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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers legendary dramatic soprano Inge Borkh, who died at her home in Stuttgart on Sunday, August 26, 2018. She was 97.

To close the Orchestra’s sixty-fifth season, music director Fritz Reiner chose Strauss’s Elektra. “This was a monumental performance superbly cast, and scaled to the full grandeur of Inge Borkh’s magnificent singing in the title role,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “I for one have heard nothing like the outpouring of that amazing voice since the days of Kirsten Flagstad. . . . This is a huge soprano, glistening in timbre, most beautiful when it mounts the high tessitura and welcomes the merciless orchestra of the still fabulous Strauss. She can ride the whirlwinds, or she can touch, surprisingly, the heart.”

Borkh appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as follows:

December 8 and 9, 1955, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Abscheulicher . . . Komm Hoffnung from Fidelio, Op. 72
STRAUSS Closing Scene from Salome, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

April 12 and 13, 1956, Orchestra Hall
STRAUSS Elektra, Op. 58
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Elektra Inge Borkh, soprano
Chrysothemis Frances Yeend, soprano
Clytemnestra Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano
Orestes Paul Schöffler, baritone
Aegisthus Julius Patzak, tenor
Chorus from the Lyric Theatre of Chicago

July 12, 1956, Ravinia Festival
WEBER Ozean, du Ungeheuer from Oberon
WAGNER Dich, theure Halle from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Du bist der Lenz from Die Walküre
Igor Markevitch, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

July 22, 1956, Ravinia Festival
MENOTTI To this we’ve come from The Consul
BEETHOVEN Ah! perfido, Op. 65
Georg Solti, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

November 1 and 2, 1956, Orchestra Hall
WAGNER Overture to Tannhäuser
WAGNER Dich, theure Halle from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Wahn! Wahn! Uberall Wahn! from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
WAGNER Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre
WAGNER Traft ihr das Schiff from Der fliegende Holländer
WAGNER Wie aus der Ferne längst vergangner Zeiten from Der fliegende Holländer
WAGNER Ride of the Valkryies from Die Walküre
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano
Paul Schöffler, baritone

Borkh also committed excerpts from Strauss’s Elektra and Salome to disc shortly after her performances. With Reiner and the Orchestra, she recorded Salome on December 10, 1955, and Elektra on April 16, 1956, both in Orchestra Hall. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer.

Numerous tributes have appeared at The New York Times and Opera News, among other outlets.

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Heldenleben

On March 6, 1954, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time. For RCA at Orchestra Hall, they committed to disc two works by Richard Strauss: the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben.

“A single condenser microphone, noted for its uniform response and broad pick-up, was suspended approximately sixteen feet above the conductor’s podium to secure the exact balance desired by Dr. Reiner between instrumental choirs of the Orchestra,” according to the liner notes from the original RCA release. “At the time this recording was made, a special microphone set-up was used to make a separate stereophonic recording of the same performance as part of RCA Victor’s continuing policy of development and research in recording techniques.”

Fritz Reiner's autograph on a copy of the original album jacket's liner notes

Fritz Reiner’s autograph on a copy of the original album jacket’s liner notes

“Reiner brought out the opulence of Strauss’s orchestration but never wallowed indulgently in the more episodic moments; instrumental textures were clarified so that transparency of sound was paramount; and climaxes were carefully prepared so that they did not appear bombastic. To successfully balance such a large orchestra while projecting seemingly spontaneous playing was a notable achievement,” wrote Kenneth Morgan in his biography Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet. “Ein Heldenleben, to a critic for Harper’s Magazine [in November 1954], confirmed Reiner as probably the greatest Strauss conductor alive: ‘the razor’s edge combination of lean, hard clarity on a vast orchestral scale and perilously high tension emotionalism is exactly suited to his disciplined directing.’ ”

Over the next eight years, Reiner and the Orchestra recorded several of Strauss’s works: Also sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan (twice each), a suite from Der Bürger als Edelmann, Burleske with pianist Byron Janis, Don Quixote with principal viola Milton Preves and cellist Antonio Janigro, selections from Elektra and Salome with soprano Inge Borkh, waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier, and Symphonia domestica.

