I do not think that Olszewska was a contralto, much in the same way that I don’t think that Marian Anderson was a contralto, although both of them are in the history books as contraltos. Olszewska was a strikingly beautiful woman with a sumptuous voice. She made her mark even among a substantial class of other dramatic mezzos and contraltos performing in during her prime years. You can notice, even through the recordings with the worst sound, that she was a singer who sang in the resonance; that is, she has resonant sound, something that has all but disappeared today.

A word about the sound. As I have written before, the farther back in time we go, the worse the sound. Many people have tried to improve the quality of the recorded sound by removing hisses, pops, crackles, etc. You will notice that I tend to use older recordings whenever I can find them (“Lascia ch’io pianga”, for example) This is because, although the sound is not stellar, the lack of manipulation leaves much more of the singer’s voice in the form of overtones. You will also notice artifacts at the end of the Rosenkavalier Trio and Duet. This indicates that noise suppression was used in the recording, but I felt that this particular recording did not suffer terribly from the noise reduction. All of this is taste; some people like to use noise reduction; I do not. Except in something like the Rosenkavalier finale.

The trio and finale begins at 11:50.

MARSCHALLIN
vor sich, zugleich mit Octavian und Sophie
Hab’ mir’s gelobt, Ihn lieb zu haben in der richtigen Weis’. Dass ich selbst Sein Lieb’ zu einer andern noch lieb hab! Hab’ mir freilich nicht gedacht, dass es so bald mir aufgelegt sollt’ werden!
seufzend
Es sind die mehreren Dinge auf der Welt, so dass sie ein’s nicht glauben tät’, wenn man sie möcht’ erzählen hör’n. Alleinig wer’s erlebt, der glaubt daran und weiss nicht wie – da steht der Bub’ und da steh’ ich, und mit dem fremden Mädel dort wird er so glücklich sein, als wie halt Männer das Glücklichsein verstehen. In Gottes Namen.

OCTAVIAN
zugleich mit der Marschallin und Sophie, erst vor sich, dann Aug’ in Aug’ mit Sophie
Es ist was kommen und ist was g’schehn, Ich möcht’ Sie fragen: darf’s denn sein? und grad’ die Frag, die spür’ ich, dass sie mir verboten ist. Ich möcht’ Sie fragen: warum zittert was in mir? – Ist denn ein grosses Unrecht geschehn? Und grad’ an die darf ich die Frag’ nicht tun – und dann seh’ ich dich an, Sophie, und seh’ nur dich und spür’ nur dich, Sophie, und weiss von nichts als nur: dich hab’ ich lieb.

SOPHIE
zugleich mit der Marschallin und Octavian, erst vor sich, dann Aug’ in Aug’ mit Octavian
Mir ist wie in der Kirch’n, heilig ist mir und so bang; und doch ist mir unheilig auch! Ich weiss nicht, wie mir ist. (ausdrucksvoll) Ich möcht’ mich niederknien dort vor der Frau und möcht’ ihr was antun, denn ich spür’, sie gibt mir ihn und nimmt mir was von ihm zugleich. Weiss gar nicht, wie mir ist! Möcht’ alles verstehen und möcht’ auch nichts verstehen. Möcht’ fragen und nicht fragen, wird mir heiss und kalt. Und spür’ nur dich und weiss nur eins: dich hab’ ich lieb.

Marschallin geht leise links hinein, die beiden bemerken es gar nicht. Octavian ist dicht an Sophie herangetreten, einen Augenblick später liegt sie in seinen Armen.

OCTAVIAN
zugleich mit Sophie
Spür’ nur dich, spür’ nur dich allein und dass wir beieinander sein! Geht alls sonst wie ein Traum dahin vor meinem Sinn!

SOPHIE
zugleich mit Octavian
Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein, dass wir zwei beieinander sein, beieinand’ für alle Zeit und Ewigkeit!

OCTAVIAN
ebenso
War ein Haus wo, da warst du drein, und die Leut’ schicken mich hinein, mich gradaus in die Seligkeit! Die waren g’scheit!

SOPHIE
ebenso
Kannst du lachen? Mir ist zur Stell’ bang wie an der himmlischen Schwell!
Halt’ mich, ein schwach Ding, wie ich bin, sink’ dir dahin!

