I had to do to get a ticket for the new Leonore
in Fidelio. This singer was the extraordinary Hildegard
Behrens, and I was left speechless, elevated, exalted by her
talent. I still have the silver poster from her Brünnhilde,
and was fortunate enough to be in the chorus for her stunning
Elektra at London's Royal Festival Hall. I treasure her recordings
and the memories of her performances.
Hearing the news that Ms Behrens has died saddens me immeasurably
- a remarkable stage presence, a generous personality, and a
unique talent has left us. My thoughts are with Ms. Behrens'
family, friends and colleagues at this time.
-M.L. Davis / Fleet, Hampshire
the family of Ms. Hildegard Behrens:
I was so saddened to read of your mother's passing. I had read
an article that she had passed and was interested in knowing
how she was. I had never heard of your mother before. Going
onto this web site I was amazed at her spirit and how beautiful
she was. Looking at her pictures, I could tell she was so full
of life and had such a passion.
I went onto YouTube and listened to her singing. Your mother
had the voice of an angel and I am sure a beautiful spirit.
I am going to go on Itunes and get some of her music! I hope
you know that while your mother's singing is amazing to listen
to, at least for me, it is her spirit and how beautiful she
was that will stay with me and inspire me in my own life.
God bless all of you,
-My name is Susie Lang and I am
27 years old. Reno, Nevada USA
I never heard Behrens during what was truly her prime, I was
lucky enough to hear her in two of her very greatest roles,
early on in my opera-going days. She first came to my attention
in a collection of interviews with various famous divas, so
by the time I got to a theatre to hear her, as Elektra in 1997
at the Royal Opera in London, I already knew she was a star.
I was 17 years old and, so far, not a terribly perceptive listener,
and while I wish I could say my memory of her actual singing
was clearer, my lack of familiarity with the score at that time
seems to have prevented me from hanging on to much of it. I
will never forget the experience as a totality however, by which
I mean that I can remember how I felt, which was utterly gripped,
and on the edge of my seat throughout. I remember the pitiful
desolation she communicated during her monologue, how thoroughly
shocking she was in her audacious scene with her mother, and
her macabre, naïve joy as she ran around the stage at the
end covered in the blood which was oozing from the palace walls.
Shortly afterwards, when the Royal Opera presented its semi-staged
Ring Cycle at the Royal Albert Hall, I remember being very disappointed
that we hadn’t been able to book for Behrens as Brünnhilde
in Siegfried or Götterdämmerung,
but I did get to see her in Die Walküre. She was
almost unbearably moving, using her highly expressive chest
voice and plangent top to great effect and being, I think it
is fair to say, more inside the character than any other artist
I have ever seen in any role.
I saw Behrens one more time, in a concert performance of Schönberg’s
Erwartung at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The
sheer size of her voice really hit home to me on this occasion.
I will never forget her hitting a climactic top note which,
in truth, Schönberg probably never expected to be heard,
since he appeared to accompany it with the entire orchestra
playing fortissimo. Behrens was perfectly audible, and not in
a laser-like, cutting through sense either. It was more that
her voice was just so naturally big that it could surround and
envelop you without any effort being apparent in the sound.
For this reason, I refute those claims that she was not a true
dramatic or hochdramatische soprano. Her voice may not have
had the colour or inherent thrust we are used to from sopranos
on whom we bestow that title, but in Behrens’s case this
was surely an asset. She absolutely had the requisite size of
voice, and the fact that she had more flexibility with it, particularly
at the top, and more freedom to colour it how she felt was most
appropriate to the role, allowed her to deliver more complete
portrayals of her characters with more absorbing and moving
results than many of her colleagues and predecessors. For me,
the uniqueness of that size of voice with such a natural, pliable,
soft-focussed timbre meant that she was every bit as much of
a vocal phenomenon, in her own way, as the likes of Sutherland,
Nilsson and Corelli.
Like many others, I cherish her recordings and those of her
performances which are preserved on DVD. I doubt whether anybody
has ever come closer to being the ’16-year old with the
voice of Isolde’ that Salome requires. That wonderfully
touching, child-like quality in her voice suited the role so
well. Her Dyer’s Wife for Solti is heart-breaking in its
poignancy. I love the abandon of her Elettra in Idomeneo.
