Kerstin Thorborg


Born: May 19, 1896 Died: April 12, 1970
Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Thorborg was one of the finest artists before the public during her prime years in the 1930s. Celebrated by critics in London and New York, she was admired for her completeness as an artist, excelling in both opera and concert work, and adept in many areas of the repertoire. Attractive and supple on stage, she was regarded as among the finest actresses in opera. In the company of such fellow singers as Leider, Flagstad, Lehmann, Melchior, and Schorr, she made her era an outstanding one for Wagnerian performance.

The daughter of a newspaper editor in northern Sweden, Thorborg absorbed her parents' interest in music at an early age. After studying with a local teacher, she entered a competition for a place in the Stockholm Opera's school for young singers among three chosen from more than a thousand young applicants.

Upon completion of her training in singing, dance, and stage deportment, Thorborg made her debut at the Stockholm Opera in Aida, achieving a substantial success with her first Ortrud in 1924. The mezzo remained with the company until 1930 (also fulfilling numerous concert engagements) before accepting an offer from the Prague National Theatre and, subsequently, Nuremberg. After a successful series of performances in both houses, she was summoned to Berlin, where she was engaged by the Städtische Oper, singing there from 1932 to 1935. In 1935, she began appearing at Vienna Staatsoper and remained there until 1938. Her Salzburg roles between 1935 and 1937 included Orfeo, Magdalene, Brangäne, Donna Mercedes in Hugo Wolf's rarely performed Der Corregidor, and Eglantine in Weber's Euryanthe. In the midst of her European engagements, she managed to fit in a season at Buenos Aires as well.

In 1936, Thorborg made debuts at both Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, receiving praise for her consummate artistry. Her May appearance in Die Walküre prompted London's very particular Ernest Newman to describe her as "the finest Fricka I have ever seen or hope to see." Later, Newman greeted her Kundry with these words: "She walks like a goddess, sits like a statue; and not a single gesture is wasted throughout the whole evening. All in all, I would rank her as the greatest Wagnerian actress of the present day."

In New York, Thorborg's December debut was again as Fricka, a performance also celebrated as that of a great actress. While critics deemed her somewhat too bright in tone, they greeted her portrayal as altogether exceptional. Thorborg was described as "a woman of regal and distinguished beauty, stately in bearing, slender, tall and straight." The reviewer hailed her as "an actress of intelligence and skill and power." Thorborg's appearances at Covent Garden ended before the outbreak of World War II, but her Metropolitan engagement extended over fifteen seasons, during which she proved herself a mainstay of the Wagnerian wing. In 243 performances, she ranged over nearly the entire range of Wagner roles for mezzo and contralto, also performing such parts as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, Octavian, Herodias, and Marina in Boris Godunov.

Thorborg sang two seasons at San Francisco (1938 and 1943) and in Chicago between 1942 and 1945. Not surprisingly, Thorborg was an avid sportswoman, swimming regularly and enjoying target shooting.

Among Thorborg's finest recording are Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and excerpts from several Wagner operas.