Rolf Fjelde, whose translations are used for many of the Ibsen productions staged across the United States, died Sept. 10 at his home in White Plains, New York. He was 76.
Mr. Fjelde, a Brooklyn native of Norwegian descent, translated his first Ibsen play, The Wild Duck, in 1956. In the years to come, he would render into English all 12 of the playwright's major prose plays.
His dominance in the field was such that, when J.C. Compton founded the Ibsen Series Off-Broadway in 1998 with the intention of mounting each of the master's plays, she used a Fjelde translation every time. The Ibsen Series concluded this past June with the playwright's final work, When We Dead Awaken.
The Ibsen Society of America has Mr. Fjelde as its founding president. Other prominent productions of his work include a 1981 staging of John Gabriel Borkman at Circle in the Square, Peer Gynt at CSC Repertory, also in 1981, and The Wild Duck, presented in a hailed 1984 staged reading at the American Place Theatre.
His publications include a wide variety of Ibsen collections, as well as "Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essay," and "Twentieth Century interpretations of Ibsen," both of which he edited. Mr. Fjelde pursued a version of Ibsen that avoided the stodginess of most academic translations, while eschewing the liberal cut-and-paste approach of many ambitious artists.
"Ibsen translation," he said, "even down to the present day, has too frequently suffered from a stiff and hobbled diction — or, certainly no better, a cavalier freedom that has cut or padded the text." Critic Harold Clurman called Mr. Fjelde's translations "the truest to the original and unexcelled for theatrical performance."
A curious connection linked the Fjelde and Ibsen clans. Mr. Fjelde's grandfather was sculptor Jacob Fjelde (1859-1896), who was born in Norway but emigrated to Minnesota. He returned to his homeland in 1885 to carve a bust of the playwright. According to the Ibsen Society of America, the writer disliked sitting for artists, but took a liking to the young sculptor, then 26 years old, and patiently sat for the bust. Ibsen later patterned a character in The Lady from the Sea on the elder Fjelde. The bust stands on an eight-foot granite pedestal in Como Park, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, overlooking Lexington Avenue.
Mr. Fjelde's father, Paul, was also a successful sculptor. He created the bust of Abraham Lincoln, which is the only statue in Oslo's Frogner Park that is not the work of Gustav Vigeland.
Mr. Fjelde is survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons.