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Dramatic SopranoHeldentenor

Lauritz Melchior – Heldentenor

By September 25, 2018March 17th, 2023No Comments

Lauritz Melchior (March 20, 1890 – March 19,1973), 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.  He eventually made his debut as a baritone, but like some baritones, there was a tenor hiding underneath.  He eventually became the most famous heldentenor of his day.

I have selected three pieces.  The first is from Die Walkûre.  It is the end of the first act where Siegmund meets Sieglinde, and they recognize that they are brother and sister.  It is not the complete ending of Act 1. The roles are sung by Lotte Lehmann and Melchior.  I say this fairly frequently, but Lehmann is one of my favorite sopranos.  It is a riveting piece.  As I mentioned, this is only part of the recording of first act, conducted by Bruno Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic. It is a very famous recording. If you like part I, part II can be easily found on youtube.

I have this recording on CD. When it was first issued, there was much more noise. In reducing the noise, the remastering process tends to kill the high frequencies. I will try to find noisier examples of Melchior so that more of the voice is heard.

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
in mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz;
auf linden Lüften leicht und lieblich,
Wunder webend er sich wiegt;
durch Wald und Auen weht sein Atem,
weit geöffnet lacht sein Aug’: –
aus sel’ger Vöglein Sange süß er tönt,
holde Düfte haucht er aus;
seinem warmen Blut entblühen wonnige Blumen,

Keim und Sproß entspringt seiner Kraft.
Mit zarter Waffen Zier bezwingt er die Welt;
Winter und Sturm wichen der starken Wehr:
wohl mußte den tapfern Streichen
die strenge Türe auch weichen,
die trotzig und starr uns trennte von ihm. –
Zu seiner Schwester schwang er sich her;
die Liebe lockte den Lenz:
in unsrem Busen barg sie sich tief;
nun lacht sie selig dem Licht.
Die bräutliche Schwester befreite der Bruder;
zertrümmert liegt, was je sie getrennt:
jauchzend grüßt sich das junge Paar:
vereint sind Liebe und Lenz!

Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte
in frostigen Winters Frist.
Dich grüßte mein Herz mit heiligem Grau’n,
als dein Blick zuerst mir erblühte.
Fremdes nur sah ich von je,
freudlos war mir das Nahe.
Als hätt’ ich nie es gekannt, war, was immer mir kam.
Doch dich kannt’ ich deutlich und klar:
als mein Auge dich sah,
warst du mein Eigen;
was im Busen ich barg, was ich bin,
hell wie der Tag taucht’ es mir auf,
o wie tönender Schall schlug’s an mein Ohr,
als in frostig öder Fremde
zuerst ich den Freund ersah.

(Sie hängt sich entzückt an seinen Hals und blickt
ihm nahe ins Gesicht)

(mit Hingerissenheit)
O süßeste Wonne!
O seligstes Weib!

(dicht an seinen Augen)
O laß in Nähe zu dir mich neigen,
daß hell ich schaue den hehren Schein,
der dir aus Aug’ und Antlitz bricht
und so süß die Sinne mir zwingt.

Im Lenzesmond leuchtest du hell;
hehr umwebt dich das Wellenhaar:
was mich berückt, errat’ ich nun leicht,
denn wonnig weidet mein Blick.


(schlägt ihm die Locken von der Stirn zurück und betrachtet ihn staunend)

Wie dir die Stirn so offen steht,
der Adern Geäst in den Schläfen sich schlingt!
Mir zagt es vor der Wonne, die mich entzückt!
Ein Wunder will mich gemahnen:
den heut’ zuerst ich erschaut,
mein Auge sah dich schon!

Ein Minnetraum gemahnt auch mich:
in heißem Sehnen sah ich dich schon!

Im Bach erblickt’ ich mein eigen Bild –
und jetzt gewahr’ ich es wieder:
wie einst dem Teich es enttaucht,
bietest mein Bild mir nun du!

Du bist das Bild,
das ich in mir barg.

