Hildegard Behrens, 1937-2009, Her Life Affirming Art
One of the best memories of my life was when I attended a performance of “Elektra” at the Metropolitan Opera with Hildegard Behrens in the title role. The opera is performed in one act with no intermissions, each note building to the amazing dramatic ending where Elektra, in sheer redemptive bliss drops dead. Ms. Behrens not only embodied that sentiment with her acting which immersed herself fully as the tragic heroine and voice that was a beacon of sound perfect for Strauss, but with a physical stamina of a decathalete as well. For as the Met Opera Orchestra boomed the triumphant chords reflecting Elektra’s ecstatic joy upon hearing of the death of her mother, Hildy lost all abandon and proceeded to use every part of her body as she stomped into a Victory Dance that was so demanding and COMMITTED, one could see how with each blissful stomp Elektra would sacrifice a beat of her living soul, rendering her lifeless on the very last note.
The Met, being THE greatest stage on the globe, like every opera they perform had their massive golden curtain close to completion with the exact same precision as Maestro Levine was conducting the final beat of the opera and remarkably as Hildegard literally threw herself down on the ground in a heap that had completely expired with not a breath left in it. The entire audience was so completely overwhelmed by this fusion of Greek tragedy, sublime singing and hyper realistic acting that there was not a sound when the curtain finally closed. And the audience was still taking in everything they had witnessed with this display of artistic mastery when the curtain went up with another pause of silence, and a single spotlight proceeded to shine on Ms. Behrens who stood on the massive stage, alone. Another pause. I must add that I was very close to the stage on the far left hand side of the theater. After the delayed pause with the audience finally realizing that not only had a spotlight gone on but that one of the greatest interpreters of “Elektra” was before us, there was a ROAR of sound made by hundreds of people regaining their knowledge of where they were along with what had happened and they began to howlingly scream and applaud as if desperate to make up for lost time. This delayed reaction must have come down on Ms. Behrens like a stimulus of blaring shock because from my viewpoint, I literally saw her wince and jolt backwards. She was literally taken aback and was not expecting the audience to so fiercely show their thanks and pleasure to her on such a primal level!
The din remained consistently strong in volume for at least the next 4 minutes, which in applause time is seemingly never ending. Ms. Behrens smiled, bowed and when there showed no signs of the audience decreasing their frenzied pitch of praise for her, the great soprano lowered her head and when she lifted her visage back to the audience to display that ever beaming smile which in itself was famous, there were tears streaming down her face. She cried tears of uncontrollable joy which made me, in turn, involuntarily weep while applauding as hard as I could and cheering with all my vocal might!
I truly felt human during those glorious moments. As a member of that performance’s audience, we were acknowledging Art itself and that moments such as these are the things that make us write poetry, sing operas, and believe in God.
Perpetual light shine upon you Hildegard, and I thank you very deeply for giving me that precious gift in time that I will carry with me as one of my most treasured possessions.
Memoriam Of A Diva
I had a piece published that I did not follow with a mass announcement. Obituaries are not the type of thing people want to read during their leisure time or to “read up on something new.”
When I discovered that the great soprano Hildegard Behrens had died, I not only experienced emotion but was truly moved with her loss. So moved that I was compelled to write “Hildegard Behrens, 1937-2009, Her Life Affirming Art.”
As many of you know, I had a short but very fulfilling singing career as an opera singer. I had run into a friend of mine just yesterday and we discussed the loss of Ms. Behrens. My friend had worked with Hildegard on numerous occasions and he said to me how she would have loved the obituary and emphasized how spiritual she was with anything she approached in life.
An hour later I was honored and touched to receive notice that my piece was listed on the “In Memoriam” site for Hildegard Behrens as well as it was being directly quoted in the Index of Tributes from fans and colleagues around the globe.
Please look at the wonderful outpourings from around the world at the joy Hildegard Behrens gave with her life, art and spirituality.
Love, Light und Froliche Weinachten
IN MEMORIAM: Hildegard Behrens, German dramatic soprano
(9 February 1937 – 18 August 2009)
Hildegard Behrens as Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera As even her most frenzied admirers accepted in the final years of the 1970’s that Birgit Nilsson’s dominance in the Hochdramatische repertory – especially Strauss’ Elektra and Färberin and Wagner’s Brünnhilde and Isolde – was drawing to its natural close, both opera lovers and the managers of the world’s opera houses searched the ranks of young singers for a suitable successor to Nilsson in German dramatic repertory. The protean vocal abilities of Nilsson seemed, and indeed have proved to be, not merely once-in-a-generation but once-in-a-century. Nonetheless, musical voices as significant as Elektra’s and Brünnhilde’s could not fall silent upon Nilsson’s retirement. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, there surely were respectable, idiomatic performances of German dramatic operas throughout the world, but among the heroines of those performances the undoubted mistress of the Hochdramatische repertory was Hildegard Behrens, who passed away unexpectedly in Tokyo on 18 August.
Born on 9 February 1937 in the town of Varel in Lower Saxony, Behrens pursued a career in jurisprudence before devoting herself to singing. Initially studying voice in Freiburg, Behrens made her formal operatic debut there in 1971 as the Contessa in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, inauspiciously launching an important career in dramatic roles with success in Mozart. Following further acclaimed performances in Freiburg, Behrens was invited to join the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, where she gradually progressed to larger, more dramatic roles, culminating with Marie in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, a role with which she remains associated.
It was while rehearsing Wozzeck in Düsseldorf that Behrens first encountered the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, the galvanizing force behind the developments and destructions of several noteworthy operatic careers. Impressed by Behrens’ Marie, Karajan invited her to Berlin to audition for the 1977 Salzburg Festival production of Strauss’ Salome. Rewarded with the title role, Behrens enjoyed a triumph at Salzburg and took her success into the recording studio. Behrens’ Salome on EMI, with Karajan stalwarts José van Dam and Agnes Baltsa as Jochanaan and Herodias, remains after more than thirty years one of the finest entries in the opera’s competitive discography.
In the meantime, Behrens made her formal debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on 15 October 1976 as Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il Tabarro, part of a complete performance of Il Trittico in which Neil Shicoff also made his MET debut (as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi). [Behrens had first appeared at the MET two weeks earlier, on 1 October, in a ‘MET Marathon’ gala concert in which she sang Elisabeth’s ‘Dich teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser.] A further 169 performances followed during the next two decades, ranging from Mozart’s Elettra and Donna Anna and Beethoven’s Leonore, through Santuzza and Tosca, to Brünnhilde in all three of her guises, Isolde, and Berg’s Marie. It was as Marie that Behrens bade farewell to the MET a decade ago, on 24 April 1999.
Despite myriad successes in Wagner and Strauss roles throughout the world, not least in Munich and Vienna, it is likely as the centerpiece of Otto Schenk’s legendary MET Ring Cycle – on stage, on records, and on video/DVD – that Behrens will be most remembered, at least in Wagner repertory. Though it might seem cruel to suggest that a singer’s interpretation of a role was largely unchanging throughout her career, in Behrens’ case this is indicative of the fact that she had thoroughly prepared the role (or, in the case of Brünnhilde, the three roles) prior to offering her interpretation to the public. In Die Walküre, Behrens’ Brünnhilde Hildegard Behrens as Brünnhilde in the MET’s Otto Schenk production of DIE WALKÜRE bounded onto the stage in the second act, the very vocal and dramatic embodiment of the young, impetuous favorite daughter of a god. Few Brünnhildes have been more magisterial without being matronly in the Todesverkündigung, and few have expressed the girl’s heartbreak at being cast off by her father more pathetically or with greater sincerity. In Siegfried, it is virtually impossible to name a Brünnhilde, remembering even Florence Easton, who awakened to love with greater wonder and tonal beauty. Enduring what she perceives as shattering betrayal and sacrificing herself to union in death with her consort, Behrens’ Brünnhilde became in Götterdämmerung both the archetype and that thing she represents: the Eternal Feminine who offers herself as an instrument of redemption. Both Nilsson and Varnay sang the three Brünnhildes with greater vocal abandon (and, to be frank, more voice), but Behrens meaningfully personified the post-modern Brünnhilde, first and always a sensitive, emotionally intense woman.
Fortunately for posterity, Behrens was recorded in most of her finest roles: Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz (DECCA; Kubelík), Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio (DECCA; Solti), Strauss’ Elektra (Philips; Ozawa, and Naïve; Layer) and Salome (EMI; Karajan), Wagner’s Isolde (Philips; Bernstein) and Brünnhilde (all three roles – DGG; Levine, and EMI; Sawallisch), and Berg’s Marie (DGG; Claudio Abbado). It is my personal opinion, however, that no recording captures the essence of Behrens as a performer more thrillingly than Sir Georg Solti’s studio recording of Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, in which Behrens sings the fascinatingly complicated role of the Färberin. In this performance, Behrens’ Färberin progresses with rare eloquence and psychological directness from the petulant shrew of her first appearance to the woman who understands herself and accepts her role as the divinely-blessed procreator in the final scene. Behrens conjures many moments of brilliant, richly touching singing, the voice responding with complete commitment to the intricacies of her interpretation and the upper register gleaming and free. A vital component to an audience’s reaction to the Färberin is that, for all her faults, we must respect her, strive to understand her motivations, pity her, and ultimately embrace her (the role was based to an extent on Strauss’ wife Pauline, after all). Even in the impersonal environment of the recording studio, Behrens creates a multi-dimensional character who exasperates and intoxicates but inspires genuine affection. Such was the nature of Behrens’ artistry.
The position that Hildegard Behrens will occupy in the line of great Hochdramatische singers is a matter for debate. What is more certain is that Behrens was for a generation of opera lovers the definitive Brünnhilde. For me, Behrens was my first Brünnhilde, the intriguing impetus who inspired me to explore the earlier Brünnhildes of Flagstad, Traubel, Varnay, Mödl, Nilsson, and Dame Gwyneth Jones. It is not merely sentimentality that secures for Behrens a prominent place in my affections. Even when singing with a voice less imposing than those of many of her finest older rivals, Behrens possessed the endearing ability to aim her performances squarely at the collective hearts of her audiences, and she rarely missed her mark. In our digital age, legacies are increasingly insignificant, but it is comforting and exciting to imagine that another magnificent voice now rings through Walhalla.
Hildegard Behrens, 1937 – 2009
Jim Forrest said…
A moving, and well-deserved tribute. It was easy for older opera-goers to complain about what we perceived as vocal limitations in some of her roles. But we have no one now who begins to compare!
August 22, 2009 7:36 AM
Hildegard Behrens Has Passed Away
It is so difficult for me to comprehend that Hildegard Behrens has died. She was only 72 and it seems not all that long ago that my friend Bryan and I visited her in her dressing room after what was to be her final Met performance as Marie in Berg’s WOZZECK. Hildegard Behrens was one of a half-dozen singers who, in the nearly half-century that I’ve been immersed in the world of opera, made an impression that transcended mere vocalism and acting. Her voice was utterly her own: a ravaged, astringent quality often beset her timbre – the price of having given so unsparingly of her instrument in some of opera’s most taxing roles. And yet she could produce phrases of stupendously haunting beauty, and she could suddenly pull a piano phrase out of mid-air. Her unique mixture of raw steely power, unmatched personal intensity and a deep vein of feminine vulnerability made her performances unforgettable even when the actual sound of the voice was less than ingratiating.
So many memories are flooding back this morning while I am thinking about her: the Wesendonck Lieder she sang at Tanglewood during my ‘Wagner summer’…a rare chance to hear her miscast but oddly moving singing of the Verdi REQUIEM…her televised RING Cycle from the Met…her wildly extravagant ‘mad scene’ in Mozart’s IDOMENEO…her passionate Tosca and Santuzza, cast against the vocal norm…a solo recital at Carnegie Hall…the dress rehearsal of the Met revival of her ELEKTRA where she made up (and how!) for an off-night at the premiere. Hildegard Behrens was also the holder of the Lotte Lehmann Ring which was left to her by her great colleague Leonie Rysanek upon Rysanek’s untimely death in 1998.
It was in fact the Behrens Elektra, sung in concert at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa in August 1988 that has always seemed to me the very epitome of what an operatic portrayal can be. In a black gown and violently teased hair, the soprano (announced as being indisposed by allergies) transformed a stand-and-deliver setting into a full-scale assault on the emotions. I’ll never forget that performance and I was fortunate a week later to record it from a delayed broadcast.
In the great scene in which Elektra recognizes her long-lost brother, Behrens transported me right out of this mortal world. Here it is, from her 1994 Met performance with Donald McIntyre.
It’s going to be hard for me now to listen to Hildegard – her Berlioz Nuits d’Ete is my favorite recording of those beloved songs, unconventional as her voice sounds in that music – or to watch her on film as Brunnhilde or Elektra. For a while I will just let the memories play.
Dmitry: Didn’t Zeffirelli refuse to direct “Tosca” after doing it for Callas – until Behrens came along?
And James Levine once said that many other sopranos sang Brunnhilde better than Behrens, but that none of them made him care for the Valkyries’ troubles more than she did.
She’s one of the very few singers I regret not seeing live. By the time she was ending her Met career I was not yet the Wagner fan I am now, so I didn’t go. I’ve always kicked myself for that! Even on records, though, I love listening to Behrens. (But not Callas.) So thank you Hildegard, and goodbye.
Posted by: Dmitry | August 19, 2009 at 08:17 AM
Philip: People sometimes referred to Behrens as ‘the German Callas’ since they both has unconventional voices but were able to communicate so much of whatever character they were singing.
One of my favorite Hildegard highlights is a brief interview she gave from Bayreuth when the Met were celebrating their 100th anniversary. Because of other commitments in October, Hilde could not appear at the Met Gala but her message of greeting and her assertion that ‘music makes the soul swing’ are so lovely. In a way she was sort of a ‘flower child’, a throw-back to an earlier era. Behrens was to have opened the Levine 25th anniversary gala singing
‘Dich teure halle’ but she was replaced by Deborah Voigt who at that time was the large, luminous-voiced singer we all liked so much.
Posted by: Philip | August 19, 2009 at 09:37 AM
Deeply sad, yet she is triumphant
The world of music lost a great lady yesterday in the crossing of Hildegard Behrens, a voice and person of honest and beautiful intensity. To her millions of fans all over the world, and to her dear friends and family, my prayers, my solace, solidarity and heart are with you.
Hildegard Behrens 1937-2009
I came out of my not-blogging cave to sadly announce the death of one of the great Wagnerians sopranos, Hildegard Behrens. I was introduced to her work, however, not through Wagner, but through the perfection that is the 1985 Zefferelli Tosca. When I delicately dipped into the world of the Wagner cult, the Otto Schenk Ring cycle with her as Brünnhilde was the only one I could watch. She always stunned me with her emotional and dramatic power on the stage, not to mention the force of her beautiful voice.
