Not being a die-hard fan of Wagnerian and Strauss operas I wasn't as familiar with Frau Behrens' work as I should. Just about the only recording of hers that I keep digging up to play every now and then is the DVD of Mozart's Idomeneo from the 80's. Yep... a bit of an irony, I'm afraid. I bought that DVD almost exclusively because of that unlikely casting of Behrens as Mozart's (rather than Richard Strauss') Elettra.
As someone said in the comment session on Youtube, it was a sort of performance one came to boo and end up on ones' feet brava-ing. And though this clip perhaps doesn't show her in her best musical light, it does provide a good snap shot of the exact quality that made Behrens great and well beloved - she wasn't one to miss the forest for the trees. Music is very important in opera, but it ISN'T everything. Being able to sell the story of the opera to the audience IS. Many soprani out there can sing every note Mozart wrote down for Elettra perfectly, but not many can translate what the notes were meant to represent as convincingly as Behrens could.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when she argued a case in court... The lass actually had a law degree from the University of Freiburg before she decided to become an opera singer! It was almost unfair how mentally acute she was while also being blessed with the dramatic fire that she had. Click here for a glimpse of that brain decoding some of the operatic heroines she portrayed in her glory years.
And here was Behrens in her element. One of the greatest Isolde to ever grace the stage. She wasn't the subtlest of singers or actresses by a long shot, but definitely one of the most sincere.
"Mild und leise wie er lächelt, ---- Mildly and gently, how he smiles,Leb' wohl, Hildegard Behrens. Sie fehlt uns.
wie das Auge hold er öffnet ---- how the eye he opens sweetly.
Seht ihr's, Freunde? --- Do you see it, friends?
Seht ihr's nicht? ---- Don’t you see it?
Immer lichter wie er leuchtet, --- Brighter and brighter how he shines,
stern-umstrahlet hoch sich hebt? --- illuminated by stars, rises high?
Seht ihr's nicht? Wie das Herz ihm --- Don’t you see it? How his heart
mutig schwillt, voll und hehr --- boldly swells, fully and nobly
im Busen ihm quillt? wells in his breast?
Wie den Lippen wonnig mild --- How from his lips delightfully, mildly,
süßer Atem sanft entweht --- sweet breath softly wafts ---
Freunde! Seht! --- Friends! Look!
Fühlt und seht ihr's nicht? --- Don’t you feel and see it?
Hör ich nur diese Weise, ---- Do I alone hear this melody,
die so wundervoll und leise, --- which wonderfully and softly,
Wonne klagend, --- lamenting delight,
alles sagend mild versöhnend, --- telling it all, mildly reconciling
aus ihm tönend in mich dringet, --- sounds out of him, invades me,
auf sich schwinget hold erhallend, --- swings upwards, sweetly resonating
um mich klinget? Heller schallend, --- rings around me? Sounding more clearly,
mich umwallend --- wafting around me ---
Sind es Wellen sanfter Lüfte? --- Are these waves of soft airs?
Sind es Wogen wonniger Düfte? --- Are these billows of delightful fragrances?
Wie sie schwellen mich umrauschen, --- How they swell, how they sough around me,
soll ich atmen, soll ich lauschen? --- shall I breathe, Shall I listen?
Soll ich schlürfen, untertauchen? --- Shall I drink, immerse?
Süß in Düften mich verhauchen? --- Sweetly in fragrances melt away?
In dem wogenden Schwall, --- In the billowing torrent,
in dem tönenden Schall, --- in the resonating sound,
in des Welt-Atems wehendem All --- in the wafting Universe of the World-Breath ---
versinken --- be engulfed ---
unbewußt --- unconscious ---
höchste Lust! supreme delight!"