About this Recording
8.111001 - TAUBER, Richard: Opera Arias (1926-1946)

Richard Tauber
Opera Arias

On the many styles he essayed Tauber superimposed an individual charm and an uncommon musicality. An above-average pianist and an accomplished conductor he was rated by Percy Kahn (sometime accompanist to Caruso, Mischa Elman and others) the most musicianly of singers. While he was universally lauded as a ‘serious’ lieder recitalist, operetta and lighter fare were, however, to provide his most congenial niche and lasting association. An avowed populist (in his heyday always ready to record a clutch of the latest pop and film tunes), by the mid-1930s Tauber was a screen celebrity and noted forerunner of what we nowadays term crossover –this despite the fact that his illustrious career began and ended in opera, and specifically in Mozart.

Richard Denemy Tauber was born the illegitimate son of theatrical parents in Linz, in Austria, on 16th May 1891. Although a born singer he at first showed little inclination to sing professionally, preferring to nurture his joint talents for piano and composition at the Conservatory of Frankfurt-am-Main, spurred by a burning ambition to become a conductor. Encouraged, however, by a period of vocal study with Heldentenor Karl Beines in Freiburg, in 1912 he was offered a contract by the Wiesbaden Theatre, of which his father had been appointed director, but rejected this for a further year’s study with Beines. In March 1913 he made a more prestigious début at the Neues Stadt- Theater in Chemnitz, as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and a few days later he sang Max in Der Freischütz and virtually overnight secured a five-year contract with the Dresden Royal Opera.

Tauber’s first Dresden contract ran from August 1913 to the end of July 1918, an association which would last, notwithstanding contractual interruptions and appearances in opera and operetta appearances at the Berlin (from 1919) and Vienna State Operas and elsewhere, until 1926. Soon renowned as that rare thing among tenors, a musician, he was ever in demand as a stand-in for indisposed colleagues and his (essentially lyric tenor) repertoire, over sixty operas by more than forty composers, was remarkable in its diversity. In 1915 he sang Bacchus in Strauss’s Ariadne at 48 hours’ notice, after one piano runthrough with the composer, and by the time he made his earliest records (June 1919), critical acclaim throughout Europe and a reputation as a fast learner had preceded him.

Throughout 1921 Tauber made guest appearances, principally at the Berlin Volksoper and State Opera, where his rôles included Don José, Rodolfo and Ottavio, and by 1922 had broken with Dresden to accept a contract with the State Opera in Vienna. There he braved the displeasure of the State Opera management to sing Armand in the new operetta Frasquita (chronologically the fourth tenor to assume the tenor lead) and the opportunity provided him with a break from Mozart, Puccini and Verdi and, more important, his fortuitous first link with the Hungarian Franz Lehár.

In his pre-Lehár days Tauber had already sung the standard operetta repertoire (by Johann Strauss and others) and also had a hand in promoting new works in the genre, from 1923 onwards, by Korngold, Oscar Straus, Benatzky and Kálmán. 1924 marked the start of his friendship with Lehár and in the summer of 1925, in between engagements at the Munich and Salzburg Mozart Festspiele, he stayed at the composer’s retreat at Bad Ischl to work on Paganini. First performed in Vienna (October, 1925) in the event the première lacked Tauber, owing to his prior commitments. The tenor soon assumed the rôle of the legendary violinist, however, and was subsequently indelibly linked with other Lehár creations, notably the Berlin premières of Friederike (1928), Das Land des Lächelns (1929), Schön ist die Welt (1931), and Giuditta, the composer’s last work, first given at the Vienna State Opera, in 1934.

