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Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, August 2009

This Medici Arts release provides a fascinating glimpse into an entire era of German operatic life, raises anew the many vexing questions about the role of artists during the Nazi regime, and, above all, provides a welcome reminder of a truly great tenor. (I found the experience of seeing a documentary about the real Nazi era to be somehow even more meaningful than usual at a time when some Americans are shamelessly and ignorantly hurling the charge of “Nazi” at health care debates.)

Max Lorenz may not exactly have been Hitler’s Siegfried. After all, as this documentary film by Eric Schulz and Claus Wishmann points out, Hitler demanded that Lorenz be banished from Bayreuth after the singer was arrested in a gay liaison (that Lorenz was married to a Jewish woman only added to his precarious situation). But there was no question that the German public saw and heard in Lorenz the personification of the heroism that Wagner celebrated in his operas. The tenor’s stature and magnetism onstage were hard to beat. No wonder that Winifred Wagner, the controversial woman who ran the festival at Bayreuth and maintained a very friendly relationship with the dictator, told Hitler that if she had to fire Lorenz she’d close Bayreuth. The tenor stayed. Lorenz and, more remarkably, his wife continued to avoid arrest and managed to survive the war.

That story makes for particularly fascinating telling in this valuable film, which offers a good deal of vintage footage as it relates the singer’s career. Contemporary commentary from such distinguished artists as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Waldemar Kmennt and Rene Kollo add insights into what made Lorenz such a notable tenor. I only wish the filmmakers didn’t show quite so many tight close-ups of those interviewees blissfully listening to Lorenz recordings. (Speaking of recordings, the DVD comes with a valuable bonus—excerpts from “Siegfried” recorded live in Buenos Aires in 1938.)

Some of the most effective stuff in the documentary shows Lorenz himself in his late years, discussing his life and, touchingly, singing music by Strauss and Verdi with a lot of vocal quality still left in him. You can feel how much he loved to sing, how much he hated to give it up.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, June 2009

This DVD-CD combination, bound to make a splash among Wagner haters, Wagner lovers, Bayreuth groupies, holocaust activists, and other anti-Nazi organizations, reexamines the whole issue of blaming artists who stayed or returned to an oppressive homeland during the ugly 1930s, and how much they were implicated in the politics of that country. This is certainly a rich lode for research and storytelling, and to do even the German scene full justice one would need to write a book, not an article; yet since Heldentenor Max Lorenz was one of the Nazi “superstars,” despite never being a Party member but, rather, a homosexual in addition to having (and protecting) a Jewish wife and mother-in-law, his story is certainly one of the most complex and interesting, whatever you may think of his vocal gifts.

My first exposure to Lorenz was his 1950 La Scala performance of Götterdämmerung under Furtwängler, another complex and controversial figure in the whole mixed-up field of art vs. politics in that era. The tenor was not in good voice, which I’ve since learned was typical of his post-war performances. Indeed, he is merely loud, blustery, unsubtle, and wobbly. After watching this DVD and listening to the accompanying CD, my impression of him is revised somewhat. He never was a subtle singer nor, in many performances, a musically correct one—he often fudged the rhythm to suit himself—but in his prime, roughly 1928–1943, he had a tremendously impressive instrument, much like Giovanni Martinelli’s, a “trumpet tone” that was very difficult to record properly. You can hear him at his best in the rehearsal clip of Walther’s Prize Song and in the stage performance snippet of the Götterdämmerung duet with soprano Frida Leider in 1934.

To put it diplomatically, I feel that one must be German in temperament and cultural upbringing to appreciate the monotonous, unsubtle belting of Lorenz as great art, regardless of his passionate commitment to his roles or the splendid sound of his voice. Richard Wagner was a huge fan of bel canto singing, and spent most of his compositional career trying to reconcile its virtues—long, unbroken legatos, mordents, dynamic shading, and trills—into the Weltschmerz of his haunted kings, dukes, gods, princesses, and heroes. Again, this is a topic worthy of a book, not a quick review, but you get the point. Jacques Urlus, Leo Slezak, Set Svanholm, Wolfgang Windgassen, and René Kollo would have been prize tenors for him. Max Lorenz would not.

