Traubel, Helen

American soprano, 1899 - 1972

Biographical notes:

She was born in St. Louis in 1899 and grew up in a German-speaking household. She began singing at an early age and made her professional debut with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in 1923. In 1926 she sang the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York. Met’s General Manager Gatti-Casazza was so impressed that he offered her an engagement at the Met, but she declined the offer explaining that she wanted to do further studies. In 1937 she appeared in the leading role of Walter Damrosch’s The Man without a Country at the Met. However no offers for the Wagnerian repertory, which she wanted to sing, were forthcoming. The presence of Kirsten Flagstad and Marjorie Lawrence caused the management to be indifferent to yet another Wagnerian soprano. It was, however, the public that eventually swayed the management’s opinion. After several radio and concert appearances with Dimitri Mitropoulos and Sir John Barbirolli the acclaim and demands of the public opened the doors to the Met. She was offered the role of Venus in a production of Tannhäuser, but she refused wanting to sing Sieglinde in Walküre! After much initial resistance by the management, she was finally allowed to make her Wagnerian debut as Sieglinde opposite the Brünnhilde of Kirsten Flagstad in 1939. During the war years her position changed as Flagstad had left America for Norway and Marjorie Lawrence had contracted polio. Left in sole possession of the Wagnerian repertoire, she quickly established herself as a consummate and highly acclaimed singer. She appeared 176 times on the Met stage (168 times in Wagner operas). She was forced off the stage by the newly appointed General Manager Rudolf Bing. Even more commotion was caused by the reason given for her dismissal. May an Isolde, Brünnhilde and Kundry of the Met concurrently make appearances as a nightclub singer? Bing’s reply was a clear No. Her contract was not renewed and she gave her last performance in 1953 as Isolde. Soon her name was splashed over the posters of the show programmes of New York’s Copacabana Club, the Chez Paree in Chicago, The Sahara hotel in Las Vegas and the Clover Club in Miami. She also appeared on TV, opposite Groucho Marx, Red Skelton and Jerry Lewis. She played in films and appeared in Rogers and Hammerstein’s revue Pipe Dream. She spent the last years of her life in Santa Monica, where she died in 1972.


As Elsa



As Brünnhilde in “Die Walküre”


Recordings: (selection)

Wagner - Götterdämmerung (Toscanini 1941/Melchior)


Wagner - Lohengrin (Stiedry 1950 live/Melchior, Varnay, Hawkins)


Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen (Stiedry 1951/Flagstad, Varnay, Berger, Svanholm, Treptow, Hotter, Frantz)


Wagner - Tannhäuser (Szell 1942 live/Melchior, Thorborg, Janssen, Kipnis)

The Radio Years

Wagner - Tannhäuser (Stiedry 1948 live/Melchior, Varnay, Szekely)


Wagner - Tristan und Isolde (Leinsdorf 1943 live/Melchior, Kipnis, Huehn, Thorborg)

Naxos Historical

Wagner - Tristan und Isolde (Busch 1946 live/Svanholm, Berglund, Harshaw, Ernster)


Wagner - Exerpts from Tristan und Isolde (Rodzinzki 1943)


Wagner - Die Walküre (Leinsdorf 1941 live/Melchior, Schorr, Varnay, Kipnis, Thorborg)

Myto             Naxos Historical

Wagner - Wesendonck-Lieder (Stokowski 1940)


Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior in Wagner

Sony Heritage

Recital (Arias by Gluck and Wagner)

Preiser - LV

Helen Traubel in Concert (1947 - 1951)


Helen Traubel in Rarities on Radio (1937 - 1944)

The Radio Years

Opera Stars sing on Radio Vol. 1

The Radio Years

A 1940’s Radio Hour Vol. 2


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 4



As Isolde



She is one of my favorite Wagnerian sopranos. Hers is a large, heroic and powerful voice, but  achieving a soft tone as well. Generally, it is the quality of the voice that is impressing and the stamina to respond with immense energy to the tremendous tasks of Wagner’s heroines. Her German is excellent. Frequently, there was some shortness in the high register but this was a minor problem in my opinion. Isolde’s Liebesstod is superbly sung. The “duets” opposite Lauritz Melchior are classical performances, splendid her Brünnhilde conducted by Arturo Toscanini. She is a beautiful Elisabeth in a superb cast of Tannhäuser opposite Melchior, Janssen, Kipnis and Thorborg. Isolde’s Erfuhrest du meine Schmach (under Rodzinski) is overwhelming in its fiery expression. The Wesendonck-Lieder conducted by Stokowski (what a musical partnership!) are sung in a warm and “tender” manner. She recorded plenty of songs which she used to perform in night clubs after her opera career.

 Im Treibhaus (Wesendonck Lieder / Wagner / Victor 1940)


A private moment...