But I think her Isolde for Bernstein is the one I cherish above
all others. As with so many of Behrens’ roles that we
are used to hearing from the more stentorian throats of others,
it was the beauty and humanity of the character which Behrens
was able to do like nobody else. The rage and fury of Act I
wants for nothing in her hands, but the wonders of Acts II and
III gain so much from that other-worldly beauty in her voice,
and her unbeatable dramatic and interpretative gifts. Somehow,
she always makes me fall profoundly in love with her, every
time I hear her voice.
Thank you, Hildegard Behrens, for enriching the world with your
wonderful artistry. May you rest in peace.
-John Woods / London, London UK
She was and is the greatest Brünnhilde. She appears Christlike
as she enters the stage in the swearing scene in Götterdämmerung.
She shows us the meaning of tender, holy, childlike-pure-womanly
passion as she stretches more than humanly possible in Senta's
role in the final scene of the Savonlinna Der Fliegender
Hollander. She teaches us the meaning of triumph and lifted
soul, LIFE! itself!, at the end of her performance of Elektra.
She breaks our hearts with love with her valiant, exquisite
tenderness when she perceives the nobility of Siegmund's love
and embraces him and tells him "Tomorrow I will fight for
you!" She breaks our hearts when the viewer sees the tear
in her eye as she is in her father's arms at the end of Walküre.
She thrills us unforgettably with the greatness of her closing
anthem from Götterdämmerung. She is Victory
of Samothrace when she moves with all her strength and shoulders
and glorious head, swirling with power first one way and then
with great power reversing direction in the final scene of Siegfried.
I met her after she sang Marie in Wozzeck at the Met
in 1999. Her ringing, shining unforgettable warmth and kindness,
her genuine softspokenness and joyful quiet modesty, her mother-tenderness
filled the dressing room with a magical tender, kind aura: We
were in the spell of a great, unique, soul who was so very kind
and who blessed each of us.
I send my prayers and deepest sympathy to her family and to
all who mourn her and to all who will hold her memory inwardly
eternally. I thank God with all my heart for the gift of her
life and work. I miss her more than words can say.
- Connie L. McKinnon / New York City, New York USA
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Much has been already written about the glorious voice, and
the beautiful memories warm my devastated heart. But my most
cherished memories of Hildegard are above all of her humanity;
and never more than in two of her earliest roles, where she
forged the stage archetypes that would later inform her monumental
portrayal of Brünnhilde.
The first is Marie in Wozzeck, when she receives the
silver coins from Wozzeck. There was an unforgettable picture
of pain, anguish, need, and ultimately terrible guilt. The act
of “taking” deeply pained her, and every bone in
her body showed that ambivalent conflict within herself, as
the poor girl that wanted to be better but couldn’t because
we are all so, so flawed… And in the end “it will
all go to hell anyway,” as she would always tell, talking
about the Bible scene. Never anyone infused so much pain on
the stage picture while portraying the misery of the human condition.
At exactly the opposite end, was her Leonore, once again my
most indelible memory is of her desperately searching for some
crumbs of bread in her pocket, and then so humbly offering them,
hand outstretched in agonizing pain, to the poor man lying half
dead in front of her. She would never tire of telling me, "Leonore
offers the bread to 'the man', it no longer matters whether
it is her husband or not, she must save him because he is a
fellow human. And that’s the critical moment when Leonore
becomes the universal goodness, not just the faithful wife,
but the eternal life-affirming goodness, that will save the
world from evil.
Behrens felt that Leonore was doing the most magnificent deed
a person could do, the act of “giving”. But her
stage demeanor was one of abject humility; she was “begging”
Florestan “please accept my help for your salvation”.
In so doing she encompassed again, in her slight little frame,
all of humanity’s suffering, in one single person. I have
kept that picture of her hand outstretched with a crumb of bread,
forever etched in my mind, because THAT was also Behrens the
person, my dear and generous friend. And as I imagine how she
entered the gates of heaven, I know for sure that she was Leonore,
and presented herself to God, exactly the same way, hand outstretched
with a few crumbs of bread, head bowed in humble offer, but
fully knowing that her mission had been accomplished, as she
faced her God.
As I write this, I wish I could listen to her sublime rendition
of “Bist du bei Mir”, but I cannot bear to hear
her voice. So I am listening instead to “Blute Nur du
Liebes Herz!”……… Rest in Peace Beloved
-Dr. Gaston Ormazabal, - close
friend / New York City, New York USA
Begin meiner Studienzeit in Deutschland, anfang der Spielzeit
1979 /80 der Bayerischen Staatsoper München habe ich erste
Begegnung mit Frau Behrens als Leonore im Fidelio unter
der Leitung von Dr.Böhm gehabt . Seitdem ist sie meine
ideale dramatische und auch lyrische Soprandarstellerin geblieben.