This article also appears here.

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“Eventually, I got my U.S. visa, but it came so late that I had to cancel my Ravinia engagement. However, my American debut took place . . . when I conducted the San Francisco Opera. At that time, the opera orchestra drew on players from the San Francisco Symphony, which from 1936 until 1952 had been directed by Pierre Monteux, one of the most brilliant conductors of the first half of the twentieth century. I met him later in Frankfurt, when he conducted one of the museum’s concerts.

“In San Francisco, I was delighted to work with an orchestra that played at a much higher standard than that of Munich or Frankfurt. My repertoire consisted of Elektra, Die Walküre, and Tristan . . . the San Francisco performances went well, and so did the performances that I gave with the orchestra when we went on tour to Los Angeles.”*

The casts:

September 25 and 30, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
October 20, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
STRAUSS Elektra
Klytemnestra Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Aegisthus Ludwig Suthaus tenor (U.S. opera debut)
Elektra Inge Borkh soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Chrysothemis Ellen Faull soprano
Orestes Paul Schöffler baritone
Guardian of Orestes Desire Ligeti bass
The Confidant Eloise Farrell soprano
The Trainbearer Ruth Roehr soprano
A Young Servant Cesare Curzi tenor
An Old Servant Jan Gbur bass
The Overseer of the Servants Yvonne Chauveau soprano
First Maidservant Margaret Roggero contralto
Second Maidservant June Wilkins soprano
Third Maidservant Janice Moudry mezzo-soprano
Fourth Maidservant Lois Hartzell soprano
Fifth Maidservant Beverly Sills soprano
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Kurt Herbert Adler, chorus director
Harry Horner, set designer
Julius Dobe, set painter

October 2 and 7, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
October 23, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
WAGNER Tristan und Isolde
Tristan Ludwig Suthaus tenor
Isolde Gertrude Grob-Prandl soprano (U.S. opera debut)
Brangäne Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano
King Mark Dezső Ernster bass (October 2 and 23)
King Mark Desire Ligeti bass (October 7)
Kurwenal Paul Schöffler baritone
Melot George Cehanovsky baritone
Shepherd Lawrence Mason tenor
Steersman Jan Gbur bass
A Sailor’s Voice Cesare Curzi tenor
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Kurt Herbert Adler, chorus director
Armando Agnini, set designer
Julius Dobe, set painter

October 13 and 18, 1953 – War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
November 1, 1953 – Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
WAGNER Die Walküre
Brünnhilde Gertrude Grob-Prandl soprano
Sieglinde Inge Borkh soprano
Fricka Margarete Klose mezzo-soprano
Siegmund Ludwig Suthaus tenor
Wotan Paul Schöffler baritone
Hunding Dezső Ernster bass
Helmwige Ellen Faull soprano
Gerhilde Beverly Sills soprano
Ortlinde Yvonne Chauveau soprano
Siegrune Janice Moudry mezzo-soprano
Rossweisse Margaret Roggero contralto
Waltraute Eloise Farrell soprano
Grimgerde Donna Petersen mezzo-soprano
Schwertleite June Wilkins contralto
Carlo Piccinato, stage director
Armando Agnini, set design
Julius Dobe, set painter

*Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti. Also, thanks to Kirsten Tanaka (head librarian and archivist at the Performing Arts Library, Museum of Performance & Design) and the San Francisco Opera’s online performance archive.

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Georg Solti made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut on October 19, 1956 (during the company’s third season), conducting Strauss’s Salome with Inge Borkh in the title role. Claudia Cassidy’s complete Chicago Tribune review (courtesy of ProQuest via the Chicago Public Library) is here.

That season he also led Wagner’s Die Walküre with Borkh, Birgit Nilsson, and Paul Schöffler (and a young Ardis Krainik as Rossweisse); Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Eleanor Steber, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and Léopold Simoneau; and Verdi’s La forza del destino with Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, and Richard Tucker. Ruth Page provided choreography for the Mozart and Verdi.

Solti also shared the podium with Emerson Buckley for a gala concert on November 10 with a star-studded cast that included Tebaldi, Simionato, Tucker, Ettore Bastianini, and Miraslav Čangalović.

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