(den Blick schnell abwendend)
O still! Laß mich der Stimme lauschen:
mich dünkt, ihren Klang
hört’ ich als Kind.
Doch nein! Ich hörte sie neulich,
als meiner Stimme Schall
mir widerhallte der Wald.

O lieblichste Laute,
denen ich lausche!

Winter storms gave way to the blissful moon
with tender radiance sparkles the Spring;
on balmy breezes, light and lovely,
weaving wonders, on it floats;
o’er wood and meadow wafts its breathing,
widely open laughs its eye:
in blithesome song of birds resounds its voice,
sweetest fragrance breathes it forth:
from its ardent blood bloom out all joy-giving blossoms,

bud and shoot spring up by its might.
With gentle weapons’ charm it forces the world;
winter and storm yield to its strong attack:
assailed by its hardy strokes now
the doors are shattered that, fast and
defiant, once held us parted from it.
To clasp his sister hither he flew;
twas love that lured the spring:
within our bosoms deeply she hid;
now gladly she laughs to the light.
The bride and sister is freed by the brother;
in ruin lies what held them apart;
joyfully greet now the loving pair:
made one are love and spring!

Thou art the spring, that I have so longed for
in frosty winter’s spell.
My heart greeted thee with holy dread,
as thy look at first on me lightened.
Strange has seemed all I e’er saw,
friendless all that was round me;
like far off things and unknown, all that ever came near.
When thou camest all was made clear:
as my eyes on thee fell,
mine wert thou only:
all I hid in my heart, all I am;
bright as the day dawned on my sight,
like echoing tones struck on my ear,
as in winter’s frosty desert
my eyes first beheld the friend.

She hugs his neck with delight and looks him close in the face

(with transport)
O sweetest bliss!
O woman most blest!

(close to his eyes)
O let me closer to thee still press me
and see more clearly the holy light
that forth from eyes and face doth break
and so sweetly sways all my sense.

Beneath spring’s moon shinest thou bright;
wrapped in glory of waving hair:
what has ensnared me now well I know
in rapture feasteth my look.


(She hangs in rapture on his neck and gazes closely into his face. She pushes the locks back from his brow and gazes at him with astonishment)

How broadly shines thy open brow,
the wandering veins in thy temples entwine!
I tremble with the rapture of my delight!
A marvel wakes my remembrance:
whom first I saw today!
my eyes beheld thee of old

A love-dream wakes in me the thought:
in fiery longing cam’st thou to me!

The stream has shown me my pictured face,
and now again I behold it:
as from the water it rose,
show’st thou my image anew

Thou art the image I held in my heart.

(quickly turning her eyes away from him)
O hush! again the voice is sounding:
I heard it, methinks,
once as a child—
but no! of late I have heard it,
yes, when the echo’s sound
gave back my voice in the woods.

O loveliest song
that sounds as I listen!

In fernem Land

In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritten,
Liegt eine Burg, die Monsalvat genannt;
Ein lichter Tempel stehet dort inmitten,
So kostbar als auf Erden nichts bekannt;

Drin ein Gefäß von wundertät’gem Segen
Wird dort als höchstes Heiligtum bewacht.
Es ward, dass sein der Menschen reinste pflegen,
Herab von einer Engelschar gebracht.

Alljährlich naht vom Himmel eine Taube,
Um neu zu stärken seine Wunderkraft:
Es heißt der Gral, und selig reinster Glaube
Erteilt durch ihn sich seiner Ritterschaft.

Wer nun dem Gral zu dienen ist erkoren,
Den rüstet er mit überirdischer Macht;
An dem ist jedes Bösen Trug verloren,
Wenn ihn er sieht, weicht dem des Todes Nacht;

Selbst wer von ihm in ferne Land entsendet,
Zum Streiter für der Tugend Recht ernannt,
Dem wird nicht seine heil’ge Kraft entwendet,
Bleibt als sein Ritter dort er unerkannt.

So hehrer Art doch ist des Grales Segen,
Enthüllt muss er des Laien Auge fliehn;
Des Ritters drum sollt Zweifel ihr nicht hegen,
Erkennt ihr ihn – dann muss er von euch ziehn.

