GÖTA LJUNGBERG Verdi: "Madre,
mia pietosa Vergine and
pace mio Dio" from La forza del destino; Puccini: "Un
bel di vedremo"
Madama Butterfly; Mascagni: "Voi lo sapete" from Cavalleria
Wagner: "Liebestod" from Tristan and Isolde. Love Duet
Die Walküre;"Gut 'n Abend, Meister" from Die
Meistersinger; Love duet from Lohengrin; "Ich sah
das Kind" from Parsifal'; Strauss: Final Scene from Salome.
Notes for this CD state that if one was asked to name a country which has consistently produced this century's most impressive singers Sweden might not feature very highly -- but goes on to mention that it did provide sopranos Olive Fremstad and Birgit Nilsson and tenors Jussi Björling, Set Svanholm and Nicolai Gedda, among many others, rather disproving their own point. Another distinguished Swedish artist is soprano Göta Ljungberg, born October 4, 1893. After study at the Music Academy of Stockholm, she worked with Dr. Gillis Bratt, who also was a teacher of Kirsten Flagstad. It isn't known just when Ljungberg made her debut, but it was probably in 1916 at the Stockholm Opera as Gutrune in Götterdämmerung after which she sang a number of other Wagnerian roles as well as Salome in her native opera house. In 1924 she made her debut at Covent Garden as Sieglinde. In 1931 and 1932 she appeared with young Jussi Björling, then at the beginning of his illustrious career. Her Metropolitan Opera engagements began in 1932 and from then until 1935 Ljungberg sang 58 performances there, where her roles included Elektra, Salome, Brünnhilde, Kundry and Isolde. She appeared in two unlikely world premieres: at Covent Garden in 1929 she created the title role of Judith, an opera by Eugene Goossens which lasted for but two performances, and in 1934 created the role of Lady Marigold Sandys in Howard Hanson's Merry Mount at the Met in a cast that also included Lawrence Tibbett and Gladys Swarthout, with Tullio Serafin on the podium. In the late 30's she began to curtail her operatic performances, settled in America and taught at the New York College of Music beginning in 1945, returning to Stockholm where she died July 2, 1955.
It is remarkable that this superb soprano, who was equally impressive as an actress, achieved such limited attention. Her voice is clear, pure and controlled, with a rapid vibrato some listeners might find troublesome -- I do not. She had the misfortune of singing at the time of Leider, Lehmann and Flagstad. Unfortunately Ljungberg recorded relatively little, and this fine collection shows her range of repertory and a voice that, were it around today, would be highly lauded. Her Sieglinde, in a somewhat abbreviated version of the Act I love music from Die Walküre in which she is superbly matched with Heldentenor Walter Widdop's sterling Siegmund, is an interpretation approaching the level of Lotte Lehmann's recorded about eight years later. Widdop also joins her in love music from Wagner's Lohengrin, bass-baritone Friedrich Schorr is heard with her in the excerpt from Die Meistersinger. This "Liebestod" is perhaps the fastest ever recorded, perhaps to accommodate it on a single 78 rpm side -- it is difficult to imagine that a soprano of Ljungberg's calibre would perform in this hurried fashion in an actual performance. The two arias from Forza are sung in Italian, with a truncated ending for "Pace, pace," again perhaps because of 78 rpm side limitations. The Puccini and Mascagni arias are sung in German.
The Salome finale, recorded in May 1929 with several well-managed cuts to permit it to fit onto but two 78 rpm sides, is magnificently sung. Ljungberg often reminds this listener of Ljuba Welitsch, who began to sing this role in 1944 (see feature on Salome). With her iridescent, silvery sound, and physical beauty, Ljungberg must have been an incredibly exciting interpreter of this demanding role.
Roger Beardsley's transfers from the original 78s have been well accomplished. No texts, of course, but highly recommended for the opportunity to hear another of the truly great sopranos of the past.
R.E.B. (Jan. 2001)