The soprano died on August 16th in Japan, reportedly of an aneurysm, at the age of 72. Ms Behrens was in Japan for a festival where she would perform and give master classes. She will be remembered fondly as the best Brünnhilde in the post-Nilsson era.
Rest in Peace.
In our age of tin, a voice from a golden age passes…
I’m coming in a bit late with a tribute to the soprano Hildegard Behrens who died Tuesday. In the 80s I was blessed to see her at the Met as Leonore in Fidelio with Jon Vickers as Florestan and Klaus Tennstedt conducting. Behrens was also centerstage for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in an opera house: Elektra in Munich. It was an astounding performance and Behrens brought a touch of vulnerability to the character along with the requisite skin-crawling weirdness. Behrens went all out in every role and left nothing on the table.
She didn’t make nearly enough recordings. I have some private recordings of her in Met broadcasts and on DVD singing Brünnhilde in the Met Ring Cycle. Her Salome with von Karajan conducting is her landmark recorded performance and one of my favorite recordings of the opera.
Here’s the electrifying Behrens in Elektra.
By now you may have heard that soprano Hildegard Behrens has passed away, suddenly, while travelling in Japan. In obituaries and appreciations (like Anthony Tommasini’s in the New York Times), you can learn about her late start as an opera singer, and her seemingly inevitable trajectory into Wagnerian roles. My own memory of her comes from 1988, when she was in Boston for semi-staged performances of Richard Strauss’s Elektra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa, performances which are also referenced by Alex Ross of the New Yorker and which were recorded for a commercial release. In my mind, it’s impossible to overstate the individual power of that performance, which was echoed in Gramophone magazine (reviewing that subsequent CD): “… so much of her performance is felt instinctively from the heart and is communicated to her audience in this live concert through her psychological understanding of the part expressed in her vibrant, very personal tone.” (April 1989)
Opera Star Behrens Dies
, an opera enthusiast who works in The Post’s Outlook section, writes:
Hildegard Behrens, one of the finest opera singers of her generation, died at a Tokyo hospital on Tuesday after suffering an aortic aneurysm. The German-born soprano, 72 years old, was still performing–she was in Japan to give a recital and master classes–and her death represents a huge loss for the opera world.
Today I spoke with Ken Noda, Ms. Behrens’s longtime accompanist and a musical coach at the Metropolitan Opera, where Ms. Behrens performed in 15 roles and 171 performances. Noda spoke movingly about the passion Ms. Behrens brought to her music, both in fully staged operas and in her recitals. He said that Ms. Behrens would mediate for hours before performances; it was her way of connecting with her characters before introducing them to the audience.
Both Noda and Anthony DelDonna, the Georgetown musicologist quoted in Ms. Behrens’s obituary, noted that although Ms. Behrens was best known for her Germany repertory–she was the Brunnhilde of the 20th century–she was just as magnificent in Puccini’s Italian opera “Tosca.”
Fortunately, Ms. Behrens’s performance of “Tosca” at the Met in 1985 is preserved on video. Below you’ll find a clip with her “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” the big soprano aria from Act II.
The song is actually a prayer: As Tosca considers her lover Mario’s sad fate–he is in the hands of the evil police chief Scarpia–she asks God how he could let her suffer so terribly. “I never harmed a living soul,” she says. “In my hour of suffering,
“Vissi d’arte” is one of the most important arias in Italian opera, one that any soprano would be proud to sing as an encore. But modern-day sopranos have a lot to live up to. Probably the most famous Tosca of all was Maria Callas, who was also known as “La Divina,” which tells you everything you need to know.
Noda said that Ms. Behrens had enormous respect for Callas and that she studied her “Tosca” deeply. So before you watch the video of Ms. Behrens, watch Callas at London’s Covent Garden, the first video below. Watch the expressiveness in her face, the despair in her eyes, and, at around 2:40, her absolute abandon as she moves into the end of the aria.
And now, here is Ms. Behrens. Some critics said that her voice didn’t have the lyricism needed for Italian operas such as “Tosca”–that she was better suited to the more muscular roles in Wagner and Strauss–but as you’ll see in this video, Behrens made up for it with the depth of her acting.
If you’ve ever been to the Met, you know how thunderous that applause must have felt.
One note: We were unable to obtain a complete list of Ms. Behrens’s survivors before our deadline yesterday. In addition to her two children, Philip and Sara Behrens, and two grandchildren, survivors include two siblings. Ms. Behrens married Seth Schneidman in 1985; they divorced in 2003, according to her son.
Hildegard Behrens, dynamic German soprano, dies at 72
Hildegard Behrens died Tuesday in Tokyo of an apparent aneurysm at the age of 72.
The exceptional German soprano, highly valued for the strength and beauty of her voice, as well as for her intensity of expression, was especially successful in the works of Wagner and Strauss. She sang the music of Mozart, Puccini, Janacek and others, as well. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1976 and was a frequent performer there over the years (in 1990, she was injured by prematurely descending scenery during the finale of “Gotterdammerung” at the Met). I’ve posted the AP obit at the end of this entry.
The artistry of Hildegard Behrens is preserved on many recordings and filmed performances. To salute her memory, I chose this example of the soprano, at a peak of vocal and interpretive warmth, singing the …
“Liebestod” in a performance led by one of ardent admirers, Leonard Bernstein.
Atque In Perpetuum, Hildegard
The splendid Wagnerian soprano Hildegard Behrens is dead. She was 72. Notable as much for her striking stage presence and expressive acting as she was for her fine if more lyric than heroic soprano voice, she brought to her Wagner roles a convincingness too rarely seen onstage. Even though long off the Wagnerian stage, her absence from the world of opera will be sorely felt.
Atque In Perpetuum, Hildegard. Ave Atque Vale.
Karl Ufert’s Blog
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Diva Hildegard Behrens Rest in Peace
I am deeply saddened to have just learned that the great German soprano, Hildegard Behrens, passed away unexpectedly today in Japan at the far-too-young age of 72. Mme. Behrens was, according to the AP report this evening, traveling to Tokyo to prepare for two recital programs, when she “felt unwell” and “died of an apparent aneurysm.”
This is especially tragic for me, and others like me, who experienced Behrens for many of the important years of her career at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in the 1980s and 90s. During this period, she sang everything from Mozart to Puccini — her full MET debut (after an appearance in a fundraising gala) was in the unlikely role of Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il Tabarro — to Mascagni and more, but most importantly, the major heroic roles of Wagner and Richard Strauss. I was never a fan of her too-light-for-much-of-her-repertoire vocal instrument, but I was a passionate admirer of her spectacular musical-theatrical artistry. This was a rare instance of an operatic singer who I loved hearing in roles far above her “fach,” and watching, so as to witness her sheer 100% commitment in everything she performed. I heard and saw, live in the house, all of her MET roles after the early 1980s until the late 90s when she informally, and unannounced, made her last MET appearance.
My father, Frank Ufert, passed away last month at the similarly premature age of 75 (albeit following a decade-long battle with poor health–a much longer period of illness than Mme. Behrens seemingly experienced). May this great woman — who I met many times — enjoy leading the chorus of angels, and my deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.
A Belated “Leb Wohl” to Hildegard Behrens
During our vacation in Spain, the dramatic soprano Hildegard Behrens died unexpectedly from an aortic aneurysm.
