Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1939 Through 1940
The following program was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation by W. B U R Boston. Boston University radio presents Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966. You are the one. You're cool. To go to. Your hosts are miles cast and Dick is a critic of The New York world for you are and Milton Cross.
The 1939 season found the Metropolitan face with more than its usual share of crises. One of the difficulties was the old run of money or rather the lack of it. This time the crux of the problem was the reluctance of certain box holders to pay the assessment that was leveled on their shares. The only solution that seemed workable was liquidation of all shares. The opera company proposed to take an option for the purchase of the Opera House with a deposit of $100. It then agreed to produce the sum of one million nine hundred and seventy dollars by the end of May 1940. That figure represented the cost of the original construction of the Opera House. This situation led to the need for a huge fund raising drive that lasted throughout the 1939 season. The next problem the Metropolitan and counted was one that affected the whole country. World War 2 as was the case in 1014 the global conflict also had repercussions at Broadway and 31st. This time however the
results were somewhat different. The outbreak of the First World War had signalled an immediate ban on all German operas in 1939 However this was not the case. While one member of the Metropolitan Board did suggest that Wagner and Strauss should be dropped from the repertoire he was voted down. This might have been the result of the fact that in 1909 the Wagnerian operas and they find ensemble of saying is which performed in them rather a mainstay of nearly every season. To have given up a series of almost guaranteed sellout performances would have been a patriotic gesture but a highly impractical one as well. The other consequence of well want to was the way it cut off the Metropolitan's access to many prominent to European artists with both Italy and Germany too abundant sources of operatic talent in the grip of the Axis powers the Metropolitan found that a number of sing is scheduled to make appearances with the company in the seasons to come or able to reach America.
While the ultimate effects of the war are what it take a season or two before they were felt most severely their immediate crisis shook the Metropolitan shortly after the 1913 9 season opened. On November 23rd the Dembski died with practically no warning at all. After 24 years of dedicated service to the company his loss was a tremendous blow. Now with so many performances of Wagner schedule for every season his absence was even more deeply felt but burden was swiftly transferred to the shoulders of Eric Klein's doff who was then is third season at the Metropolitan. The burden was indeed a sizable one for lions doff was called upon to conduct 55 performances in the 1939 season alone. Another important and happier event of the year also had a profound effect on the company's Wagnerian wing understand the 28 Helen trouble arrived at the Metropolitan to
add her fine dramatic soprano to the ranks of the already superb Wagnerian ensemble. Many who had been following her career however felt that this appearance was long overdue. Some of the delay was caused by Madam trouble herself and she revealed some of the events leading up to her metropolitan debut when she talked with Richard Calhoun the producer of our series Mad About trouble your first singing with the Metropolitan was done during what was known as the second spring season of 1936 to 37 and made quite a sensation. Mary Rutledge in a Walter Damrosch brew man without a country how successful were these second seasons I believe the idea of them was to promote young American talent. Yes that was what I think it was originally started for the part of Mary Rutledge. I sang for Walter Damrosch. I had promised him when he was in St.
Louis and he heard me sing there I was the soloist for the St. Louis zinger fest the all the chorus the Germans German choruses from all over the country congregated it was in St. Louis for that season. So I sang dish Toyota Hello from town and. These orders leave us taught and we came. He was impressed and asked if I would sing the part of Mary Rutledge for the Metropolitan people who would. He was wanted to do it there in the Metropolitan and so I said yes I would sing it in his home. But then he kept on talking to me and talking to me about it and finally I succumbed to singing at the Metropolitan. It was not a part for me. My voice was too big for it it was for a lyrical Soprano. But I had
a wonderful reviews from my Juno. But of course I wasn't as happy as that as I was in some of the other things later on. Well it took about two years after that for the main company of the Metropolitan to become interested in you know who's you. I guess what did it with those townhall recitals you gave. Yes and one of the Solomonic symphony concert dedicated to Gilman Laurence Gillman. Yeah and the public reaction more or less force the Metropolitan to come to you. I would say that would not to me but to the Metropolitan Actually I gave a New York recital and then the Ford programs were also in. Going great guns at that time and I sang with Fritz Reiner. The following Sunday in the fall I sang the recital one Sunday the next Sunday I sang with the Ford program in the following
week I saying with Barbara Lee the Laurence Gillman program and I had three Sundays in a row and that probably made a tremendous impression. So the public said why don't we have her down at the the Opera House. Well the original offer that was made to you for your debut was the port of Venice and Kano. Yes I went down and saw Edward Johnson and. With all the applause and the great finish that he had he was very suave person and. We became very good friends later on but in the beginning he said the team they had decided to give me the part of the Venus in town boys. So I laughed at him and told him that this was certainly not apart from me being the buxom lass that I was and he thought that I was just trying to hold out you know
and it became very unpleasant and he kept on saying that I don't know why you don't take the part of penis. This is such a beautiful part musically. And oh I said yes it is but she wears diaphanous gowns and she should be much more beautiful much have a much more beautiful figure than I have and to be slender and lovely and this is not the part of me. So more of the siren. And he said what are you trying to tell me how to run the Opera House. I should know i Washington I left and later on I repeated in the New York Philharmonic program at the New Year at the Carnegie Hall. With. Bob Rowley again. And as a regular weekend of those concerts and the people again said Where's trouble.
And so they asked me to come down and by golly the diff they didn't offer me again the part of Venus and I said no that I wouldn't do it. And he said Here you are trying to tell me how to run my opera company. He said well what part would you like to play and I said I'd like to play a part like in you know a lot of Cura. He says I can press a button and get sick. There are six Linda's in here any time I want I said with an pressure button you don't want me. Well I'm certainly not going to sing part of the mission. And he became very nasty and we had very nasty words and he became very red in the face. And I. It turned up my heels and walked out it was the one time in my life that I tried to slam a door but I couldn't and there was a stopper on the door. But right after that then of course they sent for me again. Well then you finally made your debut as a Glenda
1039. Yeah just a few weeks after that did very well and then went on in the same season to do Elizabeth and the only reservations the critics seem to have was about your acting. You know there was a lot to be desired but subsequently then it too seemed to please him. Then the following season you didn't do too much with that did you. I don't remember I think I was doing as much as I could you see. I didn't have many pots as I went in. I had concentrated on learning how to sing well and the concert and recital music not the entire opera. And through that I neglected learning those because the metropolitan was not my goal. Actually I knew that if I sang as well as I could sing. The Metropolitan would be a part of
my career but that would fall in place just as everything else did in time. Well then at the end of the nineteen forty forty one season two of your colleagues. Who had been doing many of the same parts that you were cut out for. Left the Metropolitan Kiersten Flagstad going back to Norway and Marjorie Lawrence and being stricken with polio did this open many more opportunities for you. Oh yes of course then by that time I was the only one that could hold it down. I know that I could hold those parts don't show I was learning like mad to part so yeah see who are you to a year which is quite a lot when you think that the operas are anywhere from four to four and a half hours and those scenes just well they just kill you when you start out. Well in 1942 then you did your first is older and that was the first American to be told I believe since the Lilium Nordica. That's roster please do you do have that distinction.
