JOHANNA GADSKI - The Complete Recordings, Volumes I and II
Marston 5202 The Victor Recordings 1903-1909 (2 CDs)
Marston 53015 The Victor Recordings 1910-1917 and Mapleson Cylinder Recordings (3 CDs)
(F) (ADD) TT: Volume I (62:56 & 74:26)
Volume II (72:00 & 76:30 & 75:55)
(THESE ALBUMS ARE AVAILABLE FROM MARSTON)
Soprano Johanna Gadski was born in 1872 in Anklam, Prussia. After early studies in Settin she made her debut when only 17 with the Kroll Opera Company as Agathe in Weber's Der Freischütz. Her remarkable gifts were instantly acknowledged and shortly she was in great demand. After singing briefly in provincial German Opera houses, she began her international career first in Holland then in the United States with the Damrosch Opera Company. During this time she created the role of Hester in Damrosch's opera The Scarlet Letter, the first of her many ventures into unusual repertory.
Her first appearance at the Metropolitan was a concert December 11, 1898. A year later, December 28, 1899, when only 27, she made her impromptu opera debut at the Met, in Wagner's Tannhaüser substituting for an indisposed soprano. She made her official debut two weeks later, as Senta in The Flying Dutchman. During her 17 year tenure at the Met she sang a wide variety or roles: Elsa, Elisabeth, Valentine, Sieglinde, Aida, Brunnhilde, Aida, Amelia, Pamina, Isolde, Santuzza and two now-forgotten operas: Luigi Mancinelli's Ero e Leandro and Ethel Smyth's Der Walde (American premiere).
She studied the role of Isolde with Lilli Lehmann, singing it for the first time at the Met in 1907. This role also was her last performance with the Met, April 13, 1917, with Artur Bodanzky conducting. She appeared to be falling out of favor because of supposed un-American utterances she was said to have made, as well as those of her husband, Captain Hans Tauscher, who was a former German Army officer and North American representative for Krupp, the munitions manufacturer. He had been charged with treason in 1916 by Canada, but was acquitted. The New York Sun review of her April 13, 1917 Isolde spoke of vocal problems (…..far too many moments of hardness and harshness…....) and said audience reaction to her was not overwhelming. Anti-German sentiment was high, and it wasn't until 1920 that Wagner was again performed at the Met, and another year after that before the operas were done in German. Mention was made by the Sun that after the first act of Tristan, Adolf Rothmehyer conducted the orchestra in The Star Spangled Banner, the audience stood and a small part of it sang; this during the final performance of German opera for the season.
Although critical assessment of her voice in 1917 was somewhat negative, Sol Hurok brought Gadski back to the US in 1926 for a series of highly successful Wagnerian concerts, organizing a German opera company starring Gadski that toured ten US cities presenting the Ring cycle. These tours continued through 1930, then Gadski formed her own opera company that performed another year. Plans for a second year were in process when she was killed in an automobile accident in Berlin February 22, 1932.
Although Gadski was recognized as one of the major prima donnas of the time, she was a handsome rather than beautiful, rather portly woman, overshadowed by other more attractive sopranos of the era -- Olive Fremstad, Emmy Destinn, Lillian Nordica and the glamorous Geraldine Farrar. Gadski's voice was huge, controlled and rich throughout the entire range. She could scale it down for Mozart; Mahler insisted on her for performances of Don Giovanni .
All of her recordings were acoustic and it is remarkable how well her voice was captured in this primative recording process. Excerpts from Tristan and Isolde, Flying Dutchman, Die Meistersinger, Cavalleria Rusticana, The Bartered Bride, Götterdammerüng, Siegfried, Salome, Orpheus and Euridice, Don Giovanni,The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Lobetanz, Il Trovatore, Oberon, and A Masked Ball are included, along with Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder (the first recording of the work), and an assortment of lieder and folk songs. Of particular merit is inclusion of all of her Lionel Mapleson Cylinder Met recordings from 1903 . These were recorded backstage at the Met using a huge horn to focus sound onto the cylinders. Through all of the crackling and pops one can get a glimpse of the great days of Met - brief excerpts from Tannhaüser, Les Huguenots, Aida, Lohengrin, Die Walküre and Mancinelli's Ero e Leandro. Fascinating, and a quality of singing seldom heard today.
For vocal buffs this is an essential set. It includes all of Gadski's recordings, so we have in some cases several versions of the same music. "Audio Conservationist" Ward Marston has generally placed recordings in chronological order, and tells the fascinating story of the Quintet from Die Meistersinger recorded Jan 29, 1908; three takes were made, two were saved, and Victor issued the one in which Marcel Journet made a false entry and stayed there for most of the performance! Both of the surviving takes are included in this fine set. Perhaps Marston could be coaxed into issuing a single CD of "The best of Gadski." for those unwilling to buy five CDs.