Behrens wasn’t merely one of the most fearless-yet-expressive Brunnhildes — you’ll find links to her other roles below. But she’ll always be the “home” Brunnhilde for me. I was in the upper reaches of the Met audience on the opening night of the Otto Schenck Goetterdammerung in 1989. In a typical “youth is wasted on the young” scenario, I had no idea at the time how fortunate I was (the cast also featured Matti Salminen at his frightening finest and Christa Ludwig in one of her last Waltrautes). I was a music major in my last year of college, but hadn’t gotten around to Wagner yet. (I was buried in Prokofiev’s War and Peace, racing to complete my senior thesis on that work somewhere near on time.) I had only listened once to the just-out-on-CD Solti Ring with some other students in preparation for the college trip that landed me in the audience that night. The friend sitting next to me (also a Wanger newbit) commented approvingly “Brunnhilde is being sung by a lady named Hildegard — that’s promising.”
This was a few years before the Met finally caved to supertitles, so that single preparatory hearing was my only guide. It was up to Hildegard Behrens to communicate the range of human experience Brunnhilde encompasses in those three heartbreaking acts. I’ve seen and heard Brunnhildes who are better, in various moments and in various ways, but the moral authority and raw vulnerability of Behrens remains unmatched for me. In Act Two I was “lost” in terms of the libretto, but riveted on her presence in the middle of the stage. It’s not just her visuals, either — it’s there on the Levine recording on DG, where the vocally friendlier studio conditions highlight her expressive phrasing and (yes, I’m saying it) beautiful, sometimes radiant voice. (Note to the Hildegard hatas: just how hoarse would YOU be at the end of a four-night Ring?)
Germaine Greer says it better:
“There is no chance that I will see a Brünnhilde so utterly destroyed, so uncompromisingly tragic ever again. I would have thought it impossible to show such a depth of devastation and helplessness in music, but Behrens did it. How she did it – whether by her utter absorption, her rapt earnestness or her lack of self-consciousness – I shall never know. Never to have seen her do it would be never to have understood how a preposterous musical drama, with absurdly affected DIY verse for a libretto, could be transmuted into the highest of high art.”
Behrens is well represented on YouTube as Tosca, Isolde, Fidelio, Elektra (and Elettra), Elisabeth (Tannhauser), the Kaiserin (from Frau), etc.
The Met has a photo gallery tribute. But let’s give the last word to James Morris’s Wotan. This clip begins as Brunnhilde is silenced forever — at least to the ears of this “unhappy immortal.”
Hildegard Behrens 1937-2009
This week saw the passing of soprano, Hildegard Behrens. Ms Behrens was noted particularly for her Wagnerian roles but I have found a site where you may download a wonderful recording of her in the role of Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, with Jon Vickers and Donald McIntyre in a performance conducted by Roger Goodall. The Met has posted a fine pictorial tribute to Ms Behrens. It should not go unremarked that people who knew her well tell me she was a fine and generous lady. A true diva of the old school. Here she is singing Vissi D’arte from Tosca.
Now there’s some high-class singin’ from a high-class woman.
The Rehearsal Studio
Remembering Hildegard Behrens
I did not immediately jump to my keyboard when the news of Hildegard Behrens’ death first broke. However, having now read Joshua Kosman’s excellent San Francisco Chronicle obituary for her, I realize that I have a few personal points to add. Without in any way trying to diminish either her talent or her stature, Behrens was, for me, the “post-Nilsson” soprano, since she took on many of the roles that I had most enjoyed hearing Birgit Nilsson perform. Through accidents of personal timing, I did not have a chance to hear Nilsson at the Metropolitan Opera until her final season there, when she sang the Dyer’s Wife in Richard Strauss’ opera, Die Frau ohne Schatten. My opportunities to hear Behrens at the Met were not much better, but I had the good fortune to see her sing Marie when the San Francisco Opera performed Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in 1999. I also remember being riveted by her Brünnhilde when Otto Schenk’s staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring for the Met was broadcast on Public Television. Those performances meant so much to me for so many reasons (Behrens’ performance being just one of them) that the complete set is now part of my DVD collection, assuring Behrens of a rather firm place in my personal memory.
dramma per musica
Following a day of unconfirmed rumors, the Associated Press reports this morning that the German soprano Hildegard Behrens, best known for her powerful portrayals of Brünnhilde, Salome, and Elektra, died in Tokyo on Tuesday of an apparent aortic aneurysm. She was 72.
Behrens was in Japan to take part in the Kusatsu International Summer Music Festival. According to an official at the Kanshinetsu Music Society Foundation, which hosts the festival, the singer fell ill shortly after arriving on Sunday and was taken to hospital in Tokyo, where she passed away during surgery. Sources indicate that her funeral will take place in Vienna.
While Behrens will almost certainly be remembered as a preeminent Wagner and Strauss interpreter, her repertoire also included such roles as Fidelio, Agathe (Der Freischütz), Marie (Wozzeck), Giorgetta (Il Tabarro), Tosca, the Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro), Donna Anna, and Elettra (Idomeneo).
Speaking of Idomeneo, here’s one of my favorite Behrens moments, taken from a 1982 Met production of the opera conducted by James Levine. Some may argue that this kind of over the top singing is completely wrong for Mozart, but I’m not bothered by it in the least.
And we listened to DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN last night… what a recording. What a voice!
About Wagner Operas
Hildegard Behrens dies at 72
One of the finest Wagnerian dramatic sopranos after WWII, Hildegard Behrens, died Tuesday in a hospital in Tokyo at the age of 72.
Hildegard Behrens’s career as a singer began in 1971. In 1973 she became an ensemble member of Deutschen Oper am Rhein Düsseldorf-Duisburg and (in 1974) also a member of Oper Frankfurt. After some minor roles she sang Marie in Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”. In 1976 she made her début at Covent Garden as Leonore (Fidelio) and at the Metropolitan as Giorgetta (Il tabarro).
Hildegard Behrens’s international career rocketed when Herbert von Karajan offered her the lead role in Richard Strauss’s “Salome” at the Salzburg Festival in 1977.
Her career centred around the operas of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Mozart. She can be heard as Brünnhilde on the recordings of Der Ring des Nibelungen conducted by respectively James Levine (also released on DVD) and Wolfgang Sawallisch (also released on VHS). Behrens delivered a wonderful performance as Isolde on Leonard Bernstein’s recording of Tristan und Isolde (1981).
Hildegard Behrens sang Brünnhilde at the Bayreuth Festival in the Peter Hall / George Solti Ring (1983-86).
Hildegard Behrens appeared regularly on opera stages all over the world, with conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Leonard Bernstein, James Levine and Wolfgang Sawallisch.
SEEN AND HEARD OBITUARY
Hildegard Behrens: an appreciation
Truly great dramatic sopranos – especially exponents of the heaviest Wagnerian roles Isolde and Brünnhilde – tend to emerge only one or two per generation. Frida Leider, who dominated the roles during the 1920s and 1930s, was succeeded by Kirsten Flagstad from the mid-30s, who in her turn abdicated in the mid-50s, when Astrid Varnay and Birgit Nilsson were ready to step into her shoes. Nilsson at least reigned well into the 1970s and by then Hildegard Behrens was fully fledged and remained at the top of the trade for another two decades. Without in any way belittling the achievements of some other highly accomplished singers, I think it is fair to say that when she passed away at the age of 72 in a hospital in Tokyo on 18 August, she was the last in the royal line of great dramatic sopranos from the 20th century.
Like most of her predecessors, with the exception of Astrid Varnay, her international recognition came at a relatively mature age. Before embarking on a singing career she studied law and graduated as a junior barrister from the University of Freiburg. Her professional debut was as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro in 1971. She was then already in her mid-30s. After that she sang mainly minor roles at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf until she was discovered by Herbert von Karajan, who was looking for a Salome. He brought her to the Salzburg Festival in 1977, where she was a sensation, and from then on she was the dramatic soprano of her generation.
