Considered among the finest Mozartean tenors of his day, Wunderlich embraced a wide repertory that expanded to included the works of Strauss, Schubert, Bach, and Mahler, and he left behind many excellent recordings that have been the primary source of his legacy.
Wunderlich (Friedrich Karl Otto) was born in Kusel, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. His life included music from the very beginning, since his father was the director of a local choir and his mother was a violinist. The young tenor gained mild local celebrity for his singing in Kusel, and in 1950 he departed for the Freiburg Musikhochschule with partial financing from the town; he met the remainder of his study-related expenses by directing a small dance band in Breisgau. Wunderlich’s first operatic appearance was, appropriately enough, as Tamino in a student production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte — a role with which he would remain associated for the rest of his career. In fact, he made his professional debut with the very same piece just a year later (1955) at the Stuttgart Opera. He remained with Stuttgart until he was hired by the Frankfurt Opera company, staying there from 1958 to 1960. He first appeared in the Salzburg Festival in 1959, where he sang the part of Henry in Richard Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau. He became a member of the Munich Opera in 1960 and from 1962 also was a regular at the Vienna State Opera.
There is a small aspect of Wunderlich’s voice that I find problematic. He has a tendency to push his voice at the top of his range. Many singers do and have done this. There are certainly examples of Wunderlich’s singing where all the notes are consistent, and I have tried to find those for you. Wunderlich, in toto, was a great singer, and he has many fans today who only know him from recordings.