Nun hört, wie ich verbot’ner Frage lohne:
Vom Gral ward ich zu euch daher gesandt:
Mein Vater Parzival trägt seine Krone,
Sein Ritter ich – bin Lohengrin genannt.

In a faraway Land

In a faraway land, unapproachable to your steps,
There is a castle called Montsalvat;
In the middle there stands a luminous temple,
A vessel of miraculous blessing;

Is guarded inside as supreme sanctuary.
It has been brought down by a host of angels,
To be cared for by the purest human beings.
Brought down by a group of angels.

Each year a dove from above approaches
To reinforce its miraculous power;
It is called the Grail, and it blesses the purest faith
Granted by it to its knights

Who is predestined to serve the Grail
It prepares with supernatural power;
Every evil’s deception is lost to him,
When he sees it, death’s power yields;

Even to him who is sent by it to alien lands,
Appointed as fighter for virtue’s justice,
His holy power will not be taken away,
If he goes unrecognized there as its knight.

May the Grail’s blessing be ever of so noble cast,
It must flee the layman’s eyes when it is unveiled.
Therefore you shall not doubt the knight,
If you recognize him – he has to leave you.

Now listen, how I reward the forbidden question:
By the Grail I was sent to you:
My father Parzival wears its crown,
His knight, I – am called Lohengrin.

Die Meistersinger, Preislied

Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein,
Von Blüt’ und Duft
Geschwellt die Luft,
Voll aller Wonnen,
Nie ersonnen,
Ein Garten lud mich ein,
Dort unter einem Wunderbaum,
Von Früchten reich behangen,
Zu schau’n in sel’gem Liebestraum,
Was höchstem Lustverlangen.
Erfüllung kühn verhieß,
Das schönste Weib:
Eva im Paradies!

Abendlich dämmernd umschloss mich die Nacht;
Auf steilem Pfad
War ich genaht
Zu einer Quelle
Reiner Welle,
Die lockend mir gelacht:
Dort unter einem Lorbeerbaum,
Von Sternen hell durchschienen,
Ich schaut’ im wachen Dichtertraum,
Von heilig holden Mienen,
Mich netzend mit dem edlen Nass,
Das hehrste Weib,
Die Muse des Parnass!

Huldreichster Tag,
Dem ich aus Dichters Traum erwacht!
Das ich erträumt, das Paradies,
In himmlisch neu verklärter Pracht
Hell vor mir lag,
Dahin lachend nun der Quell den Pfad mir wies;
Die, dort geboren,
Mein Herz erkoren,
Der Erde lieblichstes Bild,
Als Muse mir geweiht,
So heilig hehr als mild,
Ward kühn von mir gefreit,
Am lichten Tag der Sonnen,
Durch Sanges Sieg gewonnen
Parnass und Paradies!

Die Meistersinger, the Prize Song

Shining in the rosy light of morning,
the air heavy with blossom and scent,
swells the air
full of pleasures,
not yet devised,
a garden invited me to be its guest.
There under a miraculous tree
Rich with hanging fruit
To look in a blissful Lovedream
What the highest pleasure desires.
Fulfillment boldy promised,
The most beautiful woman:
Eva in paradise!

As evening rose, the night enveloped me;
On a steep path
I was near
To a spring
Pure waves
Which alluringly laughed at me:
There under a laurel tree
bursting with light from the stars,
I watch myself in a waking Poet’s Dream,
Of holy, lovely expressions,
Wet from the noble spring
The dearest woman
The muse of Parnassus!

Most gracious day
when I woke up from the Poet’s Dream!
The paradise of which I had dreamed,
In heavenly, newly transformed splendor
That lay shining in front of me,
To which the spring laughingly pointed the path;
She born there,
My heart chosen,
The earth’s loveliest image,
As a muse dedicated to me,
Just as trancendently heavenly as mile,
Was boldy wooed by me,
In the sun’s bright daylight,
Through victory in song, I had won
Parnassus and paradise!

Lauritz Melchior

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.