Florence Austral on Apple Music

Florence Austral

She was born Florence Wilson, though she acquired the surname Fawaz when her mother re-married, and made her debut under that name. Her ultimate professional name was obviously a tribute to her native country. She had an unforced, powerful Wagnerian voice of uncommon lyric beauty, and sang that repertoire and other leading dramatic in the 1920s and into the early 1930s; the two often shared the role of BrŸnnhilde and the other great heroines in rotation. She had studied at the Melbourne Conservatory and in 1918 went to New York for further vocal training. The Metropolitan Opera is said to have offered her a contract, but she accepted an invitation to go to Covent Garden in 1921. On arriving in London she sang for members of the musical staff and was told that she was a "BrŸnnhilde," which she had not imagined singing until then. She took over the role as a last-minute substitute in Die WalkŸre at the British National Opera Company in 1922.

In another age she might have become a pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano, but these inter-war years had a remarkable richness of that type of singer: In 1924 Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Schumann, and Maria Olczewska all made their London debuts, and soon after came Frieda Leider. Austral is included in this list of important Wagnerians. But in 1930 the first signs of trouble came. Singing WalkŸre opposite the Wotan of Freidrich Schorr in Berlin in 1930, she sank to her knees to sing "Brunnhilde's Supplication" in Act III and found afterwards that she could not rise to her feet. Schorr, realizing her distress and called upon by the staging to turn his back on her, contrived to stand directly in front her so that she could grip the back of his cloak and haul herself up, unseen by the audience. It was the first evidence of a deteriorating neuro-muscular disease. She was able to continue her singing career, but she placed herself outside the orbit of the great European competitors already mentioned (and yet another rising star, Kirsten Flagstadt) by singing in Australia and at America in the leading houses aside from the Met, such as San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Increasingly, she turned to the concert stage, developing a large repertory there, much of which she recorded in those years. She was compelled by the advance of her illness to retire in 1940. Interest in her recordings dried up, and she approached poverty as her illness paralyzed her. The compact disc era began to see a revival of interest in this unusual Wagnerian singer. ~ Joseph Stevenson

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