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The Artist Like all other artists Else Brems developed over time
and through the assignments that her career brought to her.
However her core was her natural talent which had been
evident from the nascent of her career.

Click on photos for larger image and info.

Years of study

Else Brems had her talent and her fathers lessons as a starting point when she from 1928 to well into the 1930´s received tutelage from some of the most important artists from the world of opera.
“……I expected an ironic overbearing smile after finishing my first song…….but then the brute said, this being Battistini……that my voice was clear and beautiful and he clapped after Da Unten im Thale!”
”……and the man ( Battistini) even prophesized a great future for me as a singer. Yes, it was insane, but also lovely”

Quotes from Else´s journal
regarding Mattia Battistini, September 1927
Firstly she visited Mattia Basttistini who quickly declared that she possessed a great talent and even clapped after her singing something she was quite humbled by. After this she strived towards developing her voice which was clearly a mezzo soprano. She continued her education abroad: with G. Cunelli and the Dane Povla Frijsh in Paris, Madame Cahier in Berlin and later in 1937 with E. Rosati in New York who had been tutor for the world renowned tenor Benjamino Gigli. Her stay in Paris also evoked her interest for French music and gave her a splendid French pronunciation which would characterize her exceptional interpretation of French vocal music later on.

At only 20 years of age Else Brems had her debut concert in Copenhagen and was discovered by the musical scene of the period.

The Début

Following this her studies with Madame Cahier in Berlin, who was a renowned interpreter of the role of Carmen, would lead to her great opera début at the age of 22 as Carmen at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Even so, she had sensed the doubt of the aptness of her personality for the role by the opera´s director Johannes Poulsen. However this doubt proved unfounded and it was remarked upon how her interpretation of Carmen was sublime both in relation to her singing as well as in relation to her dramatic as Carmen abilities in conveying the personality of Carmen. Carmen would become her greatest role and it greatly influenced her early and later career. She would go on to perform it more than a hundred times at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen.

Carmen – photos from the opera´s staging in 1930

Travels abroad

The 1930´s was to become exciting years for the young Else Brems. She performed as Carmen in the capitol cities of Vienna, Budapest, Stockholm, Warsaw and Prague. The reviewers were unanimous in their praise of her and a grand career was prophesized. Whilst on tour in east coast USA in 1933 one reviewer remarked that she had the potential to become ”the world´s greatest Carmen”.
She visited USA again in 1937 and would perform at The Town Hall in New York and together with The Peoples Symphony Orchestra at Chicago´s Studebaker Theatre. She was engaged to perform as Carmen in 1938 at the Wiener Staatsoper by the famed director Bruno Walter. She also performed as Carmen at Opera Houses in Warsaw, Prague and Budapest during the late 1930´s. However war was looming and her international career was put to a halt. It would chiefly be on the Danish stage that her art would develop further.

On Denmark´s stage

The period of the German occupation of Denmark would provide Else with interesting and demanding opportunities. She became a permanent part of The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and would perform at concerts across Denmark together with her husband Stefan Islandi. One of her career´s most demanding roles was as Bess in Gershwin´s Porgy and Bess in which she performed together with Danish Royal Opera singer Einar Nørby as Porgy. The play takes place in an African-American milieu in USA and thus all Caucasian players wore dark body and face make-up. This was not appreciated by the German occupation authorities and the theatre even received bomb threats. But it was an exciting role for Else and the play was a big success. Else Brems would later perform at celebrations after the liberation of Denmark in 1945 during which she performed as Elizabeth Munk in the Danish patriotic play ”Elverhøj”.

Photos from the staging of Porgy and Bess in 1943:

Being part of The Royal Theatre meant a repertoire, that included Cornelia in Händel´s “Julius Cæsar”, Orpheus in Gluck´s “Orpheus and Eurydice”, Lola in “Cavalleria Rusticanna”, Lucretia in “The rape of Lucretia by Britten” and Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro”. Furthermore she became important to newer Danish musical drama when she performed the title roles of Knud Åge Riisager´s ”Susanne” and Ebbe Hamerik´s ”Marie Grubbe”. Both roles were especially written for her.
But Else didn´t work on the stage solely. She also created a great career for herself as oratory singer and was the apparent choice as alt soloist at conductor Mogens Wöldike´s many performances of the works by Bach and Händel. Furthermore Else focused on concert performances. She often performed on radio and in The Tivoli Garden´s concert hall. She was also a acclaimed and sought after Lied-singer. On an award winning record, released in 1955, her art of the German lied genre is evident. The writer Jens Louis Petersen , who was a Lied connoisseur, placed her above stars like Schwarzkopf and even Fischer-Dieskau. He wrote in his memoirs: ”Never before have I experienced the singer and song become so intensely one”
After the war she toured both in Denmark and abroad where she performed at Covent Garden in 1948. When performing as a Lied-singer the works of choice were often Schubert and Brahms which were very dear to her as well as French songs by Ravel and Debussy. Of the Danish composers Else especially favoured P.E. Lange-Müller.
Her long career and success meant that she became Royal Court Singer in 1946 and was awarded the highest Danish honour of the art world; the Ingenio et Arti medal by King Frederik the 9th in 1953. Furthermore she was lauded by receiving the Tagea Brandt Travel Grant in 1945, becoming Honorary artist of The Danish Student Association in 1950 and receiving The Ingrid Jespersen Grant in 1955. At her Silver Jubilee at The Royal Theatre in 1958 she performed as Lucretia in Benjamin Britten´s “The Rape of Lucretia” and received tributes on the stage thereafter. The jubilee was also celebrated at a Jubilee concert in The Tivoli Garden´s Concert hall.
The Danish press reported from the moment when Else Brems receives tribute on the stage of The Royal Theatre on the eve of her Silver Jubilee:

” And the ovations roared – never ending. Five times the curtain was drawn. But then it was also affirmed how loved she is – the proud, humble, magnificent artist”

” Else Brems has captivated her audience from the first time she stepped on stage, she is beloved like few and her art will never be forgotten by those who beheld it”

Her father Anders Brems writes to her on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee in 1955:

” A earnest thank you for the many, many times you have joyed your mother´s and mine hearts with your wonderful voice, art and shining talent. You have, in all that you have touched, been true and natural and always ”filled the stage” ”
She performed her last role at The Royal Theatre in 1961. The role was as the mother in “Hoffman´s Adventure”. The following year she left the theatre. She had come to a cross road in her life which would bring to Århus and Copenhagen as a music teacher and mentor until her full retirement in 1978. When reflecting upon Else Brems´ life as an artist, her colleague Steen Høgel expressed the following in his piece about Else in the Danish Biographical Lexicon of Women; , ”She had it all: musicality, a voice, beauty, imagination and temperament. But she contained more than that. The inexplicable sparkles that abound the great artist; she possessed in bounty and she would become the most important Danish Mezzo Soprano of the 20th century. But in private she was modest bordering on the self-effacing”

Else Brems received the following
honours and grants:

1945 The Tagea Brandt Travel Grant
1946 Royal Court Singer
1950 Honorary Artist by the Danish Student Association
1953 The Ingenio et Arti medal
1955 The Ingrid Jespersen Grant
1956 The Danish Recording Award

” It is first and foremost one of the special traits of Else Brems´ art that she, besides her vocal talent and the elementary dramatic abilities, also possesses the ability, without employing excessive means, to make her characters alive as human beings in a opera milieu which is a times quite unworldly”

By Nils Schiørring 24.11.1950, in the Danish newspaper Berlingske Aften Avis when Else became The Danish Students Association Honorary Artist.

Theatre Roles

Else Brems performed in many roles at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and other stages such as guest performances on domestic and foreign stages. Here is an almost complete list of her performances;
Her debut role as Carmen:
Carmen in Bizet´s ”Carmen” at The Royal Theatre ( 1930). Thereafter more than a hundred performances in the following years as Carmen such as in 1939 with Stefan Islandi.

Else Brems as Carmen Internationally
– either in full stagings or in parts from it : ( 1938-1948)
Staatsoper in Vienna directed by Bruno Walther, the opera in Budapest, the opera in Warsaw, the opera in Prague , Covent Garden in London and the Kungliga Operan in Stockholm.

