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Max Lorenz, Heldentenor

By January 20, 2023March 19th, 2023No Comments

Max Lorenz was one of the great heldentenors of the 20th century. After WWII, many people (wrongly) assumed Lorenz had been a Nazi. He became an Austrian citizen, but questions remain about why he didn’t leave Germany. He might have been better remembered if he had shifted his career to England and the United States — like the other great Wagnerian tenor of the period, the Danish-born Lauritz Melchior. Many German artists were idealists — and things in Germany might have been different if more artists had shown greater interest in politics.

It is always tricky to write blog posts about German singers/artists from the WWII period. My way of doing this has been to focus on the art and not on the politics, but this is not always possible. I have decided to write about Lorenz because in his story are mitigating circumstances that indicate a complex situation and not someone who capitulated to the Nazi regime.


An ihren bunten Liedern klettert

An ihren bunten Liedern klettert
Die Lerche selig in die Luft;
Ein Jubelchor von Sängern schmettert
Im Walde, voller Blüt’ und Duft.

Da sind, so weit die Blicke gleiten,
Altäre festlich aufgebaut,
Und all die tausend Herzen läuten
Zur Liebesfeier dringend laut.

Der Lenz hat Rosen angezündet
An Leuchtern von Smaragd im Dom;
Und jede Seele schwillt und mündet
Hinüber in den Opferstrom.

Love’s Festival

On her varied songs the lark climbs

On her varied songs the lark climbs
blissfully into the air;
a jubilant choir of singers sings heartily
in the wood, full of blossom and fragrance.

There, as far as the eye can see,
festive altars have been built,
and a thousand hearts all call out
for love’s festival, loudly and strongly.

Spring has set the roses afire with light
on the candelabra of emerald in the cathedral;
and every soul swells and overflows
into the stream of offerings.

Wagner, Rienzi, Allmächt’ger Vater

Allmächt’ger Vater, blick herab!
Hör mich im Staube zu dir flehn!
Die Macht, die mir dein Wunder gab,
laß jetzt noch nicht zugrunde gehn!
Du stärktest mich, du gabst mir hohe Kraft,
du liehest mir erhabne Eigenschaft:
zu hellen den, der niedrig denkt,
zu heben, was im Staub versenkt.
Du wandeltest des Volkes Schmach
zu Hoheit, Glanz und Majestät!
O Gott, vernichte nicht das Werk,
das dir zum Preis errichtet steht!
Ach, löse, Herr, die tiefe Nacht,
die noch der Menschen Seelen deckt!
Schenk uns den Abglanz deiner Macht,
die sich in Ewigkeit erstreckt!
Mein Herr und Vater, o blicke herab!
Senke dein Auge aus deinen Höhn!
Die Kraft, die mir dein Wunder gab,
laß jetzt noch nicht zugrunde gehn!
Allmächt’ger Vater, blick herab!
Hör mich im Staube zu dir flehn!
Mein Gott, der hohe Kraft mir gab,
erhöre mein tiefinbrünstig Flehn!

Wagner, Rienzi, All mighty Father

Almighty Father, look down!
Hear me, in the dust, pray to you!
The strength that your authority gave to me,
let it not yet perish!
You strengthened me, You gave me great power
You lent me noble character:
to make bright that which was thought inferior,
to elevate what sank into the dust.
You changed the humiliation of the people
into nobility, splendor, and majesty!
O God, do not destroy the work
that stands to you at the price established!
Ah, dissolve, Lord, the dark night,
that still covers the souls of men!
Grant us the reflection of your authority,
that extends itself into eternity!
My Lord and Father, look down!
Lower your eyes from your height!
The power that your authority gave to me,
let it not yet perish!
Almighty Father, look down!
Hear me, in the dust, pray to you!
My God, who gave to me great power,
grant my profoundly ardent prayer!

Wagner, Parsifal, “Nur eine Waffe taugt”

Nur eine Waffe taugt:
Die Wunde schließt
Der Speer nur, der sie schlug.

Sei heil, entsündigt und entsühnt,
Denn ich verwalte nun dein Amt!
Gesegnet sei dein Leiden,
Das Mitleids höchste Kraft
Und reinsten Wissens Macht
Dem zagen Toren gab.

Den heil’gen Speer,
Ich bring’ ihn euch zurück!

Oh! Welchen Wunders höchstes Glück!
Der deine Wunde durfte schließen,
Ihm seh’ ich heil’ges Blut entfließen
In Sehnsucht nach dem verwandten Quelle,
Der dort fließt in des Grales Welle.
Nicht soll der mehr verschlossen sein:
Enthüllet den Gral! – Öffnet den Schrein!