After 1926 Tauber’s career veered irreversibly towards operetta and recital, but over the next decade, however, he continued to record arias from the standard operatic repertoire. A proportion of these turn out to be electrical re-recordings of items previously made by the acoustic process, and many remain stylistic benchmarks to aspiring tenors of the future. Additionally, several of the selections Tauber recorded, between 1926 and 1946, relate to rôles in his repertoire and provide insights into some of his earliest (Dresden) assumptions, notably Der Freischütz, which he first sang in 1913 (recorded in 1946, his incisive, declamatory account of Max’s Durch die Wälder must surely outshine any other version) and Carmen (first performed by Tauber in 1914 –in Don José’s Flower Song, appropriately rendered in its French original, he adheres to the composer’s ‘pianissimo’ prescription for the closing high B flat).

Among other undisputed Tauber gems are Hoffmann’s two airs (albeit sung in German) which for their ravishing tone and soaring line remain unsurpassed by more recent tenors. Tauber was familiar with Offenbach’s opera from 1914, through the secondary rôle of Nathanael, and assumed the more congenial lead several times, in 1917, 1919, 1921, 1923 and 1926. While decidedly no Heldentenor – his forays into Wagner were few (specifically, his only stage-rôle in Meistersinger was Kunz Vogelgesang the furrier, in 1917 and 1920) – he was wont to offer Max’s arias as spirited encores in concert. In 1926, at short notice, Tauber replaced the indisposed Curt Taucher in the German première of Turandot and while he never sang the rôle again, his recorded renditions of Calaf’s now hackneyed solos are fulsomely sung and stylistically interesting (he only briefly touches the high B natural in Nessun dorma but this is not, as one might suspect, out of cowardice or shortness of breath, but rather out of respect for Puccini’s explicit marking for a short penultimate note).

Tauber’s operatic discography contains a number of rarities which he never sang in the opera house but recorded either by choice or invitation. The famous Berceuse from Jocelyn (first produced in Paris and Brussels in 1888) was added to the score as an afterthought by the composer, Paris-born violinist Louis Paul Godard (1849-1895) at the behest of its creator, the tenor Victor Capoul (1839-1924). Once a muchfavoured encore, and also enshrined in creditable versions by McCormack, Gigli and others, it affords Tauber a golden opportunity to indulge his famous pianissimo). The Song of the Indian Guest is a tenor solo from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko (first produced Moscow, 1898); Champs paternels from Joseph (first production, Opéra, Paris, 1807) by the Ardennes-born Etienne-Nicolas, or Henri, Méhul (1763-1817), is a sub- Mozartian air from a discarded work which in Victorian times was frequently given as an oratorio; and ‘Behüt dich Gott’ derives from the opera Trompeter von Säkkingen by the Alsatian Victor Nessler (1841-1890) which, following its 1884 Leipzig première entered the regular repertoire of European opera-houses.

Among the other operas of Germanic orientation, Flotow’s Martha, perhaps rather surprisingly, appears never to have been in Tauber’s stage repertoire. The now unfashionable Tiefland, however, (first produced in Prague, 1903, by the Scottish-born German pianistcomposer Eugène (or Eugen) d’Albert (1864-1932) was, and he sang the rôle of Pedro in the Dresden seasons of 1918, 1920 and 1926. And so too was Evangelimann, the most famous work of the Austrian Wilhelm Kienzl (1857-1941), first produced in Berlin in 1895, which Tauber sang in the Dresden seasons of 1916, 1919, 1921 and 1926.

And so to Tauber’s greatest operatic identification for posterity: Mozart. Die Zauberflöte he first sang in 1913 (and in the 1917, 1921 and 1925 Dresden seasons) and Tamino was to be the rôle of his London opera début (Covent Garden, 2nd May 1938), under Beecham. He sang his first Entführung and Don Giovanni in 1914 and these were his vehicles for the 1922 Salzburg Festival. Belmonte was the rôle chosen for his second 1938 Covent Garden appearance (13th May) and Don Ottavio that of his Covent Garden swansong (27th September 1947), when the tenor was already terminally ill with lung cancer. At this last (as an extant ‘pirated’ recording amply demonstrates), the impeccable breath-control and masterly style remained unimpaired.

Peter Dempsey

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