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Bass

Ludwig Weber, Austrian Bass

By November 27, 2023No Comments

One of the really nice things about doing this blog is that I get to discover singers whom I did not know anything about. Ludwig Weber is one of those singers. Some say that he was the greatest bass of the twentieth century. Whether you believe that or not, the two excerpts given here are riveting. The final duet of Don Giovanni is sung with George London as Giovanni. Wotan’s Farewell to Brünnhilde is one of the most poignant pieces in all of opera.

Ludwig Weber had a powerful, yet musically well-educated voice. As a bass singer he became particularly associated with the Wagner roles. He was unmatched in his generation in roles as Daland in Fliegenden Holländer, Hagen and Gurnemanz, but also as Rocco in Fidelio. The title role in Boris Godunov was one of his favorites, and excerpts (sung in German) survive from a performance broadcast on radio. He sang the role in multiple houses including Covent Garden in 1950. He was also famous as Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier, as Kezal in The Bartered Bride, as Kaspar in Freischütz, as Barak in Frau ohne Schatten and as Wozzeck. He was also a celebrated oratorios and Lieder singer.

From 1961, Ludwig Weber was Professor at the Salzburg Mozarteum, and an honorary member of the Wiener Staatsoper. Ludwig Weber retired from the stage in 1965.

Mozart, Don Giovanni, Final Scene

LA STATUA
Don Giovanni, a cenar teco
M’invitasti e son venuto!

DON GIOVANNI
Non l’avrei giammai creduto;
Ma farò quel che potrò.
Leporello, un altra cena
Fa che subito si porti!

LEPORELLO
facendo capolino di sotto alla tavola
Ah padron! Siam tutti morti.

DON GIOVANNI
tirandolo fuori
Vanne dico!

LA STATUA
a Leporello che è in atto di parlare
Ferma un po’!
Non si pasce di cibo mortale
chi si pasce di cibo celeste;
Altre cure più gravi di queste,
Altra brama quaggiù mi guidò!

LEPORELLO
(La terzana d’avere mi sembra
E le membra fermar più non so.)

DON GIOVANNI
Parla dunque! Che chiedi! Che vuoi?

LA STATUA
Parlo; ascolta! Più tempo non ho!

DON GIOVANNI
Parla, parla, ascoltando ti sto.

LA STATUA
Tu m’invitasti a cena,
Il tuo dover or sai.
Rispondimi: verrai
tu a cenar meco?

LEPORELLO
da lontano, sempre tremando
Oibò;
tempo non ha, scusate.

DON GIOVANNI
A torto di viltate
Tacciato mai sarò.

LA STATUA
Risolvi!

DON GIOVANNI
Ho già risolto!

LA STATUA
Verrai?

LEPORELLO
a Don Giovanni
Dite di no!

DON GIOVANNI
Ho fermo il cuore in petto:
Non ho timor: verrò!

LA STATUA
Dammi la mano in pegno!

DON GIOVANNI
porgendogli la mano
Eccola! Ohimé!

LA STATUA
Cos’hai?

DON GIOVANNI
Che gelo è questo mai?

LA STATUA
Pentiti, cangia vita
È l’ultimo momento!

DON GIOVANNI
vuol scoigliersi, ma invano
No, no, ch’io non mi pento,
Vanne lontan da me!

LA STATUA
Pentiti, scellerato!

DON GIOVANNI
No, vecchio infatuato!

LA STATUA
Pentiti!

DON GIOVANNI
No!

LA STATUA
Sì!

DON GIOVANNI
No!

LA STATUA
Ah! tempo più non v’è!

Fuoco da diverse parti, il Commendatore sparisce, e s’apre una voragine.

DON GIOVANNI
Da qual tremore insolito
Sento assalir gli spiriti!
Dond’escono quei vortici
Di foco pien d’orror?

CORO DI DIAVOLI
di sotterra, con voci cupe
Tutto a tue colpe è poco!
Vieni, c’è un mal peggior!

DON GIOVANNI
Chi l’anima mi lacera?
Chi m’agita le viscere?
Che strazio, ohimé, che smania!
Che inferno, che terror!

LEPORELLO
(Che ceffo disperato!
Che gesti da dannato!
Che gridi, che lamenti!
Come mi fa terror!)

Cresce il fuoco, compariscono diverse furie, s’impossessano di Don Giovanni e seco lui sprofondano.

Mozart, Don Giovanni, Final Scene

THE COMMANDANT
Don Giovanni! Be thee invited,
Here behold me, as thou’st directed.

DON GIOVANNI
Truly I did not expect it,
But anew I’ll sup with thee,
Leporello, serve the table,
For my guest another cover!

LEPORELLO
puts his head out from under the table
Sir, be still, say no more!

DON GIOVANNI
Go, directly!

Leporello rises as if to obey.

THE COMMANDANT
No need of that,
Earthly food he no longer desireth,
Who of heavenly food hath partaken,
Cast away from thee now all such trifling,
Heed the sentence I hither have brought.

LEPORELLO
Sