Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fritz Wunderlich

THE WAY they write about him tells you the most. We cannot stand the death of someone before their time, and when they had a special gift, an uncommon something the world is sorely in need of, we are silenced by the thought that perhaps it is true that who the gods love, dies young.

His voice is, indeed, as smooth as the photo I have chosen.

Little is written of him, and what there is has une tone certain to it.

"The esteemed German tenor," begins one writeup. Wunderlich was German, of course, with a violinist mother and choir director father. Urged to pursue classical voice training by theater people who heard him singing as they passed the bakery where he worked, he was granted a scholarship and studied from 1950 to 1955 -- late -- he was born in 1930. He also studied the classical horn which explains his almost supernatural breath control.

"When I listen to Wunderlich's recordings," writes a Ph.D. teacher of singers, and student of the human voice, "I sense a level of excellence and precision never achieved by any other tenor. The clarity of his phrasing, the combined brilliance and velvet-like quality of his tone,and the consistency of his articulation, are unmatched."

In his short, 10-yr. career he "gained the highest respect as a Mozart singer (his first role was Tamino), lending lyrical brilliance to Bach, Schubert and Mahler and melodic tenderness to Bel Canto and light opera roles."

His debut at the Metropolitan, as Don Ottavio, was planned for October 8, 1966, Tragically, on September 17, 1966, a week before his 36th birthday, he died in an accidental fall down a stone stairway at a friend's castle in Heidelberg.

That is all that is said.

One wonders. Our teacher-writer wonders what would have happened had he had 20 more years of the public and critics to spiral him ever more upward.

"Based on his technique," he writes, "my guess is that he would still be singing today. The instrument [his voice] seemed totally immune to the early decline. Based on his personality, I have no clue. Perhaps some of you readersknow what psychological, physical, or emotional baggage he carried, if any. "

So, you see, there are hints.

Another writer writes, "His vocal quality and strength combined with effortless expression and touching lyrical beauty make him one of the truly great tenors of the 20th century and probably of all time.


You can hear clips of his recordings here. Prepare for an experience.

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