In 1995 Pearl issued a CD devoted to the artistry dramatic coloratura soprano Selma Kurz (GEMM CD 9171) which, unfortunately, is no longer available. Now, thanks to Preiser, we again have the opportunity to hear the stunning artistry of this remarkable singer. Born November 14, 1874 in Austria, one of the youngest of eleven children, she first attracted notice from her singing in a synagogue. After studies in Vienna and Paris she made her debut at the Hamburg Opera in Thomas' Mignon. The following year she came to the Frankfurt Opera, staying there for three years, after which she was engaged by Gustav Mahler for the Vienna Imperial Opera, who conducted her debut as Mignon. She dazzled Viennese audiences and, breaking with Viennese tradition, she repeated her Styrienne. She sang in Vienna until the end of her career in 1929. Under Mahler's guidance she became the leading coloratura soprano of Vienna and one of the best-known singers in Europe. She also had great triumphs at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and other European opera houses. She made only one trip to the United States giving one concert in 1921, but because of illness returned to Europe.
Her voice was comfortable in all ranges. It's difficult to imagine any soprano singing Sieglinde as well as Zerbinetta, but Selma Kurz did just that. Starting as a contralto (the first role she studied was Azucena in Il trovatore), she soon began singing higherand more powerfulroles. Her Frankfurt debut was Elisabeth in Tannhöuser. Her varied roles included Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Mimi in La Boh╦me (which she created and sang 100 times in Vienna), Gilda, Violetta, and Leonora in Il trovatore. However, in contrast, she also created Butterfly for Viennese audiences, also singing all three heroines in The Tales of Hoffman, Tosca, Sophie in Rosenkavalier, Elvira in Ernani, Oscar in Ballo en mascheraand Wagner: Sieglinde, Eva and Elisabeth. Kurz created Zerbinetta in the Viennese version of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1916, appearing in 36 performances.
Kurz recorded approximately 150 78rpm sides. Preiser's well-transferred and well-filled CD (77:58) covers a wide range of Kurz's repertory although no Wagner is included. We do have Verdi arias with coloratura embellishments including Kurz's spectacular ascending trill, standard showpieces for high soprano by Meyerbeer, Thomas and Bellini, Mimi's first act aria from Boh╦me (surprisingly sung in German), and varied songs ending with Arditi's Parla! and Il Bacio. In four of these she is assisted by violinist Vasa Prihoda.
Kurz died in Vienna May 10, 1933 apparently from heart failure. At her funeral in the Schottenkirsche the Vienna Philharmonic played the prelude to the last act of La traviata "which left thousands of people shattered." In 1910 she married Professor Dr. Josef Halban, a world-famous gynecologist and they had two children. Their daughter, Desi Halban, had a career as a singer, best known for her singing in the final movement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter, issued on 78rpm disks and in the early days of LP (Columbia ML 4031). She also recorded three 78rpm disks of Mahler songs with Walter at the piano. Ms. Halban wrote affectionate notes for the deleted Pearl CD of her mother's recordings. If you can find it anywhere, snap it up as it contains music of Mozart, Rossini, Auber and Goldmark not included on Preiser's CD. In the aria from Goldmark's The Queen of Sheba we hear the famous "Kurz-trill," this one lasting 17 seconds, as well as the Puccini aria sung in Italian.