Richard Bonynge remembers Kirsten Flagstad

When I first went to London in 1950 I was more than fortunate to be able to hear several performances by the great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad. Her Kundry, Isolde, Elsa, both Sieglinde and Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and the Brünnhildes in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung – these were my great introduction to Wagnerian opera. Other singers in these performances included Gottlob Frick, Hans Hotter and the Konetzni sisters, Hilde and Anny.

I have been to many performances of the Ring since those days all over the world and have never heard anything to compare with these evenings.

Flagstad’s Kundry was so amazing, so unforgettable, that I have never wanted to erase her performance from my memory. I have never been able to hear Parsifal since.

Her Isolde was miraculous. At the end of the opera she could quite easily have sung the whole piece over again. Her voice was enormous but capable of exquisite pianos, her breath control was extraordinary and she produced such great emotion in the listener.

To me she was a wonderful actress because her acting came from inside. She was still, and she appeared to sing effortlessly. Hers was undoubtedly the greatest Wagnerian voice that I have ever heard or that I am likely to hear again. A wonderful, unforgettable musician.

Richard Bonynge