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Fritz Wunderlich, German tenor

By August 1, 2020April 5th, 2023No Comments

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.

Adelaide (Beethoven)

Einsam wandelt dein Freund im Frühlingsgarten,
Mild vom lieblichen Zauberlicht umflossen,
Das durch wankende Blüthenzweige zittert,
Adelaide! Adelaide!

In der spiegelnden Flut, im Schnee der Alpen,
In des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölke,
In Gefilde der Sterne strahlt dein Bildnis,

In des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölke,
In Gefilde der Sterne strahlt dein Bildnis,

Abendlüftchen im zarten Laube flüstern,
Silberglöckchen des Mais im Grase säuseln,
Wellen rauschen und Nachtigallen flöten,

Einst, o Wunder! entblüht auf meinem Grabe,
Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens.
Deutlich schimmert auf jedem Purpurblättchen:
Adelaide! Adelaide!

Adelaide (Beethoven)

Lonely wanders thy friend in Spring’s green garden,
Mildly streams the magic light around him,
As through trembling blossom twigs it quivers,
Adelaide! Adelaide!

In the mirroring stream, in snows on the Alps,
In the vanishing day’s golden clouds,
In the fields of the stars, too,
gleams thine image, thine image,

In the vanishing daylight’s golden clouds,
In the fields of the stars, too
gleams thine image,

Ev’ning winds in the tender leaves are whispering,
Silver May bells amid the cool grass rustling,
Waters murmu’ing and nightingales keep fluting,
Waters murm’ring and nightingales keep fluting,

Soon, O wonder, soon O wonder!
Yes, soon on my grave, yes, on my grave,
Behold a flower from my heart’s cold ashes,
Springs a flower out of my heart’s ashes
Plainly glimmers, plainly glimmers on ev’ry petal on ev’ry petal
Adelaide!, Adelaide;

Il mio tesoro (Don Giovanni)

Il mio tesoro intanto
Andate a consolar,
E del bel ciglio il pianto
Cercate di asciugar.
Ditele che i suoi torti
A cendicar io vado;
Che sol di stragi e morti
Nunzio vogl’io tornar.

My Treasure (Don Giovanni)

To my beloved, o hasten,
To comfort, to comfort her sad heart.
Sweet are the tears that chasten,
Yet grieve not those who part.
Tell her, to see her righted,
Ne’er will I cease pursuing,
My sword and faith I’ve plighted.
Nought my resolve shall thwart.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai from Dichterliebe (Schumann)

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Knospen sprangen,
Da ist in meinem Herzen
Die Liebe aufgegangen.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Vögel sangen,
Da hab’ ich ihr gestanden
Mein Sehnen und Verlangen.

In the beautiful month of May

In the beautiful month of May
when all the buds burst open,
in my heart
love has risen

In the beautiful month of May
when all the birds sang
I confessed to her
my yearnings and desires.

Wenn du es wüßtest

Wenn du es wüßtest,
Was träumen heißt von brennenden Küssen,
Von Wandern und Ruhen mit der Geliebten,
Aug in Auge,
Und kosend und plaudernd,
Wenn du es wüßtest,
Du neigtest dein Herz!

Wenn du es wüßtest,
Was bangen heißt in einsamen Nächten,
Umschauert vom Sturm, da niemand tröstet
Milden Mundes die kampfmüde Seele,
Wenn du es wüßtest,
Du kämst zu mir.

Wenn du es wüßtest,
Was leben heißt, umhaucht von der Gottheit
Weltschaffendem Atem,
Zu schweben empor, lichtgetragen,
Zu seligen Höhn,
Wenn du es wüßtest,
Du lebtest mit mir!


If you only knew
what it’s like to dream of burning kisses,
of wandering and resting with one’s beloved,
eye turned to eye,
and cuddling and chatting –
if you only knew,
you would incline your heart to me!

If you only knew
what it’s like to feel dread on lonely nights,
surrounded by a raging storm, while no one comforts
with a mild voice your struggle-weary soul –
if you only knew,
you would come to me.

If you only knew
what it’s like to live, surrounded by God’s
world-creating breath,
to float up, carried by the light,
to blessed heights –
if you only knew,
then you would live with me!

Da untem in Tale (Brahms)

This song is written in the Bavarian dialect. The words may seem a bit strange to speakers of High German

Da unten im Tale
läuft’s Wasser so trüb
Und i kann dir’s nit sagen
I hab di so lieb.

Sprichst allweil von Lieb’
Sprichst allweil von Treu’
Und a bissele Falschheit
Is au wol dabei!

Und wenn i dir’s zehnmal sag’,
Dass i di lieb
Und du willst nit verstehen.
Muss weiter i gehn.

Für die Zeit, wo du g’liebt mi hast,
Dank i dir schön
Und i wünsch’ dass dir’s
Anderswo besser mag gehn.

Down in the Valley (Brahms)

Down in the valley there
the water flows so sadly,
and I can’t tell you
that I love you so.

You always speak of love,
you always speak of fidelity,
but a bit of falsehood
is always there too.

And if I tell you ten times,
that I love and like you,
and you do not want to understand,
then I will have to move on.

For the time that you have loved me,
I thank you kindly,
and I wish that somewhere else
things may go better for you.

Fritz Wunderlich, born September 26, 1930, died September 17, 1966. The esteemed German tenor, Fritz Wunderlich, who was born to a violinist mother and choir director father, was no doubt enveloped in music at an early age. Urged to pursue classical voice training by theater people who heard him singing as they passed the bakery where he worked, the young Wunderlich was granted a scholarship to the Freiburg Music Academy in Breisgau by the town fathers. He studied there from 1950 to 1955, also studying the classical horn which explains his almost supernatural breath control.

After playing Tamino in a 1955 student production of W.A. Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Wunderlich was engaged by the Wurttemberg State Opera in Stuttgart. His first professional role was as Ulrich Eislinger in Die Meistersinger. When he was called to play Tamino for an ailing Josef Traxel, Stuttgart had a new star and Fritz Wunderlich’s short but amazing career had begun.

During the remaining decade of his life Fritz Wunderlich gained the highest respect as a W.A. Mozart singer, lending lyrical brilliance to J.S. Bach, Schubert and Gustav Mahler and melodic tenderness to Bel Canto and light opera roles. Following such greats as Tauber and Schmidt, Wunderlich also devoted a good part of his time to the beautiful songs of such composers as Strauss, Lehár, Kálmán and Fall. Singing with the Bavarian State Opera and the Vienna State Opera, he also sang every year at the famed Salzburg Festival. After a a highly successful concert tour of the United States in 1964 and engagements at Covent Garden and Edinburgh in 1965, Wunderlich planned his Metropolitan debut as Don Ottavio on October 8, 1966. However, it was not to be. He died September 17, 1966, a week before his 36th birthday in an accidental fall down a stone stairway at a friend’s castle in Heidelberg.

Although he never realized his due as a truly international star in his lifetime, Fritz Wunderlich has since become a favorite of opera lovers the world over. One has only to listen to his stunning voice to become a devotee for life. His vocal quality and strength combined with effortless expression and touching lyrical beauty make him one of the truly great tenors of the 20th century and probably of all time.