Roles especially written for Else Brems : Marie Grubbe in ”Marie Grubbe” by Ebbe Hammerik ( 1940)

Susanne in ” Susanne” by Sven Aage Risager ( 1948)

Furthermore Else performed in these roles at The Royal Theatre (Det Kgl. Teater) in Copenhagen:

Eurydice in ”Orpheus and the Underworld” by Jacques Offenbach (1934)

Orpheus in ”Orpheus and Eurydice” by Christoph Wiliblad Gluck ( 1939)

The frivolous lady in ”L´heure Espagnole” by Maurice Ravel ( 1940)

Maddalena in ”Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi (1942)

Bess in ”Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin together with Einar Nørby (1943)

The Kings daughter Båduild in ”Vølund the smithy” by Holger Drachmann ( with music by Fini Henriques) (1943)

Fotis in ”Satunalia” by Jørgen Bentzon (1944)

Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascaoni (1946)

The queen in ”The Travellers Companion” by Ebbe Hammerik ( 1946)

Cornelia in ”Julius Cæsar” by Georg Friedrich Händel ( 1947)

Rachel in ”Church and Organ” by Johan Hye-Knudsen (1947)

Cherubino – the page in ”The Marriage of Figaro” by W.A Mozart (1948)

One of the three Ladies in the “The Magic Flute” by W.A Mozart ( unknown year in the 1950´s)

Marchesa Beatrice in ” Rosaura” by Knud Jeppesen ( 1950)

Mrs Malfred in ”Liden Kirsten” by H.C Andersen. Music by J.P.E Hartmann ( 1951)

Larina, The Lady of the Manor in ”Eugen Onegin” by Tschaikowsky (1951)

Mrs. Heering in ”Albert Heering” by Benjamin Britten ( 1953)

Lucretia in ”The rape of Lucretia” by Benjamin Britten ( 1955)

The Dryad in ”Ariadne from Nexos” by Richard Strauss (1959)

The mother in ”Hoffman´s Adventure” by Jacques Offenbach. (1961) – Her last performance at The Royal Theatre.
Stage role – non opera:
EElizabeth Munk in ”Elverhøj” by J. J. Heiberg – performed at the open air theatre in the Dyrehaven forest close to Copenhagen and on stage at The Royal Theatre. She rehearsed the spoken lines with the famed Danish actress Bodil Ipsen. ( 1942)

Role at the TV theatre at Danmarks Radio – DR.
As mother Karen in ” Høst” by Svend E. Schultz . Broadcast in 1961.

Concerts – a selection

It has never been established how many concerts Else Brems took part in. She had concert performances on small and grand stages in Copenhagen as well as in the rest of Denmark and internationally. Furthermore she also performed pro bono at several charity concerts. She often performed with songs from her iconic roles on stage however she also performed with songs by other classical composers such as Brahms, Händel, Debussy and Ravel:

A concert at the Odd Fellow Palace 1928: The debut as a concert singer

Concerts together with her husband the tenor Stefan Islandi. Their concerts were much loved both on grand and smaller stages across Denmark and received great reviews.

Thursday concerts at the Odd Fellow Palace, Copenhagen

Concerts in The Tivoli Gardens concert hall

Radio concerts at Danmarks Radio

Christmas concerts – often relating to charity.

Celebratory concert in Tivoli on the occasion of Kong Christian X´s 30th year reign Jubilee in 1942

”Collegium Musicum” – concert at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum with works by Mozart and others. Else Brems sang Italian arias which had been popular during Mozart´s lifetime.

Concerts with conductor Mogens Wöldike; often with works by Bach and Händel

Thursday Concert with conductor Paul Klecki and the symphony orchestra from Danmarks Radio.
Else performed the Alt-Rapsodie by Brahms. A concert which received splendid reviews and was released on LP too.

Memorial concert for the composer Edvard Grieg during which Else performed ”The Swan”, ”Monte Pincios” and ”The Dream”.

A matinee for ”Vore Smaabørns beklædning” ( Clothing our Children).
A charity concert in 1941. Else Brems performed an aria from ” Samson og Dalila” by Saint-Saëns.

Concerts in Sweden: Malmø, Stockholm, Helsingborg and Göteborg.

Concerts in Norway. Among these a concert in Oslo with the Philharmonic.
During this concert Else performed arias by Saint-Saëns and Debussy among others.