Sie muss sich an ihn lehnen. In diesem Augenblick öffnen die Faninalschen Lakaien die Tür und treten herein, jeder mit einem Leuchter. Durch die Tür kommt Faninal, die Marschallin an der Hand führend. Die beiden jungen stehen einen Augenblick verwirrt, dann machen sie ein tiefes Kompliment, das Faninal und die Marschallin erwidern. Faninal tupft Sophie väterlich gutmütig auf die Wange.

FANINAL
Sind halt aso, die jungen Leut’!

MARSCHALLIN
Ja, ja.

Faninal reicht der Marschallin die Hand, führt sie zur Mitteltür, die zugleich durch die Livree der Marschallin, darunter der jugen Mann, geöffnet wurde. Draussen hell, herinnen halbdunkel, da die beiden Diener mit den Leuchtern der Marschallin voraustreten. Octavian und Sophie, allein im halbdunklen Zimmer, wiederholen leise.

OCTAVIAN
zugleich mit Sophie
Spür’ nur dich, spür’ nur dich allein und dass wir beieinander sein! Geht all’s sonst wie ein Traum dahin vor meinem Sinn!

SOPHIE
zugleich mit Octavian
Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein, dass wir zwei beieinander sein, beieinand’ für alle Zeit und Ewigkeit!

Sie sinkt an ihn hin, er küsst sie schnell. Ihr fällt, ohne dass sie es merkt, ihr Taschentuch aus der Hand. Dann laufen sie schnell, Hand in Hand, hinaus. Die Bühne bleibt leer, dann geht nochmals die Mitteltür auf. Herein kommt der kleine jungen Mann, mit einer Kerze in der Hand, sucht das Taschentuch, findet es, hebt es auf, trippelt hinaus.

Octavian
(etwas stockend)
Mir ist die Ehre wiederfahren
daß ich der hoch- und wohlgeborenen Jungfer Braut,
in meines Herrn meines Vetters Namen,
dessen zu Lerchernau Namen
die Rose seiner Liebe überreichen darf.

Sophie
nimmt die Rose
Ich bin Euer Liebden sehr verbunden.

– Ich bin Euer Liebden in aller Ewigkeit verbunden. –
(eine Pause der Verwirrung)

Sophie
(indem sie an der Rose riecht)
Hat einen starken Geruch. Wie Rosen, wie lebendige.

Octavian
Ja, ist ein Tropfen persischen Rosenöls darein getan.

Sophie
Wie himmlische, nicht irdische, wie Rosen vom hochheiligen Paradies. Ist Ihm nicht auch?

Octavian
(neigt sich über die Rose, die sie ihm hinhält; dann richtet er sich auf und sieht auf ihren Mund)

Sophie
Ist wie ein Gruss vom Himmel. Ist bereits zu stark,
als dass mans ertragen kann. Zieht einen nach, als lägen Stricke um das Herz.
Wo war ich schon einmal und war so selig?

Octavian
Wo war ich schon einmal und war so selig?

Sophie
Dahin muss ich zurück! und müsst’ ich völlig sterben auf dem Weg!

Allein ich sterb’ ja nicht. Das ist ja weit. Ist Zeit und Ewigkeit in einem
sel’gen Augenblick, den will ich nie vergessen bis an meinen Tod.

Octavian
Ich war ein Bub’, da hab’ ich die noch nicht gekannt.
Wer bin denn ich? Wie komm’ denn ich zu ihr?
Wie kommt denn sie zu mir? Wär’ ich kein Mann,
die Sinne möchten mir vergehn. Das ist ein seliger Augenblick,
den will ich nie vergessen bis an meinen Tod.

MARCHALLIN in
herself, together with Octavian and Sophie
I promised to love him in the right way. That I myself still love His love for another! Of course, I did not think that it would be so soon as I was told!
sigh
It’s the many things in the world that make you do not believe it when you want to hear it. But whoever experiences it believes in it and does not know how – there stands the boy, and here I stand, and with the strange girl there, he will be as happy as men understand the happiness. For God’s sake.

OCTAVIAN
at the same time as the marshal and Sophie, first in front of her, then in ‘eye with Sophie
There is something to come and what is possible, I would like to ask you: may it be? and the Frag, I feel that she is forbidden to me. I would like to ask you: why is something trembling in me? – Has a big wrong happened? And I’m not allowed to do the Frag ‘to that – and then I look at you, Sophie, and just see you and only feel you, Sophie, and know of nothing but: I love you.

