Saturday, 21 November 2009
Farewell, Swedish Elisabeth
Very sad to learn that another of our greatest singing actresses, Elisabeth Soderstrom, has followed Behrens to the grave. She had more of an innings than I realised, reaching the relatively grand age of 82, and yet it seems like only yesterday I caught some of her later performances.
I came to Strauss's marital semi-comedy Intermezzo through hearing her termagent Christine Storch (aka Pauline Strauss) sung in English on Radio 3. I could only have been in my teens when I made a rather bewildered acquaintance of Strauss's parlando in the televised Glyndebourne Capriccio. I didn't understand it but I liked Soderstrom's charismatic glamour in the final scene.
As I think I mentioned in extolling my hero, Neeme Jarvi, I got to hear him and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for the first time purely through wanting to catch Soderstrom in Strauss's Four Last Songs. All I remember is that it was sabotaged by the jangling jewellery of the lady next to me, who left at the interval to let me enjoy Sibelius 2 and Part's Cantus to the Memory of Benjamin Britten in peace and awe.
Recitals? She promised her last at the Edinburgh Festival, veering towards musical comedy if I recall correctly (with Liza Lehmann's 'Fairies at the bottom of the garden' as one of the encores), and it didn't leave that much of an impression. But then she stepped in for - whom? no idea now - at the Wigmore, and her Musorgsky Nursery was utterly convincing, never archly childlike. Her famous anecdotal presentation of both concerts was charm itself.
We have her Janacek heroines to remember her by, but she wasn't around in the heyday of filmed opera, so apart from a Glyndebourne Fidelio, I don't think there's much to record her ineffable stage presence. My hope is that the stuffy old Strauss family can finally overcome its aversion to John Cox's setting Capriccio in the 1920s - after all, the Carsen version which has appeared is located at least a decade later - and then maybe the BBC filming could come out on DVD. Finally, I must search out a copy of Soderstrom's avowedly entertaining memoirs.
What would she have made of her fellow Swede Anna Larsson in red lingerie and fishnet tights as the tango-of-death Mephistophila in Schnittke's Faust take? She would have relished it, no doubt. The review of Wednesday's concert is here on The Arts Desk, as is my late-night report on The Tsarina's Slippers. You'll gather from it than not much has changed in pretty Ukrainian-village staging of Tchaikovsky's charmer since Maria Kuznetsova sang capricious heroine Oksana in the early 1900s.