Melanie Kurt

Melanie Kurt„The one element in yesterday´s performance of „Götterdämmerung“ that was unfamiliar to this public was the Brünnhilde of Mme. Melanie Kurt. As was to be expected from her previous Wagnerian impersonations since she arrived here, it was an extremely fine one and, lacking only at a very few points the greatest attributes of tragic power, compelled a high admiration, though Mme. Kurt had to contend against recent memories of other supremely fine impersonations of the same character. The music of Brünnhilde has been rarely sung with a finer art, a more thrilling dramatic quality and poignancy of vocal utterance, a more eloquent declamatory potency and truth. It was equally as fine upon the histrionic side. Mme. Kurt´s conception lays the right emphasis upon the essentially womanly feeling of Brünnhilde deprived of the attributes of the goddess, the tenderness, the bewilderment and despair at the web of deception that enwraps her, the outraged dignity, the majesty of her final proclamation over Siegfried´s bier. Her effects were gained without a sacrifice of repose and with a consistent unfolding of the dramatic development. It was a performance on her part worthy of the best traditions of the house.“ Thus the American musicologist, Richard Aldrich, commented on Melanie Kurt´s role-debut as Brünnhilde at the MET in the edition of the New York Times from February 18th 1915. As Isolde the by then already famous singer had made her debut on the stage of the Metropolitan on February 1st 1915: she stayed with the MET for three years until the United States entered the War and Wagner-operas were eliminated from the MET´s repertoire. Born on January 8th 1880 in Vienna, Melanie Kurt studied piano before her voice was discovered. Her singing teachers were Fanny Müller and Marie Lehmann, famous sister of the even more famous Lilli Lehmann. In 1902 Kurt gave her debut as Elisabeth in “Tannhäuser” at the Stadttheater in Lübeck. In 1905 she moved on to Braunschweig and in 1908 arrived at the Berlin Court Opera. She became known internationally through her guest appearances in 1910 at the London Covent Garden Opera as Sieglinde, and later performances in Budapest, Dresden, Munich and several Italian Opera Houses.

At the Salzburg Festival she sang together with Hermine Kittel and Lilli Lehmann the Three Ladies in “Die Zauberflöte”. In 1913 she joined the ensemble of the just opened Deutsche Opernhaus Berlin, where she concentrated on dramatic roles: she was Berlin´s first Kundry at the premiere at the Deutsches Opernhaus on January 1st 1914. Her contract with the Metropolitan Opera in 1915 can be considered the high point of the soprano´s career. During those three years in New York she not only sang the dramatic Wagner-roles, but also mezzo roles, such as Fricka in “Rheingold”, she was Amelia in “Un Ballo in Maschera” (with Enrico Caruso and Pasquale Amato), Marschallin in “Rosenkavalier”, Iphigenie, Santuzza, Leonore (“Fidelio”) and Pamina (in a cast which included Carl Braun and Frieda Hempel and saw as Tamino either Johannes Sembach, Jacques Urlus or Otto Goritz). In the programs of her MET concerts she also tried to include less familiar arias, such as the then only rarely performed Rezia aria from “Oberon” or Johanna´s aria from the opera by Tchaikovsky. After the 1916/17 season most German singers, especially if they had focused their repertory on Wagner opera, left the MET: together with Margarete Arndt-Ober, Ernestine Schumann Heink, Johanna Gadski, Carl Braun, Otto Goritz, Johannes Sembach, Hermann Weil and Jacques Urlus Melanie Kurt left the United States in 1917. Kurt´s  last performance at the MET as Brünnhilde on March 28th 1917 (with Urlus, Braun, Reiss and Arndt-Ober) was at the same time the last “Siegfried” until 1923.

After her return to Europe Melanie Kurt accepted no more long-term engagements but gave guest performances, especially in her much acclaimed Wagner roles, at all major European stages. She was the first Brünnhilde in “Siegfried” at the Waldoper Zoppot when the Festival was opened in 1922. The performance was conducted by the young Hans Knappertsbusch and the cast included Fritz Vogelstrom, Heinrich Knote, Werner Engel, Waldemar Henke, Desider Zador and Margarete Arndt-Ober. After having ended her singing career Melanie Kurt lived in Berlin and later in Vienna where she was active as a singing teacher. After the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich in 1938 she was able to leave her home country in time and emigrated to the United States where she died in New York on March 11th 1941. Fortunately, a considerable number of records give testimony of her virtuosity and the gripping power of her singing, especially in the hochdramatische fach.