Indeed, as one threads through the deftly woven fabric of Lorenz’s life, one comes to the conclusion that he headquartered at Bayreuth for two reasons. First, his natural insecurity and stage fright needed a stabilizing hand to “walk him through” performances, and at Bayreuth that hand belonged to conductor and music director Heinz Tietjen. Second, he enjoyed being the big fish in the small pond, particularly when that small pond was the Wagner shrine. At Bayreuth, he could be the Greatest Heldentenor in the World; elsewhere, he had to compete with Urlus, Slezak, Paul Franz, Lauritz Melchior, and in later years, Svanholm, Windgassen, and Ludwig Suthaus. Each of these Heldentenors could outsing him in musicality, phrasing, and subtlety, but fortunately for Lorenz, they shunned Bayreuth during the Nazi years.

There are several indications throughout the DVD of Lorenz’s antipathy towards the Third Reich, most notably his using personal funds to help Jews escape and protecting his wife and mother-in-law from arrest. Reichminister Joseph Goebbels wanted the Lorenz women killed at the concentration camps, but both Winifred Wagner (in one of her rare moments of challenge to Hitler) and, oddly enough, Goebbels’ wife, interceded on his behalf. Goebbels was forced by the direct order of Hitler to change his written instructions from “round ’em up” to “leave them alone.” Most important in Lorenz’s defense, to me, is the support given him not by Winifred Wagner but by Friedelind, nicknamed “Maus,” the Wagner who despised Hitler and barely escaped Germany with her life in 1941 (thanks to the intercession of Arturo Toscanini, pulling strings from New York to create a complex network of allies to rescue her). Friedelind did not say kind things of those she thought to be Nazi suck-ups; therefore, Lorenz was innocent of this sin. Indeed, on the evening Goebbels’s minions tried to arrest his wife and mother (Mrs. Goebbels held them on the phone long enough for both women to escape), Lorenz had the audacity to cancel a performance of Meistersinger to be given the next night in Vienna in the presence of the Führer. Lorenz had incredible power within Germany.

In the lens of posterity, Lorenz’s greatest gift to the arts was undoubtedly the strenuous but valuable voice lessons he gave to three American expatriates, Jess Thomas, James King, and Jean Cox, all of whom became outstanding Wagnerians, and all much better stylists than was their master. But if Lorenz was unsubtle and a bit sloppy musically, he did know one thing, and that was how to build a voice. “I am not easy with them,” he said during a late-1960s interview. “I work them hard, like we were worked in the old days!” Bravo, Max! And, like bass-baritone Michael Bohnen, soprano Erna Berger, and so many others, he was unfairly branded a Nazi during this era because of his activities in Bayreuth. This stung him to the quick. In point of fact, he was one artist who was quickly exonerated after the war because of his Jewish ties and his non-involvement in the Nazi Party. He was singing again at Vienna by the fall of 1945, and was one of the very few Bayreuth artists of the Third Reich welcomed back to the Metropolitan Opera with open arms in 1947 (something not even mentioned in the DVD).

Indeed, if one needs proof that Lorenz was no Nazi, the accompanying CD of act I and parts of act II of Siegfried provides it. Here he is in 1938, surrounded by three men who turned their backs on Germany and headquartered in London or New York: bass Emanuel List, baritone Herbert Janssen, and conductor Erich Kleiber. None of them would have performed with a Nazi at this late date. Ironically, it is a horrid document of Lorenz’s Siegfried, not only sonically (long stretches of distortion mixed with bits of clearer sound but a crossfire of ticks, pops, and swishes), but also artistically. I was shocked to hear Kleiber conduct so badly: way too fast, and not merely fast but unstylishly and shallow in feeling. Critics have complained that Albert Coates and Joseph Keilberth were too fast and glib in their Wagner performances, but both of those men had real feeling and sweep in their conducting. Kleiber here shows no empathy for line or sweep. Lorenz himself is often so far off mike that his voice is merely an echo, but even when he does zone in you hear the same thing as elsewhere, a splendid trumpet tone with no phrasing and no subtlety.

