|Lotte Lehmann, Leonie Rysanek ...|
Behrens honored with Lotte Lehmann Memorial Ring
VIEW a photo of the Lehmann Ring shown above on Ms. Behrens' index finger.
On May 25, 1999 at the Vienna State Opera, Hildegard Behrens, today's premiere dramatic soprano, was awarded the prized Lotte Lehmann Memorial Ring. Bequeathed to her by the beloved legendary Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek who held the ring from 1979 until her death in March 1998, the ring is Ms. Behrens' to keep for the life of her career and to pass on to a successor of her choice. The bequeathal of the ring follows a beautiful tradition set by the first awardee in whose honor the ring was named - the great German-born American soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) who reigned on the operatic stage in the years between the two world wars. And it is a very special gift indeed, because it is not just a reward for a lifetime of achievement in opera but a most unique expression of love and admiration by the honoree's most esteemed peers.
Click to see photo taken at award ceremony and a close-up of the ring.
|A tradition of great singing AND great acting|
|Hildegard Behrens, like Leonie Rysanek and Lotte Lehman before her, achieved renown through her memorable interpretations of the most demanding roles in the operatic repertory, in particular the heroines of Wagner and Strauss. As befits great artists, the "keepers of the ring" each brought to these roles her own set of vocal virtues. But what they share is what has set them apart from the rest: a tradition of great singing AND great acting, of music AND drama - one inseparable from the other, born of a God-given gift to beautifully "fuse word with tone, and tone with action," a natural ability to transform every bar of sung music into a magical moment, every movement into visual poetry, and opera into genuine music theatre.|
roles they shared
It was Beethoven's Fidelio (Léonore) that all three had in common as a signature role. The conductor Arturo Toscanini thought Ms. Lehmann to be the leading Fidelio of her time, as Leonie Rysanek certainly was in hers. And it was as Fidelio (first at Covent Garden with conductor Reginald Goodall, then in Munich under the baton of the legendary Karl Böhm) that Hildegard Behrens first gained international attention. Her subsequent Fidelio with Karl Böhm at the Met in 1978 was so memorable it came to be regarded by many as her "real" Met debut (rather than Il Tabarro in 1976). Need it be added that Ms. Rysanek and Ms. Behrens were the great maestro's favorite Fidelios? The opera also marked Ms. Behrens Vienna debut in 1985.
Behrens continues to sing many of the roles that were Ms. Rysanek's in
her time, such as those shown in the slide show at left. And she has had
the good fortune of sharing the same stage with her as well: as Brünnhilde
to Ms. Rysanek's Sieglinde in Die Walküre at the Met
in 1987; and as Elektra to Ms. Rysanek's Clytemnestra - at the Met, Teatro
Colón, Houston Grand Opera, and in the spectacular Salzburg Festival
production of 1996.
When in 1957 Ms. Lehmann was asked who among the postwar generation of singers had potentially the greatest talent, she singled out the young Leonie Rysanek. Thus, it could not have been happenstance that Leonie Rysanek became the second "keeper of the ring." Ms. Lehmann must have recognized in her the same kindred spirit that Ms. Rysanek, in choosing her successor, surely must have seen in her dear friend and colleague, Hildegard Behrens.
the RING came to be
letter prescribed that: a.) the ring be given to the Vienna State Opera's
reigning soprano as determined by a unanimous vote of its union of artists;
b.) the recipient is to keep the ring for life but must designate a successor
in a letter to be opened after her death; and c.) the successor must continue
the custom and do likewise. (However, see new
Thus was a beautiful tradition born.
RING for Brunnhilde
The RING was presented to Ms. Behrens by the Vienna State Opera Director, Ioan Holender, in a special ceremony held at the Opera's Tea Salon. A great tradition was passed on to Hildegard Behrens - a RING for the Brünnhilde of our time (a role she did not share with her predecessors), and unlike the Brünnhilde of Wagner's epic, it will never be taken away from her!
Click to see photo taken at award ceremony.
Click for more on the Award Ceremony and new Guidelines.
At right, Ms. Behrens as Brunnhilde in Götterdämmerung - Metropolitan Opera (Photo credit: Winnie Klotz).
- © GC/FanFaire 1997-2009
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