BARBARA KEMP Sings Opera
Barbara Kemp is another prima donna of the early 20th Century who had a short career and is almost forgotten today. Born December 12, 1881 in Kochem, Germany she studied at the conservatory in Strassburg. As early as 1903 she was singing small roles at the local state theater, and in 1913 joined the Berlin Hofoper. The following year she sang Senta at the Bayreuth Festival and from 1924-1927 sang regularly at the Vienna State Opera. From 1922-1924 she sang at the Metropolitan making her debut in the leading role in Mona Lisa, an opera composed by her husband, Max von Schillings, director of the Berlin State Opera, whom she married in 1923. This American premiere met with limited enthusiasm according to the New York Times review included in William H. Seltsam's Metropolitan Opera Annals, although the soprano was admired more than the opera. It's easy to understand a possible lack of interest in the new opera. There was a lot going on at the Met that season. Jeritza, Martinelli and Scotti opened the season in Tosca, and the schedule also included Chaliapin in Boris Godunov and Mefistophele, Martinelli sang Samson to Marguerite Matzenauer's Delilah, Radames to Rethberg's Aida and Pinkerton to Easton's Cio-Cio-San. Ponselle sang Elvira, Lucrezia Bori sang Violetta, Frances Alda sang Puccini's Manon, Florence Easton sang Carmen, and Jeritza also starred in Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. And this was only during the first six weeks of the season! There were five performances of Mona Lisa, and it was repeated the following year. At the Met Kemp also sang Kundry and Isolde. She ended her operatic career in 1932 and taught singing in Berlin as well as directing a new production of Mona Lisa at the Berlin State Opera.
Richard Strauss thought highly of Kemp He wrote a letter to von Schillings after hearing her in Vienna and said, "I would like her to sing first in my production of Flying Dutchman and then appear as the F”rberin in Frau ohne Schatten, the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier, Salome, and perhaps Elektra, Elsa, Valentine, Donna Anna and Carmen." Kemp can be heard on this CD singing a shortened version of the final scene of Salome (7:57) recorded in 1921. She is an ideal interpreter of this role, with an appropriately youthful sound and unlimited power in climaxes. Four excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier assisted by Delia Reinhardt and Marion Claire fill out this CD. Two were recorded for HMV in 1927, the other two during a live performance in the Berlin State Opera House in 1928.
Kemp's voice is easily able to cope with the Wagner items, she has the legato required for Verdi (and a trill as well), the coloratura ability to sing the Meyerbeer arias, and the strong low register required for Carmen. As was the custom in Berlin, all music is sung in German. Kemp's voice recorded quite well during the acoustic process; transfers are excellent. No texts, limited notes, but we are indebted to Preiser for this CD - perhaps they will release more of Barbara Kemp's later recordings.