SOPHIE together
with the Marschallin and Octavian, first in front of him, then in the eye with Octavian
I feel like in church, holy is me and so bang; and yet it is unholy to me too! I do not know what I feel. (Expressive) I would like to kneel down there in front of the woman and would like to do something to her, because I feel ‘she gives me him and takes something from him at the same time. Do not know how I feel! I want to understand everything and I do not want to understand anything. I want to ask and not ask, I feel hot and cold. And only feel you and know only one thing: I love you.

Marschallin quietly enters the left, the two do not notice. Octavian has come close to Sophie, a moment later she is in his arms.

OCTAVIAN together
with Sophie

Feel only you, just feel alone and that we are together! Does all else go away like a dream before my mind!

SOPHIE
at the same time as Octavian
Is a dream, can not really be that we are two together, together ‘for all time and eternity!

OCTAVIAN
as well
Was there a house where you were, and the people send me in, straight into bliss! They were all gone!

SOPHIE
as well
Can you laugh? I feel as if I am standing at the heavenly threshold!
Hold me, a weak thing, as I am sink you!

She has to lean on him. At that moment, Faninal’s lackeys open the door and enter, each with a chandelier. Faninal comes through the door, leading the Marchallin by the hand. The two boys are confused for a moment, then make a deep compliment, which Faninal and the Marschallin return. Faninal pats Sophie good-naturedly on the cheek.

FANINAL
Are just aso, the young people!

MARSHALLIN
Yes, yes.

Faninal shakes hands with the Marschallin and leads her to the center door, which was opened at the same time by the marshal’s livery, including the young man. Outside bright, herd dark, as the two servants with the candlesticks ahead of the marshal. Octavian and Sophie, alone in the dimly lit room, repeat softly.

OCTAVIAN
at the same time as Sophie
Feel ‘just you, just feel’ alone and that we are together! Does it all go away like a dream before my mind!

SOPHIE
at the same time as Octavian
Is a dream, cannot really be that we are two together, together ‘for all time and eternity!

She sinks to him, he kisses her quickly. You notice her handkerchief without her realizing it. Then they run quickly, hand in hand, out. The stage remains empty, then the center door opens again. In here comes the young man, with a candle in his hand, looking for the handkerchief, finding it, picking it up, tripping out.

Octavian
(faltering a little)
To me has fallen the honor
of presenting to the highborn bride,
in the name of my cousin
of Lerchernau,
the rose of his love.

Sophie
(takes the rose)
I am most obliged to your Lordship

-I am eternally obliged to your Lordship-
(a confused pause)

Sophie
(smelling the rose)
It has a strong scent of roses: real ones!

Octavian
Yes, there’s a drop of Persian attar of roses in it.

Sophie
Like roses of heaven, not of earth – like roses of holy paradies, don’t you think so?

Octavian
(Octavian bends over the Rose, which she holds out to him; then he straightens and gazes at her lips.)

Sophie
It’s like a greeting from heaven. ‘Tis already too strong to bear.
It draws one as though there were reins around one’s heart
Where and when have I been so happy?

Octavian
Where and when have I been so happy?

Sophie
I must return there, yes, even if I should die on the way!
But I shall not die. That is far away. There’s time and eternity
In this moment of bliss, and I’ll not forget it til I die.

Octavian
I was boy, and did not know her yet.
Who am I then? How is it that I come to her?
How is it that she comes to me?
Were I not a man, then I should lose my senses.
And I’ll not forget it til I die.

Die Mainacht – Brahms

Wann der silberne Mond durch die Gesträuche blinkt,
Und sein schlummerndes Licht über den Rasen streut,
Und die Nachtigall flötet,
Wandl’ ich traurig von Busch zu Busch.

Überhüllet vom Laub, girret ein Taubenpaar
Sein Entzücken mir vor; aber ich wende mich,
Suche dunklere Schatten,
Und die einsame Träne rinnt.

Wann, o lächelndes Bild, welches wie Morgenrot
Durch die Seele mir strahlt, find’ ich auf Erden dich?
Und die einsame Träne
Bebt mir heißer die Wang’ herab.

Night in May

When the silvery moon gleams through the thickets,
And scatters its slumbering light on the grass,
And the nightingale sings,
I wander sadly from thicket to thicket.

Covered by foliage, a pair of doves
Coo to me their delight; but I turn away,
Seek darker shadows,
And the lonely tear falls.

When, O smiling vision, that shines through my soul
Like the red of dawn, shall I find you here on earth?
And the lonely tear
Quavers more ardently down my cheek.

