The Scandinavia House is one of the most delightful destinations in NYC. Just cross-town from the touristy Times Square, it sits quietly, yet alluringly at 58 Park Avenue, offering a restaurant, gift shop and the relaxing, clean lines of Scandinavian design. But that is not all this cultural oasis has going for it.
Art, music and theatrical activities sprinkle the organization's events, and just recently I had the pleasure of attending the play, Flagstad - Triumph and Tragedy, a one-woman show, written and directed by the opera and theatre director, Einar Bjorge.
The Norwegian actress, Nina Bendiksen, took on the role of Kirsten Flagstad, perhaps the world's greatest Wagnerian voice of the last century. Flagstad's beauty of tone, along with her heroic endurance, held the world's attention for decades. Starting out in her native Norway, the singer seemed blessed: born of musical parents, supplied with superior instructors, and introduced to the stage with an easy, natural progression -- she did seem to have it all.
And for quite a time that was the case, until Flagstad faced the Hobson's choice of either staying in the USA or returning to her businessman husband, and a Nazi-occupied Norway.
Though residing in her native country, she performed only in the unoccupied Switzerland and Sweden, but due to circumstances that were beyond her control, the diva's reputation suffered greatly. Flagstad did come out on the other side, though, due to her iconic voice, and strength of character, she was re-engaged by the Metropolitan, ultimately crowning her career by debuting, perhaps, the final great composition of tonal music (1948)--Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs."
The play took place in a sumptuously furnished room (created by Norway's prolific "scenographer," Hans Petter Harboe), with Ms. Bendiksen recalling the singer's adventures, now in her last year, and in failing health. Flagstad is a part that seems difficult to cast perfectly. The towering fleshy diva was played by a nymph-like figure, reflecting a girlish, yet emotionally wise persona. But all of the dialog struck true, due to the script of Mr. Bjorge; the author unleashing the universal observations of the artist, freely flowing throughout the piece.
The enticingly small amount of recordings, as presented by Liew Ceng Teng, left one looking forward to returning home and groping through Flagstad's discography.
Situated in the comfortable "Victor Borge Hall," and produced by the American-Scandinavian-Foundation, the audience was joined by Liv Ullman, to the delight of all in attendance.