In 1980 war sie ihre erste Isolde auf die Weltbühne aufgetreten.
Unter der entsetzlichen Regie von Everding war sie die einzige
und ewige Isolde in die Opernwelt gerufen worden. Anschließend
folgte die legendäre Tristan Produktion mit Bernstein und
BR. Wenn sie auf der Bühne stand, war sie immer treue Existenz
und hat eine einmalige Fraunfigur gezeigt. Ja ewig und treu
ist sie als eine Wahrheit. Daß sie als Gast in Japan in
meinem Land zu plötzlich auf den Himmel gefahren ist, ist
mir eine unvorstellbare Tatsache. Tausendmal Danke schön
und Requiescat in pace, meine Leonore, Frau Behrens!
-ITANI Shunji / Nagasaki, JAPAN
- Ein 53 jährige Musiker
When I was a budding opera fan in the late ’80s I would
tell people I liked everything “except Wagner.”
That was until the Met Ring was broadcast over four consecutive
nights on TV. From that telecast I became a fan of Wagner and
of Hildegard Behrens.
The only time I heard her live was as Elektra at the Met on
6 January 1994. That performance remains for me to this day
the most exciting, moving, life-altering musical experience
of my life. I’ll be forever grateful to Hildegard Behrens
for that night.
-Paul Kearny / Washington, DC USA
I came late to opera (as did Ms. Behrens, who began her formal
studies at age 26, after having earned a law degree) so I just
missed Behrens’ heyday in the 80’s, but her Brunnhilde
(Levine/Metropolitan Opera Orchestra—DG 1994) is a favorite
in my music collection, and I was riveted by her intensity and
dramatic commitment in the title role of Strauss’s
Critics have said Behrens pushed her instrument too far, and
that she damaged her voice by her choice of repertoire. I’d
like to think that Ms. Behrens’ late start in opera (her
professional debut didn’t occur until 1971, when she was
34) gave her a heightened awareness of the incredible gift she
possessed, and its transitory nature. Perhaps this was what
made her so willing to take chances with it by singing the roles
that interested her rather than those that might have been easier
for her to sing.
G-d is a fickle gift-giver, as even the greatest singers come
to discover, and the whips and scorns of time will eventually
whittle their gifts to mere echoes. Some singers attempt to
forestall this inevitability with careful hoarding of what is
known as “vocal capital,” but not Hildegard Behrens.
She spent every dime, and if her voice eventually became less
than it had been, her willingness to explore the outer reaches
of both her vocal capability and the dramatic possibilities
of any role made the sacrifice all the more precious to those
who had the good fortune to benefit from it.
-Squillo / San Francisco, California
A great artist, a great woman and a great loss to the world.
However such greatness is never forgotten and lives on to inspire
and enliven our lives and those of future generations.
-Brad Jarrett, Artistic Administrator
- Opera Queensland / Brisbane, Queensland AUSTRALIA
What a shock. Had not thought of her much lately, or knew what
she was up to. But she was one of the great divas of my opera-going
life. She was the Brünnhilde in the first integral Ring
my partner and I saw at the Met 20 years ago! Her performance
was truly galvanizing. Every moment on stage projected truth,
drama, love, jealousy--all conveyed with consummate musicality.
No, her voice was not always conventionally beautiful, but combined
with her incredible body language and facial expressiveness,
she was the total embodiment of each character she portrayed.
We also heard her in the Ring in San Francisco, the centerpiece
of a glorious trip to that city. Our favorite moment: one afternoon
we were passing the opera house on our way back to the hotel,
and there she stood at the curb, waiting for her son to pick
her up. We approached and started a conversation that lasted
about 15 minutes. She was so down-to-earth and gracious, never
haughty or condescending. Later we visited her backstage in
Houston where she sang unforgettable, hair raising performances
of Salome and Elektra. I have photos taken
of her at an HGO event smiling, radiant and relaxed. Off stage
just a charming lady, on stage a blazing star. I've heard all
the great ones, but Hildy was special and left me some indelible
-Joe Quinn / Houston, Texas USA
It cut to my heart to learn yesterday that Hildegard Behrens
had died in Tokyo. She was the greatest post-Nilsson Wagnerian
soprano of the late 20th century. She did not have the size
and piercing quality of Nilsson's voice, but her voice was strong
enough, and she was a far greater and more intense actress.
