Mezzo Memories: Fassbaender on Richard Strauss


[Brigitte Fasbaender. – Photo via ServusTV]

The one and only Brigitte Fassbaender has penned an article (and I’m all for articulate mezzos penning pieces, see also “Connolly, Sarah”) about her life with Richard Strauss for the penultimate edition of German weekly newspaper Die ZEIT (40/2013) on the occasion of his upcoming 150th birthday.

It’s a charming read full of personal anecdotes (and with much love for a certain Mr. Maria Ehrenreich), warmly recommended. Unfortunately it’s German only, but there’s one hilarious paragraph on being musically sired by Birgit Nilsson and getting complimented on her legs by Karl Böhm that I’m partially translating below.


[click to enlarge]

“To my dedication to Strauss, I owe an infinite amount of artistic pinnacles and encounters, memories of stellar opera performances and singers’ achievements that left an imprint and are unforgettable. Now, approaching his 150. birthday, thoughts return to the beginnings of my settling into his oeuvre. In 1964, the opening season of the ressurected Münchener Nationaltheater, I was an “Unborn” and “The Voice from Above”, both from offstage and clear in my memory because – spending the rest of the performance in the stage manager’s cubicle, listening and being amazed – because I suddnely felt someone slap my rear. It was the great Brigot Nilsson, wo smiled at me and said, “That’s gonna work out, kid.” This, to me, was the true “Pour le Mérite”. […] My Strauss debut, I had already had in 1961 during the Munich Opera Festival as Page in “Salome”, with the ravishingly beautiful Lisa della Casa in the title role and Dietrich Fiscer-Dieskau als Jochanaan. Conducting: the legendary Karl Böhm, who had still worked closely with Strauss himself and delivered authentic tempi. There was a slap involved, too, albeit with the baton. “Watch the dotted rhytms, child! They’re even more important than the pretty legs!” My page’s costume was very much tailored to a slim fit, and that slim fit hadn’t escaped Böhm.”

On a sidenote: If you haven’t read Birgit Nilsson’s biography yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It’s one of the most hilarious accounts of opera and life you will ever read.

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