I will never forget my first Carmen.” Thus Stefan Johansson,
Head of dramaturgy at Swedish Royal Opera, rounds off his liner-notes
for this issue. Neither will I. For both of us it was the same
singer: Kerstin Meyer. She was the Carmen for many years,
in Stockholm as well as in the rest of the world. And she came
early to the role. She first sang it on 8 September 1954, when
she was 26. The studio recordings on this disc were made a month
later and her Don José then, as on stage, was Arne Hendriksen,
who is rather stentorian in the Seguidille but has warmed
a bit by the time we get to the second act scene. As for Ms
Meyer she is as alluring as it is possible to be, singing the
part in Swedish – as are most of the arias on this disc. She
sings the aria from Mignon longingly in French, however,
but both the Hoffmann and Samson et Dalila are
again in Swedish, her Nicklausse glittering and joyous, her
Dalila vibrant and dramatic.
German excerpts are in the original language and what partners
she has: Joel Berglund’s dark and powerful Wotan and Birgit
Nilsson’s Elektra. The Walküre scene was privately recorded
in 1960 and Meyer, who had been singing the role for four years
by then, is a formidable Fricka. She is also a doughty and frightening
Klytaemnestra in this broadcast recording from the Swedish premiere
of Elektra, on 14 May 1965. I sat glued to the radio
that evening, to the despair of my parents, since this also
was Birgit Nilsson’s debut in a role that was to become one
of her greatest.
earliest recording on the disc, Konchakovna’s aria from Prince
Igor, reveals that this early (1952) she was a true contralto.
The longest number here introduces another gypsy, but this time
an original Swedish one, the female protagonist in Gunnar de
Frumerie’s Singoalla, based on Viktor Rydberg’s novel.
This was also recorded quite early in her career and she is
in superb voice, supple and intense. This is a version to set
beside Anne Sofie von Otter’s on the complete Caprice recording.
Unfortunately her Erland, Set Svanholm, is dry-voiced and rather
weak – a far cry from his great Wagner roles.
Bergman’s production of The Rake’s Progress in 1961 has
become legendary. Stravinsky himself regarded it as possibly
the best version of his opera. Very little has, unfortunately,
been preserved but Baba is certainly a dream role for a good
singing actor and Kerstin Meyer makes the most of the aria.
Another famous Stockholm production was Jenufa, with
Elisabeth Söderström in the title role and Kerstin Meyer a deeply
involved Kostelnicka. This was a musical as well as visual treat
and it is good to find that it works well as a sound alone document.
Meyer also sang several Verdi roles. One of the earliest was
Eboli in Don Carlos and the recording is probably from
around the time she first sang it, circa 1956. Almost a decade
later Swedish Radio broadcast Verdi’s Requiem from the
Stockholm Concert Hall with Sixten Ehrling conducting. Kerstin
Meyer’s voice had by then adopted a lighter, more silvery timbre
and her singing is admirably steady in Lux aeterna, where
we also can enjoy Kim Borg’s warm, sonorous bass.
continuing “Great Swedish Singers” series provides priceless
documentation of important artists in repertoire not otherwise
available. The recorded sound, mainly from the Swedish Radio
archives, can be variable but is more than acceptable, often
more than that. Kerstin Meyer recorded key repertoire for EMI
in the 1970s, part of which has been reissued on CD, but to
hear her at her freshest this is the disc to go to first.