She sang at most of the leading opera houses of the world, including the Metropolitan, N.Y, where her debut role, somewhat surprisingly, was Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il tabarro. She sang other Italian roles as well and was among other things a great Tosca. But it was in the heavy German roles that she excelled. Her Leonora in Fidelio was one of her great impersonations and she was an Electra to reckon with. She may not have had the steely power of Birgit Nilsson but she is certainly one of the few truly great dramatic sopranos, enthralling audiences also through her acting ability.
Her recorded legacy comprises many of her most important roles and my personal choice would be Salome with Herbert von Karajan (EMI), Tristan und Isolde with Leonard Bernstein (Philips) and Der Ring des Nibelungen with James Levine (DG). These interpretations must be counted among the very best ever and will stand as a worthy memorial of Hildegard Behrens for generations to come.
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I am much saddened to hear of the passing of Hildegard Behrens, of a ruptured aortic aneurism aged 72. In my limited experience of live opera she was one of the three great post-war Wagnerian sopranos along with Birgit Nilsson and Rita Hunter. They are all gone. Not only was hers a gorgeous voice she was a true actress with the deepest intelligence. Not only was she a singer she began her working life as a lawyer.
Behrens was one of the major performers of the second half of the twentieth century. Her professionalism and musicality set the benchmark in the German repertoire. She will be greatly missed.
Behrens was not only a fine singer with a bright, incisive soprano, but a singing actress of rare power and intellect. I have memories of her as Marie at Covent Garden (my first Wozzeck in the theatre, an overpowering evening for a number of reasons) and on records as Brunnhilde in the complete Sawallisch Ring – the finest recorded cycle of the stereo era – and delivering a remarkable Isolde in Bernstein’s eccentric, infuriating, absurdly slow and mannered but intermittently rather glorious Tristan.
Hildegard Behrens sang Brunnhilde in a complete Ring Cycle under Haitink in concert performances in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall a little over a decade ago (also featuring John Tomlinson and Siegfried Jerusalem inter alia). She was sensational – and she took the time to mingle with a group of stage door loiterers after Götterdämmerung on the Saturday night, wherein she seemed utterly sweet and delightful.
R.I.P. Hildegard Behrens 1937-2009
A Star Fell
Today I learnt of the death, aged 72, of Hildegard Behrens, another star who this time meant so much to my operatic wunderjahren. It was 1978 and I was 16: I’d been turned into an incipient opera queen hungry for Sutherland by mamma, who’d seen the Bell Song from Lakme in some film or other. But I was slowly coming to realise that much of the rep Joanie sang, including that season Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, wasn’t quite to my taste. I wanted Strauss, Wagner. And having just bought the LPs of Behrens’s Salome with Karajan, I was thrilled to bits to go to a friends rehearsal of the Royal Opera production. She stunned me with that odd, silvery sound and that terrifying development from innocent to harpy.
I went backstage and the lady, clad in a leopardskin coat and with huge false eyelashes, was charm itself. She wrote ‘Best wishes for you’ on the back of the cast-list (in which I note John Tomlinson sang Fifth Jew) and signed my EMI booklet not just on her photo but also on the booklet’s cover, across the midriff of a naked dancing princes who, surprise, surprise, didn’t do much for me. Since then I saw Behrens’s Elektra twice, relished her Met Brunnhilde and her Dyer’s Wife for Solti on CD and will always remember her great singing acting as synonymous with my own musical growing-up.
More about Hildegard
Following my personal memories further down in ‘A star fell’, I had the honour of writing Hildegard Behrens’s obituary for The Guardian, now up and running here. The newspaper version has a splendid full-length colour portrait of La B as Brunnhilde, managing to look austerely beautiful in the unattractive weeds of Otto Schenk’s hideously dressed Met production.
We must have a clip of Behrens at her most idiosyncratic. There are three YouTube chunks of her in 1994 as Strauss’s Elektra. I thought the final dance of death was a bit close to the bone, so here’s the big soliloquy. Levine’s conducting is pretty fine, too.
Hildegard Behrens: Adieu lumiére [Farewell Light]
Elle était l’une des derniéres grandes sopranos encore en activité. é 72 ans, cette éclatante et lumineuse interpréte de Strauss et de Wagner s’est éteinte.
Eblouissement sur Salzbourg, alors nombril du monde lyrique. Pour féter (en avance) ses 70 ans, Karajan avait enfin trouvé l’interpréte idéale, il pouvait enfin monter Salomé ! Hildegard Behrens y étonnait en musicienne, par la fluidité, la facilité, une impressionnabilité moirée du discours, avec la ligne et le frémissement du violon ; en scéne onduleuse et troublante, comme née d’un Klimt, avec le scintillant.
Inconnue elle n’était pas tout é fait, sinon du smart set de Salzbourg et des maisons de disques. Covent Garden l’avait déjé vue en Leonore et méme le Met dans, surprise, Giorgietta du Tabarro. Pour les mondains, autant dire, rien. Salzbourg répara vite. Béhm, sérement jaloux de Karajan, la voulut pour Ariadne de Strauss dans l’étonnante mise en scéne de Dorn : statuesque, mondaine, magique. Elle n’avait qu’é paraétre pour se montrer star, en toute simplicité vestimentaire d’ailleurs. Mais au tape-é-l’œil que ce Salzbourg-lé devenait, elle préférait les équipes : c’est é Munich, Zurich qu’elle ira de préférence essayer les réles importants et lourds, et il ne fallait pas traéner. L’incroyable en effet est qu’en un temps médiatisé é mort, friand de jeunesse et la dévorant, cette toute neuve Salomé avait 40 ans. é cet ége, Flagstad croyait avoir fini mais pouvait repartir, préte é tout.
Mais l’époque le permettait, et c’était Flagstad. Behrens s’était préservée toute seule contre un monde et une mode qui ne le toléraient plus. On la prendrait dans ses termes é elle, elle choisirait ses réles, son moment et parfois son metteur en scéne. Elle avait déjé un métier, son aplomb propre. Ses années de droit é Fribourg ne l’avaient pas empéchée, musicienne née, d’apprendre son violon, son piano, la voix grandissant de son cété. Significativement on la verra, déjé star mondiale, préférer pour ses splendides Wesendonck-Lieder de Wagner la rare toute petite formation de chambre et le plus petit des festivals, Fénétrange, en Lorraine, et ce par deux fois. Comme en famille. La vérité musicale avant tout.
Et la tenue. Avec ce physique, cette stature nobles, c’était vocalement obligé. Elle avait débuté Comtesse des Noces de Figaro é Fribourg en 1971 ; chanté Mozart, Berg, de premiers Janécek é Désseldorf, Francfort. Elle allait au bout de sa toute premiére Isolde (Zurich, 1980) héroéquement, surmontant un drame intime crucifiant. On y était, on l’a vue faire front (et comme elle rayonnera, plus tard é Munich au moment de Rusalka, dans l’ascenseur de l’hétel, l’enfant passionnément voulu serré contre son sein). Inoubliable Leonore (avec Béhm é Munich, son dernier Fidelio). Trois premiéres Brénnhilde d’un coup, dans l’unique Ring de Solti é Bayreuth 1983 ; plus, partout, la tuante Elektra de Strauss, mais dans ses termes scéniques (son mari, prudence, sera é la régie).
