Skip to main content
Dramatic Soprano

Helen Traubel, Dramatic Soprano

By August 14, 2020April 5th, 2023No Comments

Helen Francesca Traubel (June 16, 1899 – July 28, 1972) was was born in St. Louis and developed into one of the most famous American born Wagnerian sopranos in the 20th century. She was a dramatic soprano, best known for her Wagnerian roles, especially those of Brünnhilde and Isolde.

Fairly recently, I have been trying to post additional singers in my posts to give you a contrast to the posted singer. With respect to Traubel, the only kinds of comparisons that I could give would be to other highly respected dramatic sopranos in the German repertoire. In this particular case, Trabel should be compared with Flagstad, Lehmann, Frida Leider, and the like. I cannot think of anyone singing today who would make an apt comparison.

Mild und leise, Isolde Tristan und Isolde

Mild und leise
wie er lächelt,
wie das Auge
hold er öffnet —
Seht ihr’s, Freunde?
Seht ihr’s nicht?
Immer lichter
wie er leuchtet,
hoch sich hebt?
Seht ihr’s nicht?
Wie das Herz ihm
mutig schwillt,
voll und hehr
im Busen ihm quillt?
Wie den Lippen,
wonnig mild,
süßer Atem
sanft entweht —
Freunde! Seht!
Fühlt und seht ihr’s nicht?
Hör ich nur diese Weise
die so wundervoll und leise
Wonne klagend,
alles sagend,
mild versöhnend
aus ihm tönend,
in mich dringet,
auf sich schwinget,
hold erhallend
um mich klinget?
Heller schallend,
mich umwallend —
Sind es Wellen
sanfter Lüfte?
Sind es Wogen
wonniger Düfte?
Wie sie schwellen,
mich umrauschen,
soll ich atmen,
soll ich lauschen?
Soll ich schlürfen,
Süß in Düften
mich verhauchen?
In dem wogenden Schwall,
in dem tönenden Schall,
in des Welt-Atems wehendem All —
versinken —
unbewußt —
höchste Lust!

Liebestod, Tristan und Isolde

Calmly and softly,
how he smiles,
how the eye
he holds open —
Do you see it, friends?
Don’t you see it?
Ever brighter
how he shines,
illuminated by stars
rises high?
Don’t you see it?
How his heart
boldly swells,
fully and nobly
wells in his breast?
How from his lips
delightfully, mildly,
sweet breath
softly wafts —
Friends! Look!
Don’t you feel and see it?
Do I alone hear this melody,
which wonderfully and softly,
lamenting delight,
telling it all,
mildly reconciling
sounds out of him,
invades me,
swings upwards,
sweetly resonating
rings around me?
Sounding more clearly,
wafting around me —
Are these waves
of soft airs?
Are these billows
of delightful fragrances?
How they swell,
how they rush around me,
Shall I breathe,
Shall I listen?
Shall I drink,
Sweetly in fragrances
melt away?
In the billowing torrent,
in the resonating sound,
in the wafting Universe of the World-Breath —
be engulfed —
unconscious —
supreme delight!

Or sai chi l’onore, Donna Anna’s Aria from Don Giovanni

Or sai chi l’onore
Rapire a me volse,
Chi fu il traditore
Che il padre mi tolse.
Vendetta ti chiedo,
La chiede il tuo cor.
Rammenta la piaga
Del misero seno,
Rimira di sangue
Coperto il terreno.
Se l’ira in te langue
D’un giusto furor.

Or sai chi l’onore, Donna Anna’s aria from Don Giovanni

Now you know who sought
to steal my honor,
who was the betrayer
who killed my father:
I ask you vengeance,
your heart asks it too.
Remember the wound
gaping in his poor breast,
recall the earth
covered with his blood,
if ever the wrath of a just
should weaken in you.

Divinités du Styx, from Alceste

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
je n’invoquerai point
votre pitié cruelle.

J’enlève un tendre époux
à son funeste sort,
mais je vous abandonne
une épouse fidèle.

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
mourir pour ce qu’on aime,
est un trop doux effort,
une vertu si naturelle,
mon coeur est animé
du plus noble transport.

Je sens une force nouvelle,
je vais où mon amour m’appelle,
mon coeur est animé
du plus noble transport.

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
je n’invoquerai point
votre pitié cruelle.

Divinities of the Styx, from Alceste

Divinities of the Styx,
Ministers of death,
I shall not appeal,
To your cruel mercy.

I take up a kind husband,
Away from his deadly fate,
But I surrender to you,
A faithful wife.

Divinities of the Styx,
Ministers of Death,
To die for whom one loves,
Is a sweet endeavor,
So natural a valor,
My heart is aroused,
By the noble impulse.

I feel a new strength,
I go where my love summons me,
My heart is aroused,
By the noble endeavor.

Divinities of the Styx,
Ministers of death,
I shall not appeal,
to your cruel mercy.

Helen Traubel

After long-term voice study with Louise Verta Karst in her native St. Louis, Traubel made her debut as soloist with the St. Louis Symphony in 1925. During the ensuing decade, she performed as a concert singer and recitalist, also appearing often in radio broadcasts. In 1937, Traubel was engaged for the role of Mary Rutledge in Walter Damrosch’s The Man Without a Country during a second spring season at the Metropolitan Opera. Notwithstanding her inexperience on stage, she exhibited a lustrous, voluminous sound and considerable dramatic presence. The opera was not well-received, but Traubel’s performance was warmly praised.

There were, however, no offers for the Wagnerian repertory that she wanted to sing. The presence of Kirsten Flagstad and Marjorie Lawrence caused the management to be indifferent to yet another Wagnerian soprano. It was, however, the public who eventually swayed the management’s opinion. After several radio and concert appearances with Dimitri Mitropoulos and Sir John Barbirolli the acclaim and demands of the public opened the doors to the Met. She was offered the role of Venus in a production of Tannhäuser, but she refused wanting to sing Sieglinde in Walküre. After much initial resistance by the management, she was finally allowed to make her Wagnerian debut as Sieglinde opposite the Brünnhilde of Kirsten Flagstad in 1939. During the war years her position changed as Flagstad left America for Norway and Marjorie Lawrence contracted polio. Left in sole possession of the Wagnerian repertoire, she quickly established herself as a consummate and highly acclaimed singer. She appeared 176 times on the Met stage (168 times in Wagner operas). She was forced off the stage by the newly appointed General Manager Rudolf Bing. Even more commotion was caused by the reason given for her dismissal. Could an Isolde, Brünnhilde and Kundry of the Met concurrently make appearances as a nightclub singer? Bing’s reply was a clear “No”. Her contract was not renewed and she gave her last performance in 1953 as Isolde.

Soon her name was all over the posters of the show programs of New York’s Copacabana Club, the Chez Paree in Chicago, The Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, and the Clover Club in Miami. She also appeared on television, opposite Groucho Marx, Red Skelton and Jerry Lewis. She played in films, and she appeared in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s revue Pipe Dream. She spent the last years of her life in Santa Monica, where she died in 1972