Traubel, whose father was a pharmacist, was born into a successful middle-class family of German origin. Having studied singing in her home town of St Louis with Louise Vetta-Karst and later in New York with Giuseppe Boghetti and others, she made her concert debut in 1923 singing the soprano part in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, subsequently touring the mid-west and south of the USA with the orchestra.
After a 1926 performance of the ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan und Isolde at the Lewisohn Stadium, New York with Rudolf Ganz conducting, Traubel was invited by Giulio Gatti-Casazza, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, to sing with the company. She rejected this offer in order to continue with her vocal studies and concert work, to which she later added a successful career on radio; and it was more than a decade later, in 1937, that she was engaged by the Met to sing Mary Rutledge in the first performance of Walter Damrosch’s opera The Man Without A Country. Although the opera was not a success, Traubel received a very good press and was noted as a potential Brünnhilde and Isolde.
She sang Sieglinde / Die Walküre with the Chicago City Opera Company between 1937 and 1939 (when the company went bankrupt) and continued to sing in Chicago with its successor the Chicago Opera Company until that too went bankrupt in 1946. Successful appearances with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Mitropoulos and Barbirolli, notably singing Brunnhilde’s ‘Immolation Scene’ in 1939, were followed by a further invitation to sing at the Met, initially as Venus / Tannhäuser. Traubel rejected this too, before agreeing to sing Sieglinde there at the end of 1939, repeating the role during 1940 and adding to it Elisabeth / Tannhäuser.
With the departure of Kirsten Flagstad for Europe and Marjorie Lawrence’s affliction with polio during 1941, the way was clear for Traubel to assume the major Wagnerian dramatic soprano parts at the Met: indeed she soon became indispensable to the company in key roles during the subsequent decade. She sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung during 1942, followed by Isolde and the Siegfried Brünnhilde in 1943. She continued with this repertoire, to which she added Elsa / Lohengrin in 1945, until the end of the decade. She sang Kundry / Parsifal at the beginning of 1950 and the Marschallin / Der Rosenkavalier in 1951. In addition to her operatic work in New York she appeared with the San Francisco Opera in 1945 and 1947, making her debut as the Walküre Brünnhilde. Between 1948 and 1951 she was engaged by Harry Truman, President of the USA, to advise his daughter on an operatic career, a role which she later believed had an adverse effect upon her own career. Following the advent in 1950 of a new manager at the Met, Rudolf Bing, who did not approve of her singing in nightclubs, her contract was not renewed; and her final performance at the Met was as Isolde in March 1953, her voice still in excellent condition after singing 176 performances with this company.
Subsequently Traubel enjoyed an extremely varied career: working in major nightclubs, such as the Copacabana; on radio and television; in films including Deep in My Heart (1954), The Ladies Man (1961) and Gunn (1967); and on Broadway in 1955 in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream. She also wrote two published murder mystery stories and her autobiography St Louis Woman (1959) and was part-owner of the St Louis Browns baseball team. Her final nightclub appearance was with Jimmy Durante at Harrah’s, Lake Tahoe, in 1964.
Traubel’s later years were spent in caring for her second husband and business manager, whom she had married in 1938; her death was the result of a heart attack.
She possessed a large but well-controlled voice, occasionally a little weak at the top, which she was able to infuse with great intensity while not sacrificing vocal discipline and quality. She looked statuesque but commanding on stage. The eminent American musicologist David Hamilton considered her to be ‘the finest American Wagnerian soprano of her generation, imposing in both physical and vocal presence’.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).