Dépense forcenée, immense : mais la chanteuse était préte, adulte, attaquant juste, sére d’aigus comme inépuisables. Pourtant la voix, de texture, restait plastique, transparente parfois, comme mal assurée de sa stabilité sonore. Mais une sensibilité intellectuelle rarissime, une culture, un jusqu’auboutisme intuitif lui assuraient la projection, le punch qu’en termes simplement physiques elle n’avait pas. Et quand il devait se placer plus haut, le son, dans son endurance méme, s’intensifiait, se posait d’autant mieux. étonnantes apothéoses de Brénnhilde et Isolde, exaspération visionnaire de Senta ! Qui n’a pas vu Behrens en scéne cette grande dizaine d’années-lé, qui ne sait d’elle que sa voix telle que le disque la réduit n’imagine pas le rayonnement qui la décuplait “live”.
La compassion inondait cette Brénnhilde comme aucune, héroéquement chantée pourtant comme aucune : comme si, pour une fois, Brénnhilde se souvenait d’avoir d’abord été Sieglinde, souffert comme Sieglinde. Les yeux, le visage levé de cette Leonore ont suffi, tout ce temps, é renvoyer au rayon gamines d’autres, grands talents certes mais qui s’efforéaient, sans la vision. Elle révait de la tunique sublime des grands Gluck tant en scéne elle incarnait la vertu : mais personne ne lui a offert l’Alceste qu’elle sentait et portait en elle ; ni, dans son franéais superbe, le doublé Cassandre/Didon. Par jeu (le théétre est tout ce jeu-lé), elle a été inouée dans L’Affaire Makropoulos de Janécek, haussant ce qui peut étre vaudeville au tragique. Dans Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), dont elle a préservé la souplesse vocale jusque trés tard, dans Elettra (Idomeneo) oé Ponnelle a fait d’elle la plus extraordinaire Méduse d’opéra qui soit, le tragique rayonnait. Elle était Elektra é Salzbourg aussi tard que 1996, pour les adieux de Rysanek devenue Klytémnéstra.
Elle se sera épargné la reconversion pathétique mais si souvent dérisoire de tant de glorieuses qui, incapables désormais du réle oé leur aigu a fulminé, visent vocalement un grand cran au-dessous – compensant par la mimique. Son seul réle de vieille, l’ége venu, la Sacristine de Jenufa, é Salzbourg en 2001, elle l’a repris é Toulouse en 2004, intacte de rayonnement, d’intériorité, d’humanité (sinon tout é fait de voix).
La France et méme pour une fois Paris lui auront fait la part belle, d’inoubliables Wagner d’estrade avec Barenboim et l’Orchestre de Paris ; et en scéne la royale séquence aux années 1980 de Senta (avec Van Dam, hantée), Leonore, Tosca (avec Pavarotti) et Elektra les couronnant. Ses débuts inauguraient l’aprés-Liebermann, un chant d’une franchise moderne, neuve : restée unique, son Impératrice de La Femme sans ombre, c’était aussi l’aprés-Rysanek, non moins mémorable ; créature faite d’air et de lumiére, chant fait de moirures – sa vraie identité en Strauss, mieux que la Teinturiére aux couleurs et contours autrement marqués qu’elle offrira ensuite, au disque seulement, é Solti.
Une inoubliable Brénnhilde
Ci-dessus : Hildegard Behrens/Brénnhilde (Crépuscule) dit é Matti Salminen/Hagen comment tuer Siegfried.
On l’a dit, il fallait sa présence, ne fét-ce que sur l’estrade. Que reste-t-il de visible d’elle ? Peu, hélas.
Le Ring au Met avec Levine chez DG, oé sa Brénnhilde est glorieuse, mais vétustissime de mise en scéne, décor, esthétique.
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Retrouvera-t-on celui de Sawallisch paru jadis en CDV, urgent, bizarre, mais autrement neuf et vif (plus Varady et Fassbénder, essentielles) ? Noter, marginale, mais hallucinante, Elettra (Ponnelle/Levine) au Met. On sera surpris de trouver une voix si importante, sitét stabilisée, nous donner Frauenliebe et surtout des Strauss sublimes (Wiegenlied ! Die Nacht !!). Un ensemble vocal Wagner avec Sawallisch est estimable (l’inattendu Euch Léften).
Et évidemment Salomé avec Karajan,
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puis Guercœur avec Plasson, son héritage EMI.
Importantes (Philips) son Isolde d’une tranquillité hypnotique avec Bernstein, déparée par un impossible Peter Hofmann,
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et Marie de Wozzeck (Abbado, DG).
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Essentiel le Fidelio avec Bohm (Orfeo). Fascinant patchwork chez Decca oé Nuits d’été, Schéhérazade voisinent avec les scénes de Leonore et Senta. On peut vivre sans sa Tosca pour Maazel, son Agathe pour Kubelik — pas sa faute : c’est le temps oé, en studio, intégrale commence é vouloir dire indifférence.
Mais ne pas manquer le splendide ensemble de Frau ohne Schatten (Solti) chez Decca, méme si on l’a préférée, elle, en Impératrice.
Disparition d’Hildegard Behrens
Découverte par Karajan, la grande soprano wagnérienne dont les interprétations d’Isolde et de Salomé restent des incontournables s’est éteinte é l’ége de 72 ans.
É écoutez Hildegard Behrens, que j’ai découverte dans les années 70 : quelle Salomé ! Elle possédait exactement la voix de Maria Cebotari, mais avec une personnalité beaucoup plus forte, et la technique nécessaire, ce qui est suprémement important : une voix au charme vraiment érotique. É Celui qui s’exprimait de la sorte n’est autre qu’Herbert von Karajan… Hildegard Behrens est décédée é Tokyo le 18 août. La soprano allemande était égée de 72 ans. Connue pour ses interprétations majeures de réles wagnériens, elle est décédée é l’hépital lors d’un voyage au Japon oé elle devait participer é un festival. Elle aurait succombé é une rupture d’anévrisme avant d’avoir chanté et dirigé des master-classes é Kusatsu, au nord de Tokyo. Ses funérailles sont prévues é Vienne.
Née le 9 février 1937 é Varel-Oldenburg prés de Bréme en Allemagne de parents médecins, qui avaient poussé vers la musique, piano et violon, leurs cinq enfants, Hildegard Behrens était par ailleurs diplémée en droit. Elle s’orienta d’ailleurs vers le barreau quand sa vocation lui fut révélée par sa participation, comme amateur, é la chorale de l’école de musique de Fribourg oé elle étudie avec Ines Leuwen.
Behrens fait ses débuts dans le Mariage de Figaro é Fribourg en 1971 avant d’intégrer, l’année suivante, la troupe du Deutsche Oper. Le 15 octobre 1976, elle fait ses débuts américains sur la prestigieuse scéne du Met Opera de New York dans Il Tabarro de Puccini.
Au Deutsche Oper de Désseldorf, Hildegard Behrens est cantonnée aux petits réles durant six ans. Son répertoire s’étoffe ensuite avec des réles plus prestigieux jusqu’é la saison 1975-1976, lorsque le temps d’une répétition de Wozzeck, un spectateur pas comme les autres tombe sous le charme de sa voix : Herbert von Karajan ! Ce prestigieux é découvreur é l’engage aussitét pour étre sa Salomé au Festival de Salzbourg, en 1977.
Trés rapidement, Hildegard Behrens ajoute é son répertoire Elisabeth de Tannhéuser, Elsa de Lohengrin, Kundry, Isolde, ainsi que l’Impératrice de la Femme sans ombre et Senta du Vaisseau fantéme, qui l’ont fait acclamer é l’Opéra de Paris pendant la saison 1980-81. Elle abordera par la suite d’autres personnages wagnériens ainsi que certains réles italiens et chanté en 1987 celui d’Elektra é l’Opéra de Paris.
