AUSTRAL Music from The Marriage of Figaro, Oberon, The Flying
Dutchman, Götterdämmerung, Zemire and Azor, Maritana and music of
Brahms, Rossini, Molloy and Kahn<
Florence Austral, soprano/Orch. cond. by Sir John Barbirolli, Carlo
Sabajno, Lawrance Collingwood and Albert Coates;
pianist Percy Kahn
Austral is another major singer little represented on CD, known primarily in that format for excerpts from the Ring recorded by HMV from 1927-32. Born in 1892 in a suburb of Melbourne, the quality of her voice was recognized at an early age. She studied at the Melbourne Conservatory winning prizes in both soprano and mezzo-soprano categories when only twenty. After studies with Viennese soprano Elise Wiedermann she began her operatic career in a student performance of Fidelio. In 1918 she went to New York for studies with Gabriele Sibella after which the Met offered a contract - which she refused. Instead she returned to London where May 16, 1922 she stepped in at the last minute for another soprano as Brünnhilde at the British National Opera, singing that role in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung as well. That year she also sang Aida, her first Isolde the next season. Established as Covent Garden's leading Wagner soprano, she partnered Lauritz Melchior in his 1924 debut in DieWalküre. She gave her first U.S. concert tour in 1925 giving annual concerts for a decade. Austral appeared in major European opera houses as well as with the Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco opera companies, ending her operatic career in 1938. Unfortunately Austral's remarkable voice and technique could not compensate for her lack of stage presence. In the mid-'20s she became became a victim of multiple sclerosis which hindered her stage movement. Austral couldn't compete with her contemporary Frieda Leider (four years her senior), who had a dramatic appearance as well as a superb voice. Because of her physical affliction and lack of acting ability she concentrated on concerts in the latter part of her career; her operatic performances ended in 1938. In 1946 she returned to Australia where she taught extensively for some years until her death in 1968 by which time she was completely paralyzed.
HMV renowned record producer Fred Gaisberg said, "in the early Twenties Florence Austral was the most important recording artist we had, thanks to the beauty, power and compass of her voice." High praise indeed from an engineer who had recorded just about all of the major operatic singers of the time. She made about 100 disks and Preiser's generously-filled CD (recordings made from 1927-1930) offers a wide selection of her repertory with opera ranging from Mozart ("Porgi amor" from The Marriage of Figaro), Weber ("Ocean! thou mighty monster" from Oberon), Verdi ("Ritorna vincitor" from Aida), Spohr ("Rose softly blooming" from Zemire und Azor), Wallace ("Scenes that are brightest" from Maritana) as well as "Inflammatus" from Rossini's Stabat Mater, Molloy's Love's old sweet song, Ave Maria by Kahn and "Ye that now are sorrowful" from the Brahms German Requiem. Of particular interest is the Wagner including Senta's aria from The Flying Dutchman, "Dawn Duet" between Brünnhilde and Siegfried from Götterdämmerung (with Walter Widdop as Siegfried) and the "Immolation Scene" beginning with the exchange between Brünnhilde and Gutrune (sung by Göta Ljungberg). Albert Coates conducts the London Symphony in the Wagner (there is a very small orchestral cut in the Immolation Scene) - and he - and Austral - are magnificent. Coates' Wagner never dawdles - these are vibrant, exciting interpretations. The Weber, Brahms, Spohr, Wallace and Dutchman aria are sung in clearly-enunciated English. Besides Albert Coates, conductors are Sir John Barbirolli, Cav. Carlo Sabajno and Lawrence Collingwood. Preiser's transfers are excellent - Austral's voice leaps from the speakers. Thanks to Preiser for this opportunity to hear one of the leading sopranos of the first part of the 20th Century.
R.E.B. (April 2002)