You could see it when you witnessed her on the stage. I, to
my great regret, never saw her "live." But I did see
her stage performances on television, most memorably Elektra,
and I will never forget it. In short, Ms. Behrens was the Maria
Callas of Wagnerian opera in the 20th century. There is no greater
tribute an opera lover (esp. a Wagnerian) can offer.
It happens that in seven weeks I will be visiting Vienna. If
you can tell me where she will be put to rest, I would like
to visit the site and place a rose there in tribute to her.
-Marc Nicholson / Washington,
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What a terrible loss! May she rest in peace. I had the privilege
of seeing her as Elektra and as Cassandra in Les Troyens.
Pity that we don't have a recording of the divine Behrens in
this role. Her delivery of French was suprisingly idiomatic
and she was in demented form. The character really became Elektra-like.
I also heard her in recital in an open theater with difficult
acoustics and she projected beautifully.
With the loss of such people I always feel terrible because
it's like losing a member of the family. The great moments she
gave us during all those years made me feel like she was family.
Sing with the angels, Hildegard. Your voice and artistry remain
with us forever.
-Michael / Athens, Attiki GREECE
night I was watching a DVD of the Met's Der Ring Des Niebelungen,
and revelling in the performance by Hildegard Behrens in the
role of Brünnhilde. This morning I learned of the death
of Ms Behrens- I am truly shocked and saddened by her passing.
The world of music, opera and indeed the world generally has
lost a great artist. Ms Behrens followed her inner self and
showed what a talented woman she was. Her recordings and performances
stand in testament of her. I join the world in mourning her
"Schlaf wohl, du kuehnes,herrliches Kind."
"Heute sind Sie in Wallhall"
My sincere sympathies to all of Ms Behrens' family.
-Barry Dale, Bowral, NSW AUSTRALIA
"I am a 67 year old retired Haematologist, who is a lover
of the Wagnerian operas and the Wagnerain singers. I discovered
Hildegard Behrens many years ago, and have enjoyed her singing
since. My greatest and most exciting experience was to see the
entire Ring when performed in Adelaide in 2004. Bayreuth was
always an unobtainable dream. The advent of DVDs enabled me
at long last to see Hildegard perform in the Levine Met production.
This fulfilled yet another dream. I mourn the loss of Hildegard."
was captivated by Hildegard when I first heard her recording
of Salome. After this I listened to and recorded every broadcast
I could get my hands on. Most of them are worn out but
fortunately available on CD with a few exceptions. It would
be wonderful to have the Paris Die Frau Ohne Schatten
in decent sound, where she sang the Empress. Hildegard's first
Munich Isolde and her 1987 Brünnhilde are indelibly etched
in my memory.
I only ever saw Hildegard on her infrequent visits to the UK.
Twice as Elektra in 1989 and 97 respectively. She was stunning
at the Royal Festival Hall with Ozawa conducting, but the Royal
Opera production in 97 didn't suit her - it was an ugly set
and she wasn't well. Hildegard bravely soldered through a concert
at the Royal Opera House in 1990, again when she wasn't well.
I finally witnessed her Brünnhilde in the flesh when the
Royal Opera was exiled to Birmingham in 1998. It was quite a
cast with John Tomlinson, Siegfried Jerusalem, Ekkehard Wlaschiha
and the young Petra Lang. By the beginning of Götterdämmerung,
the atmosphere in the hall was palpable with expectation. I
turned to one my friends and said, "I think we're in for
something really special". And it certainly was.
Hildegard sang and acted - even though it was a concert performance
- with such concentrated energy and fierce commitment that the
audience went crazy at the end of act two. Another friend couldn't
bring himself to watch for fear of breaking down. An audience
member told me at the end that he cried through the second half
of the same act. At the end we stayed to meet the singers. Finally
about to meet Hildegard, I suddenly became tongue tied and could
only say, "That was awesome - I have waited 15 years to
see you do Brünnhilde". Hildegard was extremely gracious
and kind, replying, "It's never too late for anything",
then chatted briefly about how far I had travelled to see the
Ring and her plans for the future. She signed my programme -
"With my best thoughts and wishes for you! Brünnhilde
My deepest and heartfelt condolences to Hildegard's family and
-Bill Middlemist / Newcastle Upon
Tyne, Northumberland UK
take a break from gathering some data for a project, I visited
YouTube to find some opera videos. I got a list of results from
one search, including a link that read “Hildegard Behrens
I did a double take. This couldn’t mean what I imagined.
