AINO ACKTE (1876 - 1944)
The soprano Aïno Ackté was born into an extremely musical family: both parents were singers and her sister was the contralto Irma Tervani. Aïno received her first singing lessons from her mother and made her début in Helsinki in 1893, astounding the audience with the purity of her voice and her technical accomplishment. In the following year she entered the Paris Conservatoire where she studied with Duvernoy, Giraudet and Vidal. While in France she changed her name from Achté (in French, ‘acheté’ means ‘bought’) to Ackté. She made a successful début at the Paris Opera in 1897 as Marguerite in Faust, and for the following six years the Opera was to be her artistic home. Here she took the rôles of Herwine in the first performance of Alfred Bruneau’s La Cloche du Rhin and of Nedda in the French première of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Other parts which she sang at this time at the Opera included Juliette/Roméo et Juliette, Elsa/Lohengrin, Elisabeth/Tannhäuser and Alceste in Gluck’s opera of the same name. She returned as a guest to the Opera in 1910 to take the title rôle in Massenet’s Thaïs.
Ackté was engaged for the 1904–1905 season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, making her début once again as Marguerite. She also took the parts of Micaela/Carmen and of Eva/Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, remaining with the company for the 1905–1906 season. In 1906 she created the title rôle in Massenet’s oratorio Marie-Magdeleine at the Opéra-Comique, where she shocked the Parisian audience with the realism of her portrayal. She made her Covent Garden début to acclaim in 1907 as Elsa and followed this with Senta/Der fliegende Holländer and Eva. Following the first performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome, Ackté became obsessed with the title part, to the extent of visiting the composer to convince him that she would be the pre-eminent interpreter of the rôle. She did much to justify this claim with her sensational performance in the English première of the opera, given at Covent Garden in 1910 under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham and repeated in 1913. During the first decade of the twentieth century Ackté was also frequently heard in the opera houses of central Europe, singing widely as a guest. She retired from the international stage in 1913, the year in which she gave the first performance of Sibelius’s demanding symphonic poem for soprano and orchestra Luonnotar (which received its première in Gloucester).
In her homeland however Ackté remained very busy. Here she exercised great musical influence, managing the Savonlinna Opera Festival between 1912 and 1916 and again in 1930, and becoming director of the Helsinki Opera House between 1938 and 1939. She also wrote three volumes of memoirs (1917, 1925, and 1935). Ackté recorded for several different labels in Paris: Zonophone (1902), Gramophone and Typewriter (1903–1905) and Fonotipia (1905), as well as for Edison in 1913 and for Pathé. Her extant discography amounts to only twenty-two sides, but these demonstrate the flexibility, beauty and strength of her singing.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).