Florence Easton & Lauritz Melchior “Siegfried. O weib! jetzt lösche den brand” Wagner’s opera (1932)

Tim Gracyk

  • Release Date: 19 Des 2014
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Florence Easton and Lauritz Melchior sing “Siegfried. O weib! jetzt lösche den brand” from Richard Wagner’s Siegfried on Victor 7763 , recorded in 1932.

Both were great singers, but I'll give details about Easton's career here, and I'll cover Melchior elsewhere.

This outstanding soprano was born in South Bank, Middlesbrough (or Middlesbrough-on-Tees), England, on October 25, 1882. When Florence was small, her family emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where the girl studied keyboard and singing.

Around age 18 she returned to England (in 1900) to continue her studies at London's Royal Academy of Music.

She next lived in Paris to study with Elliott Haslam. This variety in her background helped her become one of the most versatile singers of her generation.

In Newcastle in 1903 she made her debut in a minor role as the shepherd boy in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser.

Soon afterward she sang at London's Covent Garden in Roméo et Juliette as Stephano (Shakespeare's play has no character named "Stephano," so this is an odd role for any singer).

She played the lead as Arline in The Bohemian Girl and was loved by London audiences.

In May 1904 Easton married Francis MacLennon, an American tenor, so her name in many books appears as Florence Easton MacLennon.

The marriage produced two children, and this family moved to America in 1905, the husband MacLennon touring in Henry W. Savage's Parsifal tour.

Florence made her North American debut as Gilda in Boston in November 1905. She also appeared as Gilda and Marguerite in Montreal and Toronto.

She was very successful as Cio-Cio-San in the American premiere of Madame Butterfly, singing the role in English instead of the original Italian. But singing for the Metropolitan Opera would be far more prestigious than singing with touring companies. On December 7, 1917, Easton made her debut at the Met (staying thirteen years) as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana.

Great acclaim came from performances in Madam Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, Aida, and Tosca.

She was successful as a recording artist, her voice coming across without blasting. Easton made over a hundred records from the World War I years onward, working for Odeon, Aeolian-Vocalion, Brunswick, and Edison. She started with "acoustic" recording (singing into a horn) and made a smooth transition to "electric" recordings (singing into a microphone) when that new technology was adopted by studios.

She entered a recording studio for the first time in 1918. The Aeolian-Vocalion company was new to the industry. In New York City in that year, Easton recorded 8 operatic and five other titles. Bigger companies jealously guarded important patent rights (the Victor Talking Machine Company and Columbia--they used a "lateral" process for records), so the Vocalion company recorded with a vertical (or "hill and dale") method. Such discs could not be played on Columbia machines or Victrolas--the discs sold poorly.

Easton's Brunswick discs are more satisfying. They were issued from 1921 to 1926. By the latter date she was recording into a microphone, her voice captured in a richer way than before, so it is a shame she did not record more opera on electric discs. One Brunswick singing partner was Mario Chamlee, a tenor overlooked today due to a plethora of fine tenors at that time.

Her records show incredible diversity--operatic (all types!), sentimental, Lieder. She sang in Spanish, Italian, German, and English. Her finest moment on record may be from the opera Siegfried, her partner being Lauritz Melchior--likewise in his prime.

Sometimes diversity did not serve the singer well. Brunswick electrical numbers sung in English include dated material such as "I'se gwine back to Dixie," "Croon Croon Underneat' De Moon," and "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane." Easton deserved better material.

Easton next made discs for Edison though little was actually issued on Diamond Discs--two numbers by Richard Wagner.

In London she recorded with the famous Gerald Moore on piano. A bit of Easton's 1939 Julliard recital was issued by the International Record Collectors Club.

She retired from public performances in 1939 but consented to an appearance at New York Town Hall for a song recital in 1943. At the end of World War II she moved with her husband to Montreal, Canada, but returned to New York in 1950.

She suffered from heart trouble late in life and died on August 13, 1955, in Montreal, at the age of 72.