Yes I suppose so the main thing that I was very happy about is that it went so well and that it it suited my voice so that my voice suited the part as well as it did. All of our English music did seem to me except the very lyrical ones were just made to order for me. You must have many recollections of the team you worked with at the MET in the Wagner operas because they do. All of them require a team effort. Oh yes. Which of your colleagues would you consider too. You work best with what I eat. I find that that I did most of my singing with Medicare and with the current Ground Zero and also with Kiersten talk of a book. Those singers were the were the ones that I worked the most with. And also Alexander Kipnis was a
great great Wagnerian singer as well as he did other parts everything he did was to me in my opinion great but. There were other parts like Herbert Jansen and he sang so beautifully in the Wagnerian park. You were two or three. Sure. Yes my first year was with Regis shore and then he stopped resisting that year. Another part of your career then was a song with Beecham conducting. Oh he was marvelous to work with he was the he gave you such competition in singing and marching him down in the pit. He was the kind of conductor who was wrecked with you every minute. He was practically on the stage you expected him to to trail up and down on the stage too he was marching all the time and singing while he was conducting. And we know what we did was a little joke we played on him. Sometimes I would talk to him in between the acts if he came back and said something
especially nice to me and then I would say no. So Thomas you're getting a little loud there in the singing the competition is to great in the in the you and I should know if you if you were too loud I'm going to walk right down to the footlights and point my finger at you and he said to who. Well that would be terrible. And I used to do that I used to walk down and point my finger and sing right at him you see and he dont you know that hand would almost go up to his mouth and say oh my fill out. And another thing is marching. He never wore suspenders he would wear a. A belt and the belt would get the trousers would go down farther and farther and farther on on his hips and finally the distance was so great with the white shirt showing. You see so Roberts and I had a pair of suspenders in Broward with it with little sentences on the wood we thought were very cute and he wore them the whole time he did. He'd show them to us as he came up and
pulled them out of the vest and well there were always little things but he was I thought a fine fine musician. You were too of course talking about conductors with Fritz when he came over. Yes I did. He also was and tiny but an entirely different approach in another of your Wagner performances. In good at Enron you actually instituted what is now become a tradition in the sorts we're going into Nancy Asian seen by wanting to wear a cape. Well I'm was at that time even started than I am now. I have lost considerable weight since then but I needed to wait for for my health and travelling and the cold of New York City and the changes you see in the draftee Opera House. But then there were plenty of drafts everywhere you went.
And I used to get soaking wet but I hated to take the cable off I had a vanity coverage. I wanted to cover a figure that was quite stout and I thought the Cape was more attractive and graceful. It was made of silk jersey Adrian the Great could jury out here who did all of the pictures at one time. Did all of my costumes and he did very well by me. And so I wanted to to keep the Cape on for that reason instead of taking the cape off and showing some of the rather large lines that I had. The other being I think that it lent a more graceful. All around I mean the fact the Cape was there Cape washing there made absolutely no difference so far as the opera was concerned. And of course since then every Soprano. Whether for reasons of figure or anything else goes
wearily. Yeah I think it's an interesting sidelight to me you know how these things get started. I wanted to start something else. Me She's an Irish princes and instead of wearing the braids down as they do and had before my time as such as an Indian princes wears as we see here the Indian maidens Pocahontas. So I thought that I would inaugurate by putting the braids up around my head to make a kind of a crown. Not overly big and I used my own hair and then had some here in the switches to. Make the braids so that they would be braided and make a crown which I thought was very attractive not to have that tight close thing the hair all around the neck. But the crowd I tried it for two seasons but the critics would say What is it. Bring it out and say she is trying
to start a new thing we like the braids were a custom to them when we like the braid so I went back to the braids was of that much resistance to why they did they just didn't want the hair up in a one on Geena. I think wore her hair up and so this was too much like button again. You wouldn't think that such a small thing would you know and you know it was some of the other press in the Wagnerian Africa part always swore they'd eat the bridge up and it was such a classical lovely thing. So I thought that I would do what I thought was most becoming. But they didn't want it so they say if you're gay and had enjoyed it so I joined it. Did you find that the Wagnerian repertoire was particularly taxing. Well I went in as a mature singing Agassi so I didn't. I was over 30 when I went in and this was I waited for that U.S. and not
to go. I waited and waited and waited so that I wouldn't go in and I didn't want to go as one of the lesser figures I wanted to go in on top drawer. Which I did and I just built up a great resistance against well against everything it's so. Do you ever want to do anything in the Italian or French repertoire Oh I wanted so badly to do Tosca I wanted to do for the Delta STEEN Oh I love the music of what you do just you know and of course the Tosca I just adored I love color. But Eddie Johnson I would have them on my list and Eddie Johnson would say I'd say well what about the others and mentioning these and he'd say hello and you give us just so many operas here and we have no one to sing them. So we got to try to do what we've got to take fill up your time with what we need you most for. I saying one rule is only part I didn't
say that was not love and I sang one season I sang Rosenkavalier emotion which was lovely but also was not for me. She's kind of a kick coy person which is great for some other singers. But I was brought up on the more. Monumental lines I suppose. And I found that kind of that style was not for me. Well of course you have recently sort of a second career which has made your name known to a lot of people who did not know you perhaps in opera. This of course through your work in nightclubs and of course there was a whole series of events leading up to your departure from the Metropolitan Opera. There was only one event really leading up to it. Well two actually I had in 1958 I had a been a guest of Jimi Duran
on his second television show. And I couldn't imagine the two of us getting along atoned I thought that he would look over at me and say Oh for heaven's sake I've got that big opera singer now that I've got too big in size I meant to worry with what am I going to do with it. So I refused and then I got a call from him and he said I'll come on give it a try so I did. And we got along so well that I loved. I did the operatic aria and then it was done delightfully that he wanted to conduct for me. You know that which has now become a. A tried and true thing that they all do. I had such fun with him and it was such a success. Then he said Well Helen they loved you so much in this. Why don't you try singing in nightclubs and I said Oh I couldn't possibly what in the world would I have for a nightclub audience you know. And he said we're just saying just be yourself.
