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James King, Heldentenor

By August 15, 2021March 19th, 2023No Comments

James King (May 22, 1925 – November 20, 2005) was an American operatic tenor who had an active international singing career in operas and concerts from the 1950s through 2000. Widely regarded as one of the finest American heldentenors of the post-war period, he excelled in performances of the works of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

King made his debut at the Met in 1966 as Florestan in Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” the first of 113 appearances there. He set records for the most performances in two particularly demanding roles on the Met roster, Bacchus in Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” and the Emperor in “Die Frau Ohne Schatten,” a role he sang in the opera’s Met premier.

There was some tightness in the top of his register that can be heard from time to time, but it was, all in all, a well produced voice, with a lot of “squillo” or “ping”. We don’t have anyone like him today.

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!

From Richard Strauss’ Daphne

Jeden heiligen Morgen
Schür ich die Riemen
Besteig den gewaltigen
Goldenen Wagen! –
Aufwärts geht es
Mit schlagenden Hufen!
Da lang ich ins Dunkel
(Er nimmt den Pfeil aus seinem Köcher.)
Einen Pfiel – so wie jetzt!
Erhebe den Bogen,
(Er spannt ben Bogen)
So scharf wie jetzt –
Über der Berge eisige Spitzen,
Über die grünnende Niderung,
Über das flammende Meer
Fliegt mein Geschoß!
(hebt den Pfeil wieder ab)
Freut euch, ihr Götter, freut euch!
Ihr Menschen und Wesen alle:
Die Sonne
Seht in mir!

From Richard Strauss’ Daphne

Every jubilant morning
I grasp the bridle
And mount the magnificent,
Glittering chariot!
Up we travel
With clattering hoofbeat!
I go into the darkness
(He takes an arrow from his quiver)
To my bow – Just like this!
And raising the bow
(draws the bowstring)
As I do right now –
Over the mountains’ shimmering summit,
Over the blossoming meadowland,
Over the glittering sea
Fies every shot!
(lowers the bow again)

Joyful are the gods,
Joyful you mortals and every creature:
Behold the sun
In me!

James King, an American heldentenor, had a bright, ringing voice, and fluent high notes. This enabled him to take on the most challenging tenor rolls, mainly in German repertory.

King won acclaim for roles by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. His final performance was in 2000 at Indiana University in a production of Wagner’s “Walküre,” in which he took the role of Siegmund.

King was born in Dodge City, Kan., to an Irish father and a mother of German descent. As a boy he learned to play the violin and sang in church choirs. He studied music at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, earning a master’s degree, and started out as a baritone before training as a tenor with Martial Singher in New York, and with Max Lorenz.

Keeping a baritone quality in his lower notes, he acquired a distinctive, recognizable timbre that assured him a long career. His voice was described as strong and dependable, with the stamina to sustain him in longer dramatic roles, and his six feet of height added impact to his performances.

King won an American Opera Audition held in Cincinnati in 1961 and went in search of a career in Europe, as did many budding American singers at the time. His professional debut was as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence. He repeated the role at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan, gaining his first resident appointment in Berlin with a debut as the Italian tenor in “Der Rosenkavalier.”

Over the years he also sang at London’s Royal Opera House, in Salzburg and at the Bayreuth Festival; and in Cincinnati, San Francisco and Philadelphia in the United States.

He starred in German opera films, regularly sang in radio and television productions of opera, and made recordings under Sir Georg Solti and Karl Böhm.