TENNA KRAFT, soprano
Arias from Tosca, La traviata, Eugene Onegin, Madama Butterfly, La Boheme, King and Marshal, Leonara Christina, Don Carlos, and music of Thome, FlÈgler, Schubert, Heise, Lange-Muller, Henriques, Rantzau and Weyse
Tenna Kraft, soprano; with Vilhelm Herold, tenor; Louis Jensen, cellist; various orch. and cond. 
DANACORD DACOCD 603 (F) (ADD) TT:  78:26
ELENA NIKOLAIDI, mezzo-soprano
Arias from Semiramide, Macbeth, Don Carlo, Il trovatore, Un Ballo en Maschera, Carmen, Euryanthe and Elektra; music of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms
Elena Nikolaidi, mezzo-soprano; with Astrid Varnay, soprano; orchestras cond. by Fausto Cleva, Leopold Ludwig and Dimitri Mitropoulos; pianist Jan Behr
PREISER 89566 (F) (ADD) TT:  78:04

Although virtually unknown to world-wide opera enthusiasts, Tenna Kraft (1885-1954) is considered to be the leading 20th Century soprano of Denmark. She is not listed in Kutsch/Riemens' A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers, which includes many very obscure artists. Born in Copenhagen, she studied with opera singer J. L. Nyrop. After auditions at the Royal Theatre she was stand-in for leading sopranos and made her debut as Elsa in Lohengrin April 4, 1906, a performance well received by both audience and critics—although she still had much to learn. Kraft continued her studies in Berlin, later in Paris with famed tenor Jean de Reszke, where Puccini heard her and was impressed by the young singer  Although Reszke wanted Kraft to sing in leading opera houses, she preferred to stay in Denmark, where she sang the Danish premiere of Tosca in 1910 and in 1915 was the first Danish Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Other featured roles with the Danish Opera were in La traviata, Lohengrin, Tannh”user, Eugene Onegin, Faust, Madama Butterfly and La BohËme (Musetta); she also starred in two now forgotten Danish operas, Salomon's Leonora Christina, and P. Heise's King and Marshal.

Had she chosen to sing outside Denmark, Tenna Kraft would have been recognized for her extraordinary technique, power and ability to communicate. A major reason why she didn't want to leave her native country was because she did not know—or care to learn—other languages. Thus everything on this fine CD is sung in Danish—so Vissi d'arte becomes End kun lykke. Kraft has a very feminine sound highly appropriate for Tatiana's Letter Scene (which she ends with an unwritten high note). Coloratura in the Traviata excerpts is no problem whatever for Kraft's secure technique—although her tempo choices in this (in which she is joined by Vilhelm Herold as Alfredo) must have been taxing for conductor and orchestra. Acoustic recordings are the Tosca, Traviata, Eugene Onegin, Butterfly and King and Marshall arias, recorded from 1911 to 1924. The electric recording made from 1928-1940 (including a second End kun lykke) do more justice to her voice. What a Musetta Kraft must have been—a powerful voice with a touch of coquette—she makes much out of Musetta's Waltz Song. Vissi d'arte (End kun lykke) is outstanding, as is the brief excerpt from the love duet from the first act of Tosca (minus the tenor!). The two prayers from Salomon's Leonora Christina are exquisite, Heise's Forest Solitude a gem.  Schubert's familiar Ave Maria is a model of perfect singing. Another example of her expertise in Verdi is a 1934 broadcast recording of Du, som kendte til bunds ("Tu che le vanità").   Everything on this CD is of interest to vocal collectors.  Remastering was by Claus Byrith who did a fine job with these very rare recordings; on a few occasions there are audible 78 rpm ticks and in the Butterfly aria it sounds as if a table (or something) fell over half-way through the aria—of course in the original recording. Regal in appearance, Tenna Kraft appeared in a 1919 silent Danish film Leaves from Satan's Book directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in which she played Marie Antionette.

Texts are provided in two languages, Danish and either Italian or English. Thank you Danacord for this valuable CD; let us hope volume two will be forthcoming soon.

The other CD is devoted to the remarkably artistry of Greek mezzo-soprano Elena Nikolaidi (b. 1909)—do not confuse her with Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Elena Nicolai, who had a more illustrious career and made more recordings. The last Schwann/Artist (2001) had no listings for Nikolaidi, so this Preiser issue is very welcome. You can hear her magnificent Klytamnestra in Elektra in the Christmas Day 1949 New York Philharmonic concert performance conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. At the age of 15 she won a scholarship to study at the Conservatory in Athens, making her formal debut at a concert there conducted by Mitropoulos who at the time was conductor of their orchestra. The premiere of Theophrastos Sakellaridis' The Ghost Bridge marked the occasion of her first stage performance, after which she began singing the roles for which she was most famous including Carmen, Dalila and Amneris. A scholarship enabled her to go to Vienna where she attracted the attention of Bruno Walter, making her State Opera debut as Eboli in Don Carlo in 1936. She and her husband, baritone Thanos Mellos, came to the United States where she gave a triumphant recital in New York's Town Hall. Nikolaidi made her American operatic debut as Amneris with the San Francisco Opera, and opened the 1951-52 season of the Met in Aida (with Zinka Milanov and Mario del Monaco). Her career at the Met was surprisingly short—from 1951-1956 she sang in 11 performances of Aida, 4 of Trovatore and 2 performances of the Verdi Requiem.  Although her opera career didn't develop as it should, she concertized extensively after her early retirement from opera in the early '60s. After that she became a prominent teacher. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 14, 2002 at the age of 96.

On this CD we have extraordinary examples of Nikolaidi's artistry.There are three Columbia recordings from 1949 including her superb Macbeth aria with its final D-flat. The extended (17:50) excerpt from the live 1949 Elektra shows how dynamic she was in performance. A group of 1950 Columbia recordings of lieder of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, with pianist Jan Behr, fills out the CD. Excellent transfers, no texts. A fine memento of an unjustly neglected artist.

R.E.B. (March 2003)