So I thought Well this seemed rather strange although I'm American born American brought up. I love lot of ill I was brought up in in the voter filled theater practically. Why how could he say this but then he said just take a chance at it. So I had never been in a nightclub before I sang in a nightclub I didn't know what they were like. So my manager arranged it so that I sing a week or two weeks I don't know which it was in Chicago at the cafe Perry and. I just sang a perfectly plain program. Some lead some American songwriters that and I included St. Louis Woman coming from St. Louis I thought I had a perfect right to sing that. And then I had something that I had done with Jimmy the piano player which is he wants to accompany me. Right. Yes well I had
such a good time with that and I ended my program with that as well as some operatic and meta preview of operatic arias. And that gave people everything in this program and I just stood up and sang. I thought that I could get in and out of Chicago without any any food or nothing you know just to let me know whether I I liked. But every paper in the country it seemed to me we were loaded with it with clippings and things that had been picked up so well it must have gotten to Mr. being that I had had a very successful opening in Chicago. And I don't know why he took exception to it but he did. And when I got back to New York I was going back to prepare myself for the opera season. And there was a letter waiting for me when I got there saying that I should stop singing in nightclubs that he thought it was on dignified
and that I shouldn't do it anymore. And it was a very strict. Exacting letter which I felt was a little bit strong too strong. I had no intention of singing anymore in the nightclubs but if I wanted to sing in the nightclubs I certainly wasn't going to be told what I could do since I had dedicated my entire life to singing. Well whether it was nightclubs or your grand opera. I didn't do anything in the end that was undignified. So I wrote him back a letter sending him his contract and thanking him very much that I couldn't go on singing under those circumstances and I took my dignity where I wash. And that was the end of that. I wished him good luck and I see that he's had it. So we've gone I
marry way. Yes. That hill in trouble in the metropolitan management had to come to a parting of the ways was indeed
sad. It took five years for a soprano to arrive at Broadway in thirty ninth Street who could fill the void left by her departure. Next week we'll have the pleasure of hearing from another of the Metropolitan artists who made abuse during the 1939 season. They great Russian Basso Alexander Kipnis. For now this is Milton Cross on behalf of miles cast and Deek hoping you'll be able to join us there and. With. With. With. Boston University Radio has presented Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1883 to 966 the series is created and produced by Richard Calhoun a grant
from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of these programs for national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
- 1939 Through 1940
- Producing Organization
- WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-r785p03x).
- Episode Description
- 1939 -1940. Helen Traubel, soprano, is interviewed about her career. She recalls the incident with Rudolf Bing that caused her to terminate her career.
- Series Description
- Documentary series on history of the Metropolitan Opera Company ("The Met") in its original home at Broadway and 39th Street in New York. "The Met" closed its old location on April 16, 1966. Series includes interviews and rare recordings of noted performers.
- Broadcast Date
- Performing Arts
- Media type
Host: Cross, Milton, 1897-1975
Host: Kastendieck, Miles
Interviewee: Traubel, Helen
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-27 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1939 Through 1940,” 1967-03-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 5, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p03x.
- MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1939 Through 1940.” 1967-03-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 5, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p03x>.
- APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1939 Through 1940. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p03x