This is a fascinating historical document of an era, and a particular singer in that era, which tells a complex and oft-surprising tale (e.g., that Siegfried Wagner himself was bisexual), but appreciation of Max Lorenz as an artist still remains, for me, a question mark.

Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, May 2009

In this 2008 documentary for Swiss television, producers Eric Schulz and Claus Wischmann take a fascinating look at the principal German heldentenor of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The documentary analyzes the way the Third Reich combined its own heroic ideal and its attitude to the Wagnerian operas. It also seeks answers about Lorenz’s career and complications caused by his private life. In public Lorenz was out-going, exuberantly secure, but privately he was plagued by insecurity, inhibitions and shyness. He also was married to a Jew and was homosexual, a fact that had to be hidden from Hitler. Winifred Wagner’s intercession on behalf of Lorenz and his wife allowed both to continue unharassed. The episode of Lady Chichester is smilingly revealed.

Archival footage from four decades gives glimpses of Bayreuth and its Wagner Festival, the political machinations of the time, eyewitness accounts from colleagues and interviews with Lorenz. A treasure trove of photographs illustrates the story. Commentary (in German) by singers Hilde Zadek, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Waldemar Kmentt, and Rene Kollo are supplemented by insights by Walter Herrmann (Lorenz’s biographer), Klaus Geitel, and Michael Wessolowski, writers on music, and dancer Lieslott Tietjen. The narration is in English with subtitles for the interviews. A 74-minute CD is included of Lorenz at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires at the height of his powers (1938). From Siegfried Lorenz is heard in the complete first act and excerpts from Act 2. The sound is quite wretched sometimes, but well worth the trouble.

Frank Swietek
Video Librarian, May 2009

Max Lorenz (1901–75) was a great Wagnerian heldentenor in Nazi-era Germany—a favorite of Hitler and many of his top lieutenants. Lorenz also happened to be a homosexual with a Jewish wife (when Lorenz was brought up on charges for a dalliance with a young man, the highest authorities intervened to block the prosecution, and when the SS tried to arrest his wife and mother-in-law, Hermann Goering himself gave the order to desist). As Eric Schulz and Claus Wischmann’s documentary makes clear, however, Lorenz was first and foremost an extraordinary actor-singer who practically owned the role of Siegfried in the 1930s. Combining extensive archival stills and footage together with recordings of Lorenz in his prime and excerpts from a late-in-life interview, Wagner’s Mastersinger presents a remarkably thorough and insightful portrait of the life and career of Lorenz, peppered with appreciative comments from great singers—soprano Hilde Zadek, tenors Waldemar Kmentt and René Kollo, and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau—as well as dancer Lieselott Tietjen, biographer Walter Herrmann, and writers Klaus Geitel and Michael Wessolowski. Presented in PCM stereo, the DVD is bundled with an audio CD featuring excerpts from a 1938 Buenos Aires performance of Wagner’s Siegfried with Lorenz. Highly recommended.

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, May 2009

Medici Arts has outdone itself here. This is a remarkable DVD and CD combination. The DVD consists of an enlightening 53-minute documentary on the great tenor, Max Lorenz, while the CD offers substantial excerpts from Siegfried (note that there are some cuts in act I, which were an accepted part of Wagner performance practice at the time).

The quality of the DVD is outstanding. The film, by Eric Schulz and Claus Wischmann, is informative from first to last, offering something for the Lorenz novice and the Lorenz aficionado alike. Narration is in English, with many of the interviews in subtitled German. It tracks Lorenz’s life through parents, student years, early successes, his time at Bayreuth and beyond. Issues such as homosexuality and the fact he was married to a Jewess are tackled head-on with honesty and directness. Remember that Lorenz was active as Bayreuth’s major Siegfried and at various times enjoyed the protection of both Goering and Hitler himself.

One of the joys of this set is the interviews of such luminaries as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Waldemar Kmentt, René Kollo, and Hilde Zadek. Liselotte Tietjen, widow of the powerful conductor Heinz Tietjen, also contributes. Statements are, of course, uniformly laudatory. Some talk of worshipping him “like a God” (Zadek); Fischer-Dieskau talks of Lorenz’s “clarion quality” and his expressivity, while Kmentt compares his voice to a trumpet. Of course, there is much coverage of Hitler’s Bayreuth, including discussion of the stagings of this period.

There are stories to entertain, little pieces of tittle-tattle, such as Lady Chicester’s offer to his wife to marry Lorenz for one million dollars; plus musical excerpts to titillate: Strauss’s Zueignung with piano accompaniment in Munich in 1961 and Otello’s death (Verdi, two of the few non-Wagner excerpts; there is also a “Celeste Aida” from Vienna in 1942, sung in German). Most fascinating of all, though, are the Wagner excerpts, many with visuals. In them, we hear the attributes the commentators mention, most obviously the open-throat easiness of delivery of these Heldentenor roles and the superb, lyric timbre that was characteristic of him (he is mentioned in the same breath as Björling, Nilsson, and Flagstad as having a “Nordic” sound). Incidentally, if you want to hear Lorenz in the complete role of Radamès, there is a Frankfurt 1952 performance available with Christa Ludwig as the Priestess, conducted by Kurt Schröder, on the Walhall and Myto labels. I own the Walhall, and it is well worth a spin.

Lorenz influenced and taught James King (with whom he seems to have had a close relationship), Jess Thomas, and Jean Cox. (Myto has, incidentally, issued a performance of Cox as Siegfried from Rome conducted by Sawallisch.)

The sound on the Siegfried is extremely varied, from the miraculously clear (for 1938) to the nearly unlistenable. (There is significant, wide “wow” at many junctures, and the whole shebang zooms into the distance around five minutes in. True, it refocuses after a minute or so, but you get the general idea that this is a bit of a helter-skelter sonic ride.) The fact remains, though, that this simply must be heard. Erich Kleiber’s direction is fleet of foot, and the orchestra is keen to keep up, reacting with razor-like reflexes at times and only occasionally struggling. Erich Witte’s Mime is believably irritable. Herbert Janssen’s Wanderer sounds as if it is lacking some depth of voice and we lose some of the significant moments to wow. The third scene brings Siegfried into his absolute element, and Lorenz relishes every moment. The climax comes at one of the most famous passages in Siegfried, “Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!” Here one really can hear what those interviewed for the DVD mean when they talk about Lorenz’s preternaturally easy delivery. The energy in the final moments of act I is astonishing. This is drama, pure and simple, as are the excerpts from act II. As a lapsed horn-player, I feel I should point out the excellent contribution of the fine but unnamed player for Siegfried’s horn call. Emanuel List is a commanding Fafner. Just a pity the disc cuts off so abruptly, but really one shouldn’t complain in a document of such interest.

Unhesitatingly recommended, despite the sonic problems of the Siegfried excerpts.

Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, April 2009

Born in 1901, Max Lorenz’s career is traced from choir boy to super-star in Bayreuth and elsewhere during the 1930s and beyond. Intriguing films of his Siegfried give credence to his reputation as the heldentenor of the era. Film and narration together with comments by his contemporaries describe his social life with the in-crowd in Bayreuth. His wife was Jewish and he stood with her, despite the Nazis. He was shielded by Winifred Wagner who used her influence with Hitler on his behalf. But fame is fleeting. Lorenz sang his last Tristan in Dresden in 1960. Waldemar Kmentt recalls that “After his final performance at The Vienna Opera they just let him go home as if nothing had happened. No one from the management came to give him a proper send-off. I felt deeply ashamed for the Vienna Opera.” There are trailers of scenes from four Wagner music-dramas on the DVD featuring latter day heldentenors in leading roles that, perhaps unintentionally, confirm Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s summing-up, “Today you won’t find anyone who could hold a candle to him. No one. Hot air, that’s all.” The accompanying CD contains a document of Lorenz at his best. Extensive excerpts from Siegfried are conducted by Erich Kleiber, recorded in the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires on October 4, 1938 with Max Lorenz, Erich Witte, Herbert Janssen and Emanuel List.

Tim Pfaff
Bay Area Reporter, April 2009

These are hard times for opera to be sure, but as if to provide some perspective, along comes Eric Schultz’s and Claus Wischman’s documentary film Wagner’s Meistersinger—Hitler’s Siegfried: The Life and Times of Max Lorenz, just released on DVD (Medici Arts/EuroArts). Its chronicle of the career of the German tenor makes it clear how much tougher things could be. One of the most celebrated and beloved singers of his day, Lorenz was a gay man married to a Jewish woman during the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

As it should, the film begins with the music: Lorenz’s thrilling recording of “Allmacht’ge Vater” from Wagner’s Rienzi, immediately revealing a voice whose like we have not heard since. But this savvy biography successfully maintains multiple story-lines, and in addition to the singer, we are shown the man whose celebrity was rivaled perhaps only by Hitler’s, the darling of Bayreuth who paid for his sexuality be being put on trial for it there—and the husband whose genuine love for his wife literally saved her life and those of others.

Lotte Appel, a Jew and Lorenz’s agent, knew that the man she was marrying was gay. At the time they married, in 1932, theirs was not an uncommon arrangement. What made it uncommon was the degree to which they stood by one another. She helped him become Germany’s Siegfried, and when Goebbels’ goons had her life in their cross-hairs, it was that very identity, and celebrity, of his that spared her, when Hermann Goering, acting as a proxy for Hitler himself, intervened on her behalf.

The musical documentary evidence alone would make this film invaluable. Generous snippets from Lorenz’s greatest recordings strike you dumb as, one by one, his Siegfried and Tristan, Radames and Otello emerge as captivating, whole, distinctive characters who share only that big, generous, open-throated sound that was so uniquely Lorenz’s. Even if this film were the first time you heard Lorenz sing, the voice would stick in your ear.

Rare film footage of Lorenz in Wagner productions at the “new Bayreuth” between the World Wars adds immeasurably to our picture of the legendary Heldentenor—and what pictures they are. To the 21st-century eye, Lorenz’s “heroes” are so androgynous as to defy belief. As the color still of his Siegfried printed with this review (and used as the booklet cover for the DVD) shows, the heroes Lorenz created—and his culture devoured—were hardly alpha males.

Wagner’s Meistersinger—Hitler’s Siegfried gives us the cultural and aesthetic context to see Lorenz’s image as a product of his era. Before it broaches the subject of the tenor’s own sexuality, it shows us Richard Wagner’s son, Siegfried, and speaks openly of his attraction to boys. We then learn that, after Lorenz failed his first Bayreuth audition, Siegfried Wagner—as a consolation prize?—introduced the aspiring tenor to his friend, the painter Franz Stassen. Then comes a virtual gallery of Stassen’s drawings and paintings of the great Wagner heroes—which were to become the iconography of National Socialism—and in them, we see clearly the face of young Max Lorenz.

Caught in the act

As it turns to Lorenz’s own homosexuality, the film neither flinches nor sensationalizes. It documents a dizzying sequence of events set off by Lorenz’s being caught “in flagrante” with a young man at Bayreuth. After a trial—at Bayreuth, amazingly—Hitler, whose passion for the festival was seen by many of his aides as tacit approval of, among other things, Jews and homosexuals, tried to forbid Winifred Wagner from using Lorenz at the festival again. She said she would obey but would have to close the festival, which couldn’t do without the tenor—and Lorenz stayed.

There’s more, of course, but better let the film tell it.

Some aptly chosen talking heads—including singers Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rene Kollo and Walemar Kmentt, and some Lorenz “experts”—fill out the picture, but none so saliently as soprano Hilde Zadek. “Such greatness does not come from affluence,” she says in the booklet essay. “Such greatness comes from hunger and suffering, from privations and from an age that does not have everything. Today we have everything. These great, titanic performers are no longer born into an age such as ours.”

