AINO ACKTÉ -- Collected recordings 1902-1913
Arias from Otello, Lohengrin, Faust, I Pagliacci and Madame Chrysanthéme;  songs of Grieg, Messager, Merikanto, Schumann, Vidal and Thomas
Aino Ackt», soprano
ONDINE ODE 883 (F) (ADD) TT:  56:44

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Finnish soprano Aino Ackt» (1876-1944) (her real last name was "Acht»" which she changed to stop the French from making fun of it as "achet»" in French means "bought"), played an important part on the Finnish musical scene.  She first studied with her mother, a frustrated singer who cut short her own career to nurture her daughter's.  Aino made her debut in Helsinki at the age of 17 after which she studied at the Paris Conservatory.  She made her Op»ra debut in 1897 as Marguerite in Faust, enjoying an enormous success in a role that continued to be important throughout her entire career.  For six years at the Op»ra she sang mostly lyric soprano roles as well as  Elsa in Lohengrin.  From 1904 to 1906 she sang at the Metropolitan Opera to limited success; the CD notes by Johanna Nuorivaara suggest the competition at the time was just too strong.

After Marguerite in Faust, Ackt»'s next most important role was Salome, which, after the 1905 premiere, obsessed her to the extent that she visited Strauss to convince him that she was the only real Salome.  She took dancing lessons for the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils." In Leipzig in 1907 she triumphed as Salome and three years later created a sensation singing the role in English at Covent Garden with Sir Thomas Beecham on the podium.  Her international career ended in 1913 but she continued to appear in Finland giving recitals and working to improve the status of opera in Finland.  She founded the Domestic Opera which later became the Finnish Opera and today's Finnish National Opera.  She also organized festivals of Finnish opera often singing leading roles herself...with her mother directing, and occasional appearances by her sister, contralto Irma Tervani.  During her active performing career she asked countryman Jean Sibelius in 1913 to write music for her to use in concerts to precede the final scene from Salome; the result was the incredibly demanding Lunnotar, Op. 70 (the definitive recording of which is by a more contemporary Finnish soprano, Taru Valjakka, available in a recent EMI twin-CD set of miscellaneous Sibelius works conducted by Paavo Berglund (EMI  Double Forte  69773).

Recordings on Ondine's CD are organized with the most recent first, which is unfortunate as in 1913 Ackt» was not in good voice --nor does she have the style for -- the ""Willow Song from Verdi's Otello, a role that apparently she never sang on stage.  Her voice seemed not to have recorded particularly well and hearing these recordings one might easily wonder what all of the hullabaloo was about. She is exemplary in the Messager song, and her interpretation of Grieg's "Jeg elsker dig" has been highly praised.  Apparently she made about thirty recordings for Edison from 1911-1913 including scenes from Salome and Faust; unfortunately all appear to be lost.  This CD states it contains all of the soprano's published recordings including a number of alternative takes, one of which is a version of the "Jewel Song" with the soprano accompanied by a miniscule orchestra which seems to have featured trombone and tuba -- a strange sound indeed. Even with these extra takes, the playing time for the CD is only 56:44.  Still, this is an important disk giving us our only opportunity to hear a famed soprano of the past -- and we should remember that had it not been for her, Sibelius probably would not have written Luonnotar.

R.E.B. (May 2001)