Two celebrated German sopranos who passed away last year—Inge Borkh and Hildegard Hillebrecht—struggle with maternity in this week’s “Trove Thursday” offering of Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten conducted by Georg Solti and also featuring Regina Resnik, Donald McIntyre and the inevitable James King.
Also for those who can’t get enough Frau: the legendary live abridged concert version conducted by Karl Böhm featuring Eleanor Steber, Christel Goltz, Elisabeth Höngen, Set Svanholm and Karl Kamann.
Hillebrecht might be best remembered for another Strauss heroine, Ariadne, a portrayal that exists on a video from the Salzburg Festival and a studio recording, both conducted by Böhm.
In each case I imagine she was not the first choice; however, Hillebrecht had a respected career mostly in Europe although she did appear occasionally in the US: as the Marschallin, Ariadne and Elsa in San Francisco, for example.
Her Met career was strikingly similar to some others that occurred during the Bing era—a total of four performances but of three different roles.
Borkh, on the other hand, was a reigning star for several decades appearing at the world’s top houses. Her recording of Elektra and Salome highlights with Fritz Reiner is surely known (and owned) by anyone interested in those works.
Like Hillebrecht, her Met career was rather spotty; debuting in her calling-card role of Salome, she also appeared as Sieglinde and Elektra before disappearing for a decade.
In 1971 she returned for today’s role, the Färberin, spelling Christa Ludwig who had become less keen on the role by that time. Borkh’s final appearances with the company were as Leonore in Fidelio in a series of NYC parks performances later that same year.
San Francisco, as was so often the case, got a much richer exposure to the exciting soprano—eight roles in just over two years including Elsa, Turandot, Senta and Lady Macbeth.
After she passed away in August, I happened upon one of the most unlikely of Borkh recordings “Io son l’umile ancella” from Adriana Lecouvreur; not a success but a fascinating souvenir.
As Steber is one of my favorite singers, I couldn’t resist also including today one of her finest (and rarest) performances: her sole encounter with Frau from the same year as her glowing Bayreuth Lohengrin Elsa.
Performances of Frau seem to come in waves—the next tsunami hits in two months with a new production at the Weiner Staatsoper under Christian Thielemann and Camilla Nylund, Evelyn Herlitzius, Stephen Gould, Wolfgang Koch and making her debut as the Färberin Nina Stemme at roughly the same age her mentor Birgit Nilsson took it on as her final new role.
Herlitzius and Stemme reunite at the Verbier Festival in July for a concert led by Valery Gergiev (a slightly scary prospect).
Perhaps giving a hint of what might turn up at the Met in a few seasons, in February 2020 Yannick Nézet-Séguin will lead the Rotterdam Philharmonic in three performances of Frau with a cast featuring Elza van den Heever, Amber Wagner, Michaela Schuster, Gould and Michael Volle.
Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Royal Opera, Covent Garden
17 June 1967Broadcast
Empress — Hildegard Hillebrecht
Dyer’s Wife — Inge Borkh
Nurse — Regina Resnik
Falcon — Maria Pellegrini
Emperor — James King
Barak — Donald McIntyre
Spirit-Messenger — Forbes Robinson
One-Eyed Brother — Napoleon Bisson
Hunchback Brother — David Lennox
One-Armed Brother — Otakar Kraus
Apparition of a Youth — Jean Bonhomme
Conductor — Georg Solti
Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten–abridged
11 June 1953
Empress – Eleanor Steber
Dyer’s Wife – Christel Goltz
Nurse – Elisabeth Höngen
Falcon – Ilona Steingruber
Emperor – Set Svanholm
Barak – Karl Kamann
Spirit-Messenger – Otto Wiener
Conductor – Karl Böhm
Both Fraus can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.
Over 200 other podcast tracks are always available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader. A recently published archive listing all “Trove Thursday” offerings in alphabetical order by composer is also available.