The set includes a CD with the first commercial release of Act I and the Act II “Forest Murmurs” scene of Wagner’s Siegfried, with Lorenz as Siegfried, from a live Buenos Aires performance conducted by Erich Kleiber on October 4, 1938—the year after Hitler tried to throw him out of Bayreuth. The sound is variable, but what you hear is anything but a tenor on the run. It’s a spine-tingling Siegfried with Lorenz in clarion voice, but it’s also almost shockingly intimate. When this Siegfried sings of his dead parents, your heart breaks.

Robert Croan
Opera News, April 2009

A most touching scene in this insightful and informative documentary about Max Lorenz comes near the end. Lorenz’s voice is heard in Siegfried’s death scene from Götterdämmerung, while the camera shifts among the faces of singers whose recollections of the German heldentenor are laced through the film. René Kollo, a once-renowned Siegfried himself, sings silently along. Hilde Zadek smiles in total rapture. The venerable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau nods with admiration and approving gestures.

Waldemar Kmentt, a tenor who sang a lighter Fach, likens Lorenz’s voice to a trumpet. Zadek calls Lorenz “the greatest by far.” Kollo says, “He was the number-one Wagnerian tenor.” Fischer-Dieskau proclaims at the end, “Today you won’t find anyone who can hold a candle to him.” But their faces tell more than their words.

Had it not been for the events of the Third Reich and World War II, Lorenz (1901–75) might have rivaled Lauritz Melchior as the twentieth century’s most renowned Wagnerian tenor. He sang at the Met with modest success from 1931 to 1934, left to become the leading heldentenor at Bayreuth, then returned to the Met from 1947–50, chalking up forty-eight performances of eleven roles in five non-consecutive seasons.

At Bayreuth, the tenor was not only adulated by audiences but favored by Adolf Hitler. With what Zadek—a German-born Jew who fled to Palestine—calls “a very German voice,” Lorenz became the physical and vocal embodiment of Wagner’s heroes. A film clip of Lorenz as the Götterdämmerung Siegfried (the Act I duet, with Frida Leider as Brünnhilde) shows Lorenz in splendid voice and heroic stature—though not leading-man handsome by today’s standards.

After the war, Lorenz was classified by some as a Nazi singer. In fact, he had a curious and ambivalent relationship with his country’s government. A known homosexual, he married a Jewish woman—perhaps for cover, although he grew to love and depend on her. At the height of his celebrity, he was caught in flagrante with a male coach and placed on trial. When he was to be banned from singing at Bayreuth, Winifred Wagner intervened, claiming, “Bayreuth is impossible without Lorenz.” The tenor received special dispensation for his own homosexuality, as well as for his Jewish connections. He insisted that this protection be extended to his wife and mother-in-law and used his influence to help Jewish colleagues.

In 1945, the tenor emigrated to Vienna, obtaining Austrian citizenship and making the Vienna State Opera his artistic base. He taught younger heldentenors James King and Jess Thomas. Clips of Strauss’s “Zueignung” and the death scene of Verdi’s Otello show him in remarkably good vocal shape well into his sixties and seventies. Yet, as Kmentt points out with some bitterness, when Lorenz retired in 1963, the Staatsoper offered no tribute.

A mixture of artistic success and personal insecurity plagued Lorenz throughout his life. He was conflicted sexually, politically and psychologically but found an outlet for self-expression onstage. He did not cope well out of the spotlight and lived mostly on past glories during his final years.

The tantalizing snippets of Lorenz’s singing in the film are enhanced by a seventy-four-minute bonus CD of excerpts from a 1938 performance of Siegfried at the Teatro Colón. With Erich Kleiber conducting, the tenor’s voice comes through the wavering pitch and dim sonics of the recorded sound with real presence. No less interesting is the commanding Wanderer of Herbert Janssen, a gay baritone who was persecuted and fled to the U.S.—and a distinguished career at the Met—while Lorenz was allowed to remain in Germany.

Manuela Hoelterhoff, February 2009

A new CD/DVD release highlights the odd career of Max Lorenz, Hitler’s favorite tenor. Though homosexually inclined and married to a Jew, Lorenz thrived in Nazi Germany.

