Kirsten Målfrid Flagstad was a Norwegian opera singer and a highly regarded Wagnerian soprano. She ranks among the greatest singers of the 20th century; indeed, many critics called hers “the voice of the century.” To quote New Grove: “No one within living memory surpassed her in sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone.”
Flagstad was born in Hamar in her grandparents home. Though she never actually lived in Hamr, she always considered it her home town. She was raised in Oslo within a musical family; her father was a conductor and her mother a pianist. She received her early musical training in Oslo and made her stage debut at the National Theatre in Oslo as Nuri in Eugen d’Albert’s Tiefland in 1913. Her first recordings were made between 1913 and 1915.
After further study in Stockholm with Dr. Gillis Bratt, she pursued a career in opera and operetta in Norway. In 1919, she married her first husband Sigurd Hall. Later that year she signed up with the newly created Opera Comique in Oslo, under the direction of Alexander Varnay and Benno Singer. Varnay was the father of the famous soprano Astrid Varnay. Her ability to learn roles quickly was noted, often only taking a few days to do so. She sang Desdemona opposite Leo Slezak, Minnie, Amelia and other lesser roles at the Opera Comique.
She sang at the city theater of Göteborg, Sweden, between 1928 and 1932. Flagstad made her debut there singing Agathe in Der Freischütz by Weber. In 1930, a revival of Carl Nielsen’s Saul and David featured Flagstad singing the role of Michal. On 31 May 1930 she married her second husband, the Norwegian industrialist and lumber merchant Henry Johansen, who subsequently helped her in expanding her career. In 1932 she made her debut in Rodelinda by George Frideric Handel.