Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

The Moderate Soprano : Q&A with Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam

Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam play Audrey Mildmay and John Christie in David Hare’s play The Moderate Soprano which is currently at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

Soprano Nadine Sierra Wins the 2018 Beverly Sills Artist Award

Soprano Nadine Sierra has been named the winner of the 13 th annual Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Grand Tour: A European Journey in Song

The seventeenth Oxford Lieder Festival (12-27 October 2018) will celebrate a rich tapestry of music, words and performance in European song and will showcase the pinnacles of the repertoire while exploring wider cultural influences.

An Interview with Soprano Lisette Oropesa

Lisette Oropesa sings Eurydice in Los Angeles Opera’s French version of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice that can currently be seen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Opera in Amsterdam in 2018-2019

The operatic tradition is not as old in the Netherlands as in other European countries, yet opera is a vital part of the Dutch classical landscape. Both Dutch National Opera & Ballet and the Concertgebouw are in Amsterdam, so the capital gets the lion’s share of the opera on offer.

Lyric Opera of Chicago to Premiere Fellow Travelers—A Preview

On 17 March 2018 Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere the 2016 opera Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears (with a libretto by Greg Pierce, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon. Mallon’s 2007 novel offered fresh perspectives on the paranoiac investigations of McCarthy-era Washington, DC, through the lens of a gay relationship.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

The Schumanns at home: Temple Song 2018

Following their marriage, on 12th September 1840, Robert and Clara Schumann made their home in a first-floor apartment on the piano nobile of a classical-style residence now known as the Schumann House, on Inselstraße, just a short walk from the centre of Leipzig.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Natalya Romaniw: 'one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’

There can hardly be a dry eye in the house, at the ‘Theatre in the Woods’ at West Horsley Place - Grange Park Opera’s new home - when, in Act 3 of Janáček's first mature opera, Natalya Romaniw’s Jenůfa realises that the tiny child whose frozen body has been discovered under the ice is her own dead son.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Hildegard Behrens
20 May 2011

A Fond Remembrance of Hildegard Behrens

Hildegard Behrens died in August of 2009. Considered one of the great Wagnerian sopranos of her day, many tributes were pubished acclaiming her virtues and accomplishments on and off stage. Previously unknown information, however, has come to light concerning her personal life that spans from before the flowering of her career and thereafter. This is an informal account of events by Charles Pratt as told to Shirley Hessel.

A Fond Remembrance of Hildegard Behrens

An account by Charles Pratt as told to Shirley Hessel

Above: Hildegard Behrens

 

Did you know that a young US Air Force radio operator, serving in post WWII Germany, was once engaged to marry renowned German opera soprano Hildegard Behrens?

I’m Charles Pratt, a retired businessman now living in Denver, Colorado. Of course, Hildegard is no longer with us, having died 2009 at the age of 72. Our love affair, for we didn’t have “relationships” in those days, spanned two continents and three decades.

It began in 1955. I was a USAF basic airman on a train, looking forward to visiting a young lady. Hildegard was on that same train, on her way to Paris to visit friends. Fate intervened, and we met, and were instantly attracted to each other.

We were both very young. I joined the Air Force at age 17, just after high school graduation in Strahan, Iowa. Going through basic training at California’s Parks Air Force Base and Biloxi, Mississippi’s radio operations training, I was off to Bremerhaven, Germany.

Hildegard was still in high school when we met. What a lovely livewire she was, highly intelligent and precocious. She spoke English, French, German, and Greek and could converse in Latin. She was a people magnet, very outgoing and dramatic, even flamboyant, with a flair for creating fun. I was drawn to her warm, outgoing personality. I’m the opposite, very quiet and taciturn. Hildegard impatiently urged me to talk more! In fact, she teasingly called me “The Quiet Man,” from the 1952 romantic comedy-drama film starring John Wayne.

In Varel, Germany, Hildegard grew up as the youngest of 6. Both her parents were physicians and their offices were in their large home. At first I stayed in a hotel not far from their home.Later, they made room for me in their home. It was devoted to music, Dr. Behrens being an avid amateur musician. Many evenings the family gathered for classical music radio broadcasts. All the Behrens children studied the piano and violin or cello from a young age.

I purchased a car. Hildegard’s sister Isa would hop in the car with us, and I naively thought she was bored and wanted an outing. Only later did I learn she was our chaperone! That changed once we became engaged.

