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The Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad (1895–1962) was born in Hamar. Her father was a conductor and her mother a pianist and coach (and her first teacher). She later studied with Ellen Schytte-Jacobsen in Oslo and Gillis Bratt in Stockholm. Her début took place in December 1913 in the National Theatre in Oslo as Nuri in D’Albert’s Tiefland.

During the following years she sang regularly with the company both in opera and operetta as well as enjoying a parallel career in the concert hall. It was her first Isolde in Wagner’s opera which aroused interest beyond her native shores. Her first overseas appearances were in minor rôles at the 1933 Bayreuth Festival to where she returned the following year as Sieglinde in Die Walküre. This success led to her engagement at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where she made an unheralded début as Sieglinde which was broadcast and created a sensation. For her other Wagnerian rôles of Brünnhilde, Elsa, Elisabeth and Kundry, Flagstad was hailed as the most important Wagnerian soprano of her time. She also appeared in San Francisco (1935–38), Chicago (1937), and Covent Garden (1936–37).

She returned to Norway in 1941 to be with her husband whose right-wing political alliances subsequently caused problems for the singer in the immediate postwar years. She resumed her European career in 1947, returned to Covent Garden (1948–51), sang Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Salzburg Festival under Furtwängler (1949–50) but did not reappear in New York until the 1950–51 season.

She gave the world première of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder in London in December 1950. Her farewell to the stage was as Purcell’s Dido in 1953, but she continued to record and sing in concert until 1960. During the years 1958–60 Flagstad was director of the Norwegian National Opera. She also took part in the historic Decca recording of Das Rheingold in October 1958. Her voice was one of great radiance, power and range allied to splendid musicianship in matter of intonation and rhythm. Once when a fellow artist, noting her tremendous reserves of stamina, asked her following a performance of Tristan, whether she could sing the part all over again, she replied: “Yes, certainly the first act”!

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