A noter qu’une CallassoTherapy lui sera entiérement consacrée trés prochainement sur Qobuz. Hildegard Behrens dans Elektra dirigé par James Levine au Metropolitan Opera en 1994.
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A propos d’Hildegard Behrens
Il y a quelques semaines que je médite d’écrire quelques mots sur Hildegard Behrens, disparue le 18 août dernier à Tokyo avant un concert, à 72 ans. Je l’ai vue pour la dernière fois à Salzbourg, dans une Elektra de Strauss avec Maazel où elle était encore convaincante huit ans après celle de Paris.
Hildegard Behrens, c’est d’abord pour moi deux visions, celle, sublime, d’une Salomé inoubliable avec Karajan, et celle terriblement émouvante dans sa robe rouge, de Senta dans un Vaisseau Fantôme à Garnier aux temps de Bernard Lefort . Elle tirait les larmes. Elle était enceinte, et cela ne gênait pas plus que ne gênait le même état chez Netrebko à Bastille dans Giulietta de Capuleti e Montecchi.
Hildegard Behrens, je l’ai aussi entendue dans Tosca à Garnier, un soir où Pavarotti fit craquer une chaise sous lui, dans Marie de Wozzeck avec Abbado à Vienne, dans l’impératrice de Frau ohne Schatten à Garnier encore avec Von Dohnanyi (quel souvenir!), dans Isolde, bien sûr, à Vienne encore, dans une mise en scène qui s’effilochait par la vieillesse, avec Theo Adam dans un de ses derniers Marke en 1991 et Peter Schneider au pupitre, dans Brünnhilde, à Bayreuth, une seule fois avec Solti, plus souvent avec Peter Schneider, dans Fidelio aux côtés de Jon Vickers à Paris, de James Mac Cracken à Tanglewood avec Ozawa. Oui j’ai eu la chance de l’entendre dans de très nombreux rôles. Elle avait cette qualité rare qu’on appelle la présence, un visage émacié authentiquement tragique, une expression naturellement émouvante, un sourire franc avec une pointe de tristesse dans les yeux. Elle faisait sur scène les gestes essentiels, les mouvements nécessaires, sans jamais en faire trop, toujours juste. Elle possédait une voix qui semblait toujours au bord de la rupture, qui semblait toujours à l’extrême de ses possibilités, et qui pourtant avait toujours des réserves. Behrens, c’était en permanence la fausse fragilité. Il fallait l’entendre dans Brünnhilde finir le Crépuscule en ce monologue toujours trop bref tellement elle emportait par l’émotion. Elle savait moduler son volume, elle savait murmurer! J’ai encore dans l’oreille, à la générale du Crépuscule de 1983 à Bayreuth, avec Solti, ses premières paroles de la scène finale, une sorte de monologue intérieur proprement inoubliable. Cette voix avait quelque chose de très particulier, à l’opposé d’une Nilsson qui époustouflait par sa puissance presque surhumaine, la voix de Behrens prenait l’auditeur, séduit par une couleur proprement “humaine”, si “humaine” qu’elle bouleversait, quel que soit le rôle abordé (C’est l’Isolde de Bernstein, et ce n’est certes pas un hasard…). Elle est de ces artistes qui ont accompagné ma vie de mélomane, et que j’ai toujours dans l’oreille, écho toujours présent aujourd’hui, elle est de celles qui font pleurer, sans savoir pourquoi.
Hildegard Behrens au royaume du Walhalla
Elle venait d’avoir 72 printemps ! La merveilleuse cantatrice Hildegard Behrens vient de nous quitter. Elle fut l’une des plus grandes wagnériennes de sa génération. J’ai eu le privilège et le bonheur de l’inviter à Clermont-Ferrand lorsque je dirigeais l’Opéra-Théâtre de la capitale de l’Auvergne. Je me souviens qu’elle avait chanté des extraits de “Tannhäuser” (quelle admirable Elisabeth elle était), du “Vaisseau Fantôme” (sa Senta donnait des frissons dans le dos) et de “Tristan et Isolde”. Sa mort d’Isolde avait fait pleurer la salle entière. Elle fut aussi une formidable Brünnhilde, une walkyrie exemplaire qui devrait lui ouvrir, à présent, les portes du Walhalla ou plus exactement celles du Paradis. Le monde de l’opéra est en deuil, il vient de perdre l’une de ses plus immenses artistes ! Hildegard restera, cependant et pour toujours, dans nos coeurs et nos esprits !
PARTAGEONS NOS PASSIONS
Hommage à Hildegard Behrens, soprano
Je ne peux pas évoquer le RING de Richard Wagner sans avoir une pensée émue pour la grande cantatrice wagnérienne que fut Hildegard Behrens. J’ai eu le plaisir et la joie de l’inviter à Clermont-Ferrand. Au cours d’un inoubliable concert, notre amie Hildegard avait enchaîné avec un aplomb extraordinaire, une maestria incomparable et une santé vocale phénoménale, les deux airs d’Elizabeth de Tannhaüser, celui de Senta du Vaisseau Fantôme et la mort d’Isolde de Tristan und Isolde… Le public lui avait réservé un triomphe amplement mérité!
Hildegard nous a quittés au mois d’août 2009 lors des master-classes qu’elle donnait au Japon. Hildegard reste très présente dans ma mémoire lorsque j’écoute des oeuvres de Richard Wagner. Je me souviens aussi qu’elle avait bu deux énormes chopes de bière à l’issue de ce concert clermontois ! Après une telle performance vocale et physique, elle méritait bien que la bière puisse couler à flot…
Hildegard Behrens : La cantatrice allemande est morte hier
Hildegard Behrens la cantatrice allemande agée de 72 ans est décédée hier à Tokyo d’un anévrisme de l’aorte
Elle a été admise dimanche dernier le jour de son arrivée au Japon, dans un hôpital de la capitale suite à un malaise et ne s’est donc pas remis. Hildegard Behrens devait se produire ce jeudi au festival de Kusatsu au nord de Tokyo
Hildegard a été élue à plusieurs reprises chanteuse de l’année depuis 1990 dans son pays, et considérée comme la plus grande interprète des opéra de Wagner par sa puissance vocale, sa présence scénique, son atout dramatique donnant toute la vie aux différentes œuvres qu’elle a pu interprèter comme L’anneau du Nibelung, le Vaisseau Fantôme, l’Electra ou bien encore le Freischutz parmi tant d’autres auxquelles elle a toujours tout donné.
C’est donc une grande dame qui s’en va chanter sous d’autres cieux rejoindre les grands déjà partie. Ces funérailles auront lieu la semaine prochaine à Vienne.
SubMusic.fr présente toutes ses condoléances à la famille de Hildegard Behrens
Hildegard Behrens: un ricordo non solo wagneriano
Per molti wagneriani, Brünnhilde è tornata nel Walhalla. Hildegard Behrens, la grande Brünnhilde, e non solo, degli anni ’80 ci ha lasciati pochi giorni fa.
Una notizia che personalmente mi ha fatto rivivere nella mente tutte le fasi del mio rapporto con la sua voce e con la sua arte scenica.
L’ultima sua immagine che ricordo è la foto di un allestimento catanese di ”Walküre” di pochi anni fa, in cui il soprano nei suoi abituali abiti da Brünnhilde trattiene a braccia tese Siegmund che minaccia di colpire con Nothung l’amata sorella addormentata.