(Parsifal besteigt die Stufen des Weihtisches, entnimmt dem von den Knaben geöffneten Schreine den “Gral” und versenkt sich, unter stummem Gebete, kniend in seinen Anblick. Allmähliche sanfte Erleuchtung des “Grales”. Zunehmende Dämmerung in der Tiefe bei wachsendem Lichtscheine aus der Höhe)

Wagner, Parsifal, “But one weapon serves”

But one weapon serves:
only the Spear that smote you
can heal your wound.

Be whole, absolved and atoned!
For I now will perform your task.
O blessed be your suffering,
that gave pity’s mighty power
and purest wisdom’s might
to the timorous fool!

I bring back to you
the holy Spear!

O supreme joy of this miracle!
This that could heal your wound
I see pouring with holy blood
yearning for that kindred fount
which flows and wells within the Grail.
No more shall it be hidden:
uncover the Grail, open the shrine!

(Parsifal mounts the altar steps, takes the Grail from the shrine already opened by the squires, and falls to his knees before it in silent prayer and contemplation. The Grail gradually glows with a soft light. Increasing darkness below and growing illumination from above.)

Max Lorenz
(born Max Sülzenfuß May 10, 1901 – January 11, 1975)

In his hometown of Düsseldorf, Lorenz initially worked for an industrial company. Following study with Max Pauli in Cologne, Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin and Karl Kittel in Bayreuth, he sought to be hired by the Berlin State Opera but was not taken.

After he won a prize in a newspaper-sponsored singing competition, he was engaged by Fritz Busch to join the Dresden State Opera, where he made his debut in 1927 as Walther von der Vogelweide / Tannhäuser. Lorenz remained with the Dresden company until 1931, also singing between 1929 and 1933 with the Vienna State Opera, where he was on the company roster from 1936 to 1944. He appeared at the Zoppot festival in 1930 and in 1931 made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York singing Walther / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Erik / Der fliegende Holländer, Siegmund / Die Walküre, the title role in Siegfried and Babinsky / Schwanda the Bagpiper. Having returned for the 1933–1934 season, Lorenz extended his New York repertoire with the title role in Tannhäuser and Herod / Salome.

His performance as Menelaus in Richard Strauss’s Die aegyptische Helena, first performed in Dresden in 1928, prompted the composer to recommend him to the Berlin State Opera; Berlin was looking for a tenor for the same role. Following guest appearances there from 1931, Lorenz joined the Berlin company permanently in 1933. With his handsome figure and vigorous singing he quickly established himself as a Wagnerian singer of note. In addition he took leading parts in important premieres given in Berlin.

Lorenz first appeared in 1933 in the Bayreuth Festival, initially as Walther, Siegfried / Der Ring des Nibelungen, and in the title role of Parsifal, before moving on to the title roles in Lohengrin (1936) and Tristan und Isolde (1938). He sang at Bayreuth annually up to and including 1944.

His debut at the Royal Opera House, London came in 1934 as Walther. Lorenz was invited back to sing Siegfried and Erik in 1937, when he was described as an ‘eminently cultivated and musicianly singer’.

However, things were not rosy for Lorenz. Lorenz was both gay and married to a Jewish woman. Fortunately, he had one thing going for him — he was the greatest German-born tenor of his day.

After the bitter defeat of World War I, Germany — and the Nazi party — were looking for heroes. Lorenz’s heroic singing (and size; he was more than six feet tall) made him a national symbol. Remaining in Germany during World War II, he not only survived the war unscathed, but he gained the power to help those close to him.

Lorenz was the major German tenor at the world-renowned Bayreuth Festival.  During the war, the festival’s CEO was Winifred Wagner, who was born in England, educated in Germany; and she married Wagner’s gay son Siegfried. She wasn’t officially a Nazi, but she seemed to have adored Hitler, who spent a good deal of time at Bayreuth. In an interview, she talks about Lorenz being arrested after being caught in flagrante with one of the Bayreuth vocal coaches. She says she threatened to shut down the theater if Lorenz were found guilty and forbidden to sing. But Hitler loved Bayreuth, and Lorenz’s trial ended without a guilty verdict. Once, the SS came to Lorenz’s house to remove his Jewish wife and her mother. But she had Goering’s sister’s private phone number, and 10 minutes later the SS men left the two women unharmed. The following night, the outraged Lorenz canceled a performance in Vienna where Hitler was the guest of honor.