Next month Jonas Kaufmann is scheduled to return to opera in the US for the first time in four years performing Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Boston and New York. In anticipation “Trove Thursday” presents another live Tristan 2 concert featuring one of my favorite dramatic sopranos Gertrude Grob-Prandl along with Margarete Klose, Wolfgang Windgassen and Gottlob Frick, conducted by Rudolf Moralt. 

Grob-Prandl’s name—and voice–deserve to be better known today than they may be. Although she sang until 1971 making her Wiener Staatsoper farewell as Venus in Tannhäuser, her “big” career mostly took place in the 1950s when she was in her 30s (she was born in 1917, a year before Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Varnay).

I was dumbfounded to learn in the Staatsoper archives that this superb Wagnerian sang but a single performance there of both Siegfried and Götterdammerung along with just eight Isoldes. Leonore in Fidelio was her most frequent role followed by 34 Rosalindes in Die Fledermaus(!).

Her US debut came in 1953 with the San Francisco Opera for whom she performed Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera, Isolde and the Walküre Brünnhilde, all with the great Klose who was also making her first appearances in North America and the latter two were conducted by Georg Solti.

As far as I can determine Grob-Prandl never again sang in this country. She did sing one role at Covent Garden: 14 performances of Turandot over a four-year period in the early 1950s—all in English!

There are several not-so-great commercial recordings, and live documents of Grob-Prandl aren’t that numerous either but they are treasured by her fans particularly a thrilling complete 1963 Elektra from Graz

and a full-length Tristan unfortunately in mediocre sound from La Scala conducted by Victor de Sabata.

Luckily both her Siegfried and Götterdammerung Brünnhildes were captured in radio performances in 1949 also conducted by Moralt and they are hugely impressive especially the latter.

There’s a lovely interview with Grob-Prandl in Lanfranco Rasponi’s The Last Prima Donnas.

It may be surprising that Kaufmann will be dipping his toe into Tristan for the first time in the US but the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Andris Nelsons has occasionally worked with the tenor before, most notably in his Bayreuth debut in Lohengrin. I believe Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund will also be singing her first Isolde in the three performances.

She doesn’t perform much in the US; there was Elsa in Lohengrin in San Francisco and Salome in concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin four years ago, but the Carnegie concert might be her NYC debut.

The superb bass Georg Zeppenfeld will make a rare appearance as Marke, some nine years after his only time at the Met—just three Sarastros in Die Zauberflöte. Nelsons is pairing the Tristan act with Siegfried Idyll in Boston but for some reason not at Carnegie Hall.

Today’s Geneva performance and the upcoming BSO concerts aren’t altogether unique in performing just this single act of Tristan. Claudio Abbado once paired it with the Vier Letzte Lieder at the Lucerne Festival and I heard it done in 2002 as one of Kurt Masur’s few operatic outings during his tenure at the New York Philharmonic.

Those concerts featured Deborah Voigt, Violeta Urmana, Stig Andersen and a 75-year-old Theo Adam, still impressive as Marke. The second act was preceded by the first-act prelude and followed by the third-act prelude and Voigt performing the “Liebestod.” The New York Times critic opined “The big news of the evening was that Ms. Voigt may be the Isolde of the future.”

That of course was quite not the case but many hope for a brighter future for Kaufmann and Tristan.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Act 2 only

Grand Théâtre de Génève

Isolde: Gertrude Grob-Prandl
Brangane: Margarete Klose
Tristan: Wolfgang Windgassen
Marke: Gottlob Frick
Melot: Karl Kamaan

Conductor: Rudolf Moralt

The second act of Tristan can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Well over 100 “Trove Thursday” podcasts posted since the series began in September 2015 remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.