Hildegard Behrens? Gone?
I confirmed the sad and shocking news from various news sources,
including Anthony Tommasini’s obituary, as well as Alex
Ross’ brief but respectful tribute with the finale from
Behrens’ breakout recording of Salome. I clicked
under the photo of her in costume to listen, with Behrens still
defiantly alive in the guise as Strauss’ anti-heroine.
And me, trying to process the news.
How could this be? Behrens was so young, or at least youthful.
I remember reading that she had begun taking excellent care
of her health since her accident at the Met in 1990. What’s
more, she was one of the few singers who could combine analytical
and emotional intelligence in bringing many opera characters
to life. I can only wish that I was one of the lucky people
to have seen her perform live.
At least Behrens’ legacy will continue to live on, whatever
the medium. Her complete Salome on an iPod, or excerpts
of her Isolde on YouTube. And then there are the people
she touched on a personal level, as attested to here. It is
difficult to top a legacy like hers.
-Jason Neal / London, Ontario
I saw Ms. Behrens perform at the Met in 1980 or 81 when she
was pregnant with her daughter, Sara. It was Beethoven's Fidelio,
and I will never forget how moving she was. Every time she stepped
on a stage, or made a recording, you were always aware of the
tremendous commitment to the character she was portraying. Of
course, let's not forget how exciting she was! And boy, was
I've never met Ms. Behrens, but have been told she was very
kind and appreciative of her fans. I shall miss her greatly.
-Elizabeth Best / Allentown
AGE: 54 / College-educated / HUGE OPERA FAN!! / Martial Artist
Black Belt / Married
Ich habe meine schönsten Erinnerungen an Opernabende dieser
wunderbaren Frau und Sängerin zu verdanken! Ich kann nicht
glauben, dass Sie nicht mehr unter uns ist...
Mein tiefes Mitgefühl ihrer ganzen Familie!
-Johannes Hanel, Sänger;
Schauspieler / Kärnten, ÖSTERREICH
Sitting in the first row in the Prinzregentheatre in München
in 1999 I was touched by Hildergard Behrens in her role as Isolde.
It was my most exciting opera experience ever. Frau Behrens
sang wonderfully, and for me it was a reason to buy some other
"Behrens performances". A great singer and warm
woman has passed on too early.
-Willem Maertzdorf, a Wagner
devotee / Maastricht, Limburg THE NETHERLANDS
Thank God for Hildegard Behrens. She gave such joy with her
singing. She will always be my prototypical Brunhilde against
which all other singers are measured, and fail
-Aileen Lange / Media, Pennsylvania
I am privileged to have a DVD recording of Hildegard Behrens
singing the role of Brunnhilde which was filmed at the New York
Met under the directorship of James Levine. She will be much
missed by her family, friends and her many fans from around
the world. But, her legacy will live on in the numerous CD and
DVD recordings which will continue to be listened and viewed
for many years to come.
A great singer and performer who will be loved and admired always.
-Eric Redfearn / Middlesbrough,
We'll never forget her "Dich, teure Halle" at the
Opening Night Gala of the Boston Symphony Orchestra season in
1999. Danke, Hildegard!
-James Nickoloff and Robert McCleary
/ Miami Beach, Florida USA
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Because of its length, the remarkable tribute below that spans
almost the entirety of Ms. Behrens' brilliant career has been
condensed. Read full text HERE.]
In Memoriam: Hildegard Behrens (1937-2009)
“Zu Wotans Willen sprichst du, sagst du mir, was du willst;
wer bin ich, wär’ ich dein Wille nicht?” ["You
are speaking your will when you tell me your will. Who am I
if not your will?"(Translation added - from libretto accompanying
the Metropolitan Opera's recording of Die Walküre.)]