E’ una foto che ci regala anche l’espressione solenne e dolcissima di una cantante attrice di grandi fascino e intelligenza, che ha saputo essere di primo livello soprattutto negli anni ’80.
Quella “Walküre” di pochi anni fa rappresentò probabilmente uno degli ultimi appuntamenti teatrali assieme all’immancabile Elektra, a Kostelnicka, a Kundry e a qualche esperimento come Ortrud, di una voce ormai provata da onerosa carriera, ma ancora in grado di conquistare grazie al suo poderoso carisma.
Ed è proprio con l’opera dedicata alla figlia di Wotan che ho fatto la conoscenza dell’artista, grazie al famoso video del Met diretto da James Levine.
Sinceramente questo primo approccio si rivelò tutt’altro che idilliaco.
La voce della Behrens era all’epoca della ripresa molto provata: gravi parlati, vibrato nei centri, acuti aspri e urlati.
Ma a parte tali difetti quello che mi colpì furono la personalità scenica così naturale e l’uso del fraseggio così arroventato e tragico, che fuoriuscivano da questa donna minuta ma fascinosa.
Non sempre mi è piaciuta, non sempre è stata interprete ispirata, non sempre la sua voce nei ruoli affrontati ha dato il meglio, ma quando era nel suo elemento è riuscita a imprimere nella sua interpretazione tutta la sensibilità artistica di cui era dotata.
Non cercherei la miglior Behrens nell’imbarazzante Tosca del Met diretta da Sinopoli o nella sua incarnazione dell’Elettra mozartiana in cui allo squilibrio mentale della protagonista si affiancano squilibri vocali vistosi e ingombranti.
Nemmeno le sue incarnazioni di Elektra di Strauss o della Senta wagneriana, o ancora della pur pregevole Leonore di Beethoven mi hanno convinto, preferendole le voci di Eva Marton o di Gwyneth Jones… eppure, cos’è che aveva questa sorta di Janis Joplin dell’Opera che ammaliava le platee più importanti con la sua voce abrasiva, dal timbro chiaro quasi infantile, ma terribilmente tragico e umano?
Proprio in questo risiedeva il segreto della sua voce, proprio questo faceva di lei una grande artista.
Voglio ricordarla anche ai lettori che passano da queste parti evocando i ruoli con cui più l’ho identificata.
BRUNNHILDE (Ring des Nibelungen)
No, non mi riferisco alle recite del Met o a quelle di Monaco dirette da Levine e Sawallisch.
Quei video ci regalano una splendida performance attoriale, vocalmente sono recite di sicuro interesse, ma putroppo la Behrens non era in gran forma e di lei possiamo apprezzare la forza del fraseggio e la potenza drammatica del suo canto, ma è una voce che mostra più di una crepa.
Mi sto riferendo alle recite dell’estate 1983 che la consacrarono Brünnhilde di riferimento.
Siamo a Bayreuth, Solti debutta e scappa dal podio della verde collina, in scena uno spettacolo “disneyano” di Peter Hall che darà molti grattacapi a Wolfgang Wagner ed una compagnia canora tutt’altro che ineccepibile.
Ma quelle recite videro brillare la nuova Brünnhilde di un soprano al suo esordio nel ruolo, voluta fortemente da Solti.
Hildegard Behrens trionfò.
Voce da Sieglinde si disse, ma la sua Brünnhilde è una creazione assolutamente fresca e brillante.
La voce risuonava ricca di femminilità e tenerezza nell’espandersi con quel timbro così chiaro e limpido, ma dall’accento così arroventato e cangiante.
Per la prima volta, forse, il Festspielhaus aveva una Walkiria più adolescente che guerriera, una giovane donna sensibile e sensuale che sapeva trovare inflessioni commosse e malinconiche, che sapeva confondersi e rendere incandescente il suo canto, che sapeva trasmettere amore con la dolcezza di una bambina. Da ascoltare il suo vibrante risveglio così luminoso e sensuale oppure l’olocausto così esausto e toccante, ma imbevuto di una sacralità umanissima.
ISOTTA (Tristan und Isolde)
Una principessa inquieta, giovanissima, ma già profondamente donna e ferita dall’offesa arrecatole dall’uomo che ama, poi piena dell’ansia di colei che aspetta il suo Tristan per concedere corpo e cuore e infine angelo di luce e tenebre che trasfigura la sua anima e quella del suo amante. La voce iniziava a dare qualche segno di cedimento nella linea, gli acuti iniziavano a perdere la precisione, il grave incominciava ad aprirsi troppo, eppure il canto è davvero sempre regale e carnale. Questa la visione che ci offre la Behrens dell’eroina wagneriana assecondata dalla bacchetta di Bernstein.
In questo ruolo, che è più di una curiosità, la Behrens si riappropria della sua dimensione lirica e si lascia trasportare dalla delicatezza virginale dell’eroina wagneriana.
Anche in questo caso una fanciulla adolescente, ma decisa eppure inafferrabile come Mélisande, a cui il soprano dona il suo timbro caldo e lucente. Basta ascoltare l’ intervento che Elisabeth compie per difendere Tannhäuser, in cui all’acciaio dell’accento si unisce una voce limpida e leggera.
Che cosa c’entra l’immensa Franca Valeri con la Behrens e con Salome?
Se è colei che con la sua comicità colta e geniale vi ha fatto conoscere questa incarnazione della Behrens c’entra eccome! Qualche anno fa, Radio 3, “Di tanti palpiti”, trasmissione condotta dalla grande attrice.
La Valeri analizzava un’opera a settimana con il suo stile dissacrante e quella mattina toccò a “Salome”, affiancando l’edizione di Karajan a quella con la Caballé.
Sia la Behrens che la Caballé furono per me una rivelazione. Se volete la “teenager scatenata” (parole della Valeri) con la voce di Isotta, ascoltatevi quella della Behrens.
Ce n’è per tutti: il timbro chiaro al pari di una Welitsch o di una Studer, l’erotismo decadente di Wilde, la sensualità malata e acerba della Lolita di Kubrick, l’interprete ammaliante che si lancia nei vortici vocali dell’eroina straussiana con spavalda incoscienza e incanta con le sue arti l’ascoltatore.
Quando entra in scena il personaggio di Marie, la Behrens riesce con pochi gesti ed una mimica naturalissima a renderla facilmente identificabile con una donna qualunque, banale, non diversa dalle donne che incontriamo tutti i giorni e non lontana da noi.
Attraverso un fraseggio capace di evocare un erotismo sfatto e con una vocalità aspra e terribilmente espressiva, la Behrens trasmette direttamente sulla pelle la sete di desiderio e riscatto che pervade questa creatura colpevole di voler essere solo se stessa e sfuggire dall’orrore quotidiano.
Vertice la scena dello specchio oppure la preghiera in cui un momento intimo diventa rivelatore dell’angoscia inespressa di una donna che prevede il suo destino di morte.
Ecco come sarebbe diventata la Marie del “Wozzeck” se fosse invecchiata dopo le delusioni avute dal marito, dal Tamburmaggiore e dalla società in genere.
Né strega, né megera, ma un monumento alla femminilità sfiorita e offesa dagli uomini e dalla sua stessa amarezza. La voce screpolata sostiene una linea di canto frastagliata che aiuta una caratterizzazione formidabile e commovente.
Ecco, credo che l’unico modo per rendere omaggio ad una cantante come Hildegard Behrens sia ascoltarla in queste incarnazioni, e non solo per ricordarla.