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Lauritz Melchior, whose father was the rector of a private boys’ school in Copenhagen, started singing early, when a voice teacher who lodged in the family home gave all the children singing lessons. He also sang in a church choir in Copenhagen and commenced formal singing lessons in 1908 (as a baritone) with Paul Bang.

At the age of twenty-one Melchior entered the Royal Danish Opera School; and after singing Germont père / La traviata in 1912 with the tiny touring company Zwicki and Stagel Opera, he made his formal debut in 1913 as Silvio / Pagliacci with the Royal Danish Opera. He remained with this company for several years, gradually moving from comprimario to principal roles. One evening while singing di Luna / Il trovatore, he helped the ailing soprano by singing a high C in the Leonora– di Luna duet of Act IV; whereupon the Azucena of the performance, the American Mme Charles Cahier, advised him that he was a tenor ‘with the lid on’.

As a result, Melchior spent 1917 and 1918 studying with the Danish tenor Vilem Herold, moving from high baritone to low tenor with high extension; his second debut was in the title role of Tannhäuser with the Royal Danish Opera in 1918. He auditioned for Sir Henry Wood in London in 1919 and from 1920 sang in Wood’s Promenade Concerts and elsewhere. In England he also met the novelist Hugh Walpole, who provided him with a stipend enabling him to continue studying between 1921 and 1923 with Victor Beigel in London, Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin and Anna Bahr- Mildenburg in Munich. Melchior made his third formal debut as Siegmund / Die Walküre at the Royal Opera House, London in 1924 and was instantly successful. He returned to sing in London annually until 1939; non-Wagnerian roles here included the title part in Otello and Florestan / Fidelio.

In the summer of 1924 Melchior appeared at the Bayreuth Festival as Siegmund and in the title role of Parsifal. He sang at Bayreuth until 1931, where later roles included the title part in Lohengrin and Walther / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He made his debut with the Berlin State Opera in 1925 and sang there regularly until 1939.

At the Metropolitan Opera House, New York Melchior’s first appearance, in 1926 as Tannhäuser, elicited limited interest. He sang in only five performances in his first season at the Met and only two in his second. To build up his repertory, and gain more stage experience, between 1927 and 1930 Melchior sang with the Hamburg State Opera, appearing as, inter alia, Lohengrin, Otello, Radamès / Aida and Jean van Leyden / Le prophète. His breakthrough at the Met finally came when he sang Tristan / Tristan und Isolde in 1929: henceforth until 1950 Melchior was the Met’s undisputed heldentenor, singing all such Wagnerian roles including well over 100 performances of Tristan und Isolde alone, and almost 500 performances in total. Many of his performances were recorded from the regular Saturday matinée broadcasts: these have done much to sustain his reputation. He took American citizenship in 1947.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II Melchior sang throughout Europe, appearing as a guest in Brussels, Milan, Munich, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna; he also sang in Buenos Aires, Chicago and San Francisco. However, when Rudolf Bing took over as manager of the Met in 1950 he quickly terminated Melchior’s contract. This was partly because of his reluctance to rehearse and partly because of his more commercial work, often comedy: between 1944 and 1952 he featured in five films made in Hollywood and in numerous radio and television shows.

Melchior retired (unofficially) in 1955 but continued to make occasional appearances – on his seventieth birthday he sang in a broadcast of the first act of Die Walküre from Copenhagen and sounded in good voice.

Indeed the role of Siegfried, destroyer of many voices, held few terrors for Melchior, who possessed a voice of amazing strength and range. Despite occasional rhythmic vagaries, the warmth and expressivity of his singing swept all before it. To quote the eminent critic Desmond Shaw-Taylor: ‘The heroic scale of his singing, even as experienced through recordings, marks him as the foremost heldentenor of the century.’

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF SINGERS Naxos Educational
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL - Great Voices in Patriotic Song (1905-50) Romophone
BEL CANTO - Tenors of the 78 Era (The) (Documentaries, 2018) (2 Blu-ray Video + 1 DVD + 2 CD Box Set) (NTSC, Blu-ray) Naxos
Opera, Classical Documentary, Opera
BEL CANTO - Tenors of the 78 Era (The)(Documentaries, 2018) (3 DVD + 2 CD Box Set) (NTSC) Naxos
Opera, Classical Documentary, Opera
FLAGSTAD, Kirsten / MELCHIOR, Lauritz: Great Wagner Duets (1939-1940) Naxos Historical
GREAT SINGERS (1904-1952) Naxos Historical
JENKINS, Florence Foster: Murder on the High Cs (1937-1951) Naxos Nostalgia
LEHMANN, Lotte: Lieder Recordings, Vol. 2 (1937-1940) Naxos Historical
MELCHIOR, Lauritz: American Recordings (1946-47) Naxos Historical
Vocal, Operetta, Opera, Operetta, Opera, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Musicals, Vocal, Film and TV Music, Vocal, Operetta, Vocal
Opera Arias / Songs (Baritone): Tibbett, Lawrence - BIZET, G. / LEONCAVALLO, R. / ROSSINI, G. / SPEAKS, O. / WOLFE, J. (1928-1940) Delos
WAGNER, R.: Lohengrin (Melchior, Varnay, Leinsdorf) (1942) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Ring des Nibelungen (Der): Die Walküre [Opera] (Metropolitan Opera, Leinsdorf) (1941) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Ring des Nibelungen (Der): Götterdämmerung [Opera] (Metropolitan Opera, Bodanzky) (1936) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Ring des Nibelungen (Der): Siegfried [Opera] (excerpts) (Melchior, Tessmer) (1929-1932) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Ring des Nibelungen (Der): Siegfried [Opera] (Metropolitan Opera, Bodanzky) (1937) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Tristan und Isolde (Melchior, Flagstad, Reiner) (1936) Naxos Historical
WAGNER, R.: Walküre (Die) [Opera], Acts I and II (Bruno Walter) (1938) Naxos Historical

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