Had Lorenz been a singer of Mozart, say, or Puccini, he and his wife would surely have ended up in Theresienstadt, the designated camp for the art elite.

But Lorenz specialized in the heroes of Wagner, especially Siegfried, whose lusty presence animates the last two operas of the “Ring” cycle. And he was one of the greatest, ever.

Oh, to have a tenor today like Lorenz, tall and almost slender, singing effortlessly and radiantly from underneath coiffed locks and sturdy helmet.

Our Wagner tenors often shout for hours before collapsing into heaving lumps. Last season, just for example, the Metropolitan Opera had to field a third tenor when the first Tristan conked out on opening night and his replacement seemed to die long before Isolde.

“Max Lorenz: Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried” is a welcome combo set comprising a biographical DVD and a CD of highlights from a 1938 “Siegfried” performance in Buenos Aires, an interesting rediscovery (with rather poor audio). The appealing DVD includes archival footage, interviews, documents and a group of elderly singers who grow misty-eyed at his memory.


He makes a vivid impression in a Bayreuth rehearsal of 1934 singing a hearty aufwiedersehen to his Brunnhilde, Frida Leider. What clarion tones! She, by the way, was soon banned from the opera stage because she refused to divorce her Jewish husband who fled to Switzerland. Germany had no shortage of Wagner sopranos and Hitler didn’t miss her.

Lorenz first triumphed in Bayreuth in the fateful year of 1933, when the poky little burg also welcomed Germany’s new chancellor and chief opera buff. Until 1940, when he started blowing up the real world, Hitler loved coming here to watch Wagner’s proxies set the stage on fire in “Gotterdammerung.”

It didn’t hurt Lorenz that he also shone in Hitler’s adored “Rienzi,” an early Wagner epic about a medieval Roman rabble-rouser who resembled the Fuhrer.

Yet the tenor’s career nearly collapsed in 1937 when he was found in flagrante and Hitler, who had butchered a lot of homosexual pals in the Rohm purge, thought he might have to jail him for cavorting with a guy. Then he thought of all those long songs without Max and made the criminal proceedings disappear.


Despite such dangerous escapades, Lorenz loved his wife, Lotte, and refused to abandon her, thereby enraging Goebbels, the propaganda minister, for whom mixed couples were a particular abomination. He engineered to have Lotte and her mother dragged off one morning in 1943 by the Gestapo (even with Germany doing poorly in the war, he kept to his priorities).

In the hysterical machinations that ensued, both were quickly saved by the intercession of Hermann Goering, another opera nut who presided over the Berlin Staatsoper and, in his spare time, the air force. He signed a long official letter affirming Hitler’s protection of tenor, wife and mother-in-law. We get a glimpse of the document during the program, along with photos and film snippets of Winifred Wagner, the chatelaine of Bayreuth and Hitler adorant.

Born in 1901 to a butcher, Lorenz continued to sing until 15 years before his death in 1975. He comes off as an openhearted, kind enthusiast, both very dapper and genuine. If he ever reflected on what it was like to sing for evil incarnate, we do not hear about it in this show.


“Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried” is produced by Paul Smaczny and Frank Gerdes for Medici Arts. Speakers include wry star baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and writer Klaus Geitel, who helped Lorenz get on his horse as Rienzi when he was a young super at the Berlin Staatsoper.

In his own memoir, Geitel describes seeing the tenor tremble one night waiting for his entrance. He had just learned that the immensely popular movie star Joachim Gottschalk and his Jewish wife had sedated their son and killed themselves just before the Gestapo arrived to take her and the boy to Theresienstadt.

Nate Goss
Fulvue Drive-in, February 2009

The documentary uses archival footage to assemble a really interesting tale of the man who led and interesting private life as well and uses his recordings as the soundtrack throughout, which only makes for a more fascinating viewing, the CD included is Richard Wagner’s Siegfried that features the entire first act and partial second act from a live Buenos Aires recording in 1938. The documentary is presented in 1.78 X 1 and looks good considering we are getting raw archival footage, the PCM stereo sound is sufficient as well, the CD is a mono recording that shows some serious age, but is a great addition to a very intriguing program.

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