Many times, our destination was the Bremerhofen base service club. Hildegard’s brother Wilhelm, a concert pianist and music professor at the University of Freiburg, sometimes came along. He generously played the piano at the base, giving the gift of sing-alongs and jazz sessions .

The next two years were full of memories. I remember a coat that Hildegard hand stitched, so intricately and precisely detailed that it could be worn reversed. This attention to detail carried through all Hildegard’s life endeavors.

Christmas at the Behrens’ home featured a very tall, live tree sparkling with real candles and tinsel. After Christmas Eve church services came the gift exchange. I gave Hildegard’s mother a bottle of Joy perfume and her dad a box of Roi-Tan cigars.

There was teasing, too. Hildegard’s brother Otto, Hildegard and I needled Frau Dr. Behrens who presided over the dinner table. My role was to emit very loud burps while the others snickered. Frau Dr. Behrens would lower her head to her hands, satisfactorily shuddering at my bad manners. Later, as a gift, Otto gave me a pewter mug engraved with “Burpy.”

In the spring of 1957, Hildegard and I became engaged. We announced this to Hildegard’s mother first, by taking her to lunch. Otto came along as spokesman to explain our wish to marry. Hildegard’s father was told that evening and then an announcement was posted to friends and relatives, and to the newspaper.

Following German custom, I gave a gold ring to Hildegard who wore it on her left hand; with marriage she would switch the ring to her right ring finger. Luckily, this custom was known to me because Hildegard’s brother, DiDi (Dietrict) had gotten engaged and married prior to this and I was his best man.

Then, everything changed. In May 1957, my tour of duty ended and I returned to the states. Regretfully, I listened to my father who convinced me to break the engagement with Hildegard, and I sent a “Dear Jane” letter to my fiancée. Hurt and feeling heartbroken, Hildegard wrote to my mother of a desire to do away with herself.

Instead she became a riveting soprano opera star, famed for a warm, textured voice and top notes that sliced through heavy Wagner orchestras. Had our breakup not occurred, would she have achieved all that she did? I’ve wondered.

I finished college and married in 1959. My business adventures were too far ahead of their time to be successful--ethanol production, an electric car, wind turbines, and a commercial environmental garbage disposal. My marriage faltered when my two girls were teenagers.

Hildegard had earned a law degree and then started vocal studies, at the age of 26, at the Freiburg Academy of Music. At the age of 34, she debuted in a lyric soprano role as the countess in The Marriage of Figaro.

I decided to contact Hildegard about this time. Her father, who I got out of bed when I called to trace her, said she lived in Dusseldorf and was beginning an opera career. She was also a single mother, raising a five year old son, Philip.

We had many long transatlantic phone conversations before deciding that Hildegard would fly to visit me in New York City, where I had an office. She obtained her opera company’s permission for the visit and I met her plane at JFK Airport.

Hildegard brought only winter clothes and the New York weather was warm, so our first stop was Honeybee, a boutique near my office, for a new wardrobe. Once she was comfortable, we headed for a piano bar to just talk. It was as if we had never been apart. The next days were full of sightseeing and an evening at the Metropolitan Opera House where we had orchestra seats. Hildegard, who knew the lead Mexican tenor, wanted to send him flowers. I suggested a magnum of champagne instead. We shouted “Bravo!” to him at the stage door and then we all went for drinks. That evening I told Hildegard that she would one day sing at the Met. She told me that she loved the challenge of opera music because of its complexity. She did sing at the Met 171 times as well as other worldwide venues.

Our visit was wonderful. After that, I made many trips to Germany, once staying five weeks. I met her little boy, Philip, and heard Hildegard sing in both Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. I met her friends and went to Varel to see her father. Hildegard’s mother, tragically, was killed in a car accident. Hildegard and I traveled all over Europe — Barcelona, Geneva, Amsterdam, and elsewhere.

Hildegard visited the states again and met my mother in Omaha, Nebraska. She visited my home in Denver where she enjoyed the beauty of the Rocky Mountains but acknowledged that her first love was the sea.

And our love? After seeing each other across the continents, it became clear that our worlds were far apart. She asked me to be her manager but I knew so little of opera; how could I be what she needed? And her son was there in Germany; my family was here in the states.

We affirmed our love for each other, our first and most precious love that nothing could ever replace. Such a warm and fiery woman, she was my “little one” and I was her “poodle.” After a few more phone calls across the ocean, we each went on with our separate lives in our separate worlds.

Most people do not get a second chance to re-kindle a love relationship that, powerful and exciting, is not meant to be permanent. I am so thankful for twice having a love affair to remember.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):