Georg Frideric Händel’s opera, Rinaldo, was the first Italian opera written for the English stage. Despite less-than-stellar judgments from the English music critics, the audiences loved it. This aria from this opera is very well known and sung frequently today.

Lascia ch’io pianga

Recitativo
Armida, dispietata colla forza d’abisso rapimmi al caro
Ciel di miei contenti, e qui con duoloeterno
viva mi tiene in tormento d’inferno.
Signor! Ah! Per pieta, lascia mi piangere.

Lascia ch’io pianga la dura sorte
e che sospiri la liberta;
e che sospiri, e che sospiri, la liberta!
Lascia ch’io pianga la dura sorte
e che sospiri la liberta.
Il duol infranga queste ritorte
de miei martiri sol per pieta,
Si, de’ miei martiri sol per pieta.

Let me weep

Recitatif
Armida, cruel fortune with a power inhuman
withdraw my heart from Heav’n and my contentment
And here with grief eternal
Living it holds me in torment most infernal
O Lord! In pity hear me tears will relieve me.

Let me mourn the hard fate
and long for freedom;
and what sighs, and what sighs, freedom!
Let me mourn the hard fate
and long for freedom.
Regret breaks these twists
of my martyrs only for pity,
Yes, of my martyrs only for piety.

Maria Olszewska

Olszewska´s real name was Maria Berchtenbreiter. Born in Ludwigsschweige near Donauwörth / Bavaria on August 12, 1892, she studied singing for three years with Karl Erler in Munich. She made her first stage appearances in operetta and gave her operatic debut as the page in “Tannhäuser“ in 1915 at the Stadttheater of Krefeld, where her two-year contract already included such big roles as Amneris, Carmen and Ortrud. Arthur Nikisch tried to secure her services for Leipzig, but the Opera House of Hamburg came first and offered her a three-year contract. In Hamburg she already performed all those roles, which later were to become her most famous ones, and she created the role of Brigitte in the world premiere of Erich Korngold´s “Die tote Stadt“ on December 4, 1920.

During her engagement in Hamburg, Olszewska thrilled the Viennese public with performances at the State Opera as Amneris, Azucena, Brangäne and Ortrud and especially as Carmen on November 10, 1921. In Berlin on January 27th 1922 she sang in the world premiere of the cantata “Von deutscher Seele“ by Hans Pfitzner. From 1923 to 1925 the singer was engaged at the Munich State Opera and in those years started to make her name known to an international public. In 1923, she sang for the first time at the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires) and in 1924 at Covent Garden, where she made her debut as Brangäne in “Tristan und Isolde“. Guest performances in Spain, Paris, Milan and at the Städtische Oper Berlin followed until in 1924 Franz Schalk was able to bind her to Vienna for some years. One of the most memorable events during these years was Olszewka´s debut in the role of Oktavian in “Der Rosenkavalier“ in 1924, which, not least because of her striking looks and her boyish charm, became one of the roles most closely associated with her. In 1933 she recorded excerpts of it with Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Schumann and Richard Mayr. Among her most acclaimed roles in Vienna also were Selica in “L´Africaine“, Carmen, Amme in “Die Frau ohne Schatten“, Klytämnestra, Herodias, Fides in “Le Prophète“ and Orpheus. Her marriage with the famous German baritone, Emil Schipper, in 1925 did not last too long. In 1928 she was appointed Kammersängerin. Olszewska appeared at most of the major operatic stages around the world, but, as the stations of her career clearly show, a certain restlessness never allowed her to stay in one place for a long time. Still during her engagement in Vienna (her contract was allowed to elapse in 1930 due to several misunderstandings) she gave her first performance in North America as Carmen in Chicago on October 31, 1928. She remained in Chicago until her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on January 16, 1933 as Brangäne.

During the following three seasons she enjoyed great success not only in her Wagnerian roles, but also as Amneris, Azucena, Klytämnestra and Oktavian, but in 1935 became one of the victims of a cost-cutting policy. At 43, Maria Olszewska bade farewell to the stage for the time being and spent the War-years in Großgmain (in the state of Salzburg in Austria). In 1947 she accepted a teaching post at Vienna´s State Academy for Music and Performing Arts. She withdrew after two years. From 1951 to 1955 she returned to the stage of the Vienna Volksoper, where she was heard as Agricola in the Strauß-operetta “Eine Nacht in Venedig“, alone, in over 145 performances. Not much was heard about Maria Olszewska from then on. She spent her last years in Baden near Vienna and died on June 22, 1969 in Klagenfurt.