These are the words that the Valkyrie maiden Brünnhilde
implores Wotan with to confer the inner turmoil wrought by the
adverse vicissitude of events that unfold in Wagner’s
Ring. Only a scant few other scenes in the epic tetralogy
exhibit Wagner’s ability to create moments of such poignancy
and intimacy in a world of primordial chaos.... While the role
of Brünnhilde is stereotypically awarded to stentorian
sopranos of colossal instruments, scenes like this lend truth
to anecdotal recollections of Wagner’s instructions: to
play sensitively and with clarity, and for the singers to understand
the character above all else.... More often than not, because
of the demands of the roles, singers up to task muster the minimum
requirement of singing over the oceanic waves of orchestral
water, leaving little more than rudimentary snippets of character
and drama that Wagner incorporated into his work.
In the Ring’s pivotal role of Brünnhilde
alone, history books will tell us that Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit
Nilsson, and Astrid Varnay are the Wagnerian paragons who have
transformed the role into a figure of the greatest indelibility.
However stellar their performances were, listeners of this generation
will remember another soprano who accorded the character with
the intimacy and the abandon that has become a hallmark of her
career: Hildegard Behrens....
Madame Behrens, although remembered today as a premier interpreter
of the great Wagnerian and Straussian roles, did not always
set her sights on a career in music. After graduating with a
degree in law from the University of Freiburg, she worked as
a junior barrister prior to committing herself to developing
her voice with a teacher in her alma mater. There, she met a
group of friends who urged her to pursue music due to her innate
skill and passion for the art. In 1971, Mme. Behrens debuted
in the role of the Countess in a Freiburg production of Mozart’s
Le Nozze di Figaro. A year later, she was inducted
as a member of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein; from there, her career
continued to blossom.
Although small roles constituted her repertory during these
embryonic years, Mme. Behrens gradually equipped herself with
the stamina and the endurance required to sing the larger roles.
During the years of her Düsseldorf incumbency, she had
become an outstanding Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio
and a harrowing Marie in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck.
On the 15th of October, 1976, the Metropolitan Opera contracted
her to play the violent character of Giorgietta in Puccini’s
Il Tabarro. By then, Hildegard Behrens was forging
her way through the glamorous world of operatic stardom...
Prior to the 1977 Salzburg Festival, Europe’s musical
Kaiser Herbert von Karajan scouted the German lands for an ideal
Salome: a gleaming dramatic soprano voice with a kittenish allure
and a puerile sadism encased in a streamlined body..... While
rehearsing the part of Marie with her company, Karajan found
her so arresting a singing actress that he hired her to perform
Salome in Europe’s most celebrated music festival.
It was this unforgettable production of Strauss’ Biblical
drama that catapulted Hildegard Behrens to the limelight of
the operatic world.
Engagements in the most prestigious European and North American
houses awarded the singer the chance to enchant and captivate
audiences..... Podium luminaries like Herbert von Karajan, Sir
Georg Solti, Karl Böhm, James Levine, and Leonard Berstein
engaged her on many an occasion to critical acclaim. Dr. Böhm,
a fastidious conductor who held only the greatest respect for
the best singers, called Behrens his “last great Leonora.”
A 1978 recording taped from the Bavarian Opera showcases the
communicative rapport between conductor and singer—indeed,
out of all the recorded live performances of Beethoven’s
sole stage drama, this one comes close to the top.
Claudio Abbado, a podium master with an Italian heart and a
German intellect, created with her as Marie today’s definitive
recording of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. Leonard Bernstein,
the North American Grand Pooh-bah of classical music, asked
Mme. Behrens to honor him the privilege of committing Wagner’s
seminal music drama, Tristan und Isolde, to record.
The product of this venture is one of the most febrile and narcotic
recordings of the opera. Though Lenny employed some of the most
glacial tempi in his vision of Wagner’s metaphysical tragedy,
Behrens valiantly sailed through this extremely exposed and
strenuous role, finally capping it with a Liebestod that transcended
the boundaries of time and space. But she can sing French characters
quite well too. A recording long overdue for rerelease, Albéric
Magnard’s Tristanesque Guercoeur with Michel
Plasson conducting, Behrens as Giselle, and Jose Van Dam as
the eponymous character, evinces her artistic malleability for
wearing different linguistic and musical guises.
When the legendary centenary Ring production at Bayreuth
closed its curtains in 1980, the new producers of the next cycle
and its conductor, Sir Georg Solti, were looking for a Brünnhilde
who would don a black leather costume with sequined studs while
hurling battle cries and ruminating long and drawn Schopenhauerean
soliloquys. Hildegard was at the time rehearsing in a production
of Puccini’s Turandot when the feisty Hungarian
maestro pulled strings and transferred her to Bayreuth to be
its next Brünnhilde.... Behrens triumphed and was decorated
with massive standing ovations, extolling reviews, and bouquets
of flowers that threatened to overfill her dressing room. A
new Brünnhilde was born.
It was during this decade that Mme. Behrens intermittently spent
time in Europe and North America, by then flashing a spanking
new calling card with Brünnhilde written all over it. One
of Austria’s most renowned producers of opera, Nikolaus
Lehnhoff, picked her as his Brünnhilde of choice to star
in two of his Ring productions: a premiere with Wolfgang
Sawallisch and the Bavarian State Opera, the other with Sir
Donald Runnicles and the San Francisco War Memorial Opera.
In the fall of 1986, the Met unveiled a production that was
to become a musical Mecca for Wagner lovers of the next two
decades.... The Brünnhilde was none other than Hildegard
Behrens. This production, and the part that she played in it,
was the crowning glory of her illustrious career in music. Captured
on video and broadcast on PBS, Behrens’ Brünnhilde
was for many the first to wean several neophyte operaphiles
and soon-to-be Wagnerians of that generation with the wonders
of the Ring saga.... Hildegard Behrens enchanted her new audiences
in video and surround sound with her unique interpretation of
Wagner’s greatest and most noble heroine.... Brian
Large, the video director who filmed the Ring.... Upon
completing his filming of Brünnhilde’s revenge pact
in second act of Götterdämmerung, he exclaimed
that his finest work was finally completed.
When discussing an artist like Hildegard, it is essential that
one judge her not as a singer perfect in all musical respects,
but as an artist who encompasses the entire operatic macrocosm
within her performances—an understanding of humanity within
the role, so to speak. Once compared to the enigmatic Italian
thespian Eleonora Duse, Mme. Behrens was one such person who
never sacrificed dramatic verisimilitude for a criminal blandness
that affected the bygone performances of an earlier era. She
threw herself into her roles with such feral abandon that one
forgets that she is an opera singer thrashing about onstage....
In 1992, after having essayed multiple Brünnhildes, she
entered into her last recorded operatic venture with Sir Georg
Solti, playing the shrewish Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’
Die Frau Ohne Schatten. When compared with other singers
who have played the part, Behrens’ wispy timbre, willowy
countenance, and dramatic bite come close to perfection. She
is indeed, the Färberin personified. During the same year,
Otto Schenk’s realist Elektra production showcased
the singer in poor form, only to have this phoenix of a soprano
revive her musical powers two years later in the same production
with one of the most tumultuous ovations in Metropolitan Opera
The vestiges of a great career in opera had the singer spending
her final days as a master class instructor and a Lieder
recitalist. Her innate love for music, her feel for its
enchanting undulations, her penchant for verbal communication,
her intelligence both onstage and off, and her generosity have
preserved her art as a paragon of the school of singing actresses.
Like her predecessors Maria Callas, Magda Olivero, Renata Scotto,
Martha Mödl, and Leonie Rysanek, it was through her imperfection
that she struck the stage as a character of the first order.
Like Tosca, she lived for art, and she lived for love—a
love for the music that she served during her thirty years as
a veritable prima donna without the saccharine antics.
Richard Wagner, during the first Bayreuth Festival of 1876,
mastered all aspects of stage and musical production for his
groundbreaking production of the Ring cycle. He oversaw the
costumes, the music making, the acting, and the singing. He
stressed clarity from his orchestra, telling the musicians never
to drown the singers so as not to sacrifice the depth of the
written drama. Turning to his singers, he stipulated that the
sounds they produce should not be anything less than conductive
to enhancing the audience’s understanding of the text.
One must wonder, had he been born a hundred years later, what
he would have made of Hildegard Behrens—a stage actress
who committed herself to his cosmic Gesamtkunstwerks
with the rare commitment, the sincerity, and the abandon that
characterize only the finest artists in this arena.
Rest in peace Madame Behrens. You will be missed.
-Christian Ocier, Grand Rapids Michigan USA
I am a lover of opera who finds himself more and more fascinated
with the kind of dedication that the finest artists in the field
invest in their art form. I do classical music and book reviews
READ FULL TEXT
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du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb wohl! Leb wohl! Leb wohl!
you bold, wonderful child!
You, my heart's holiest pride!
Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
to an excerpt from "Leb
sung by James Morris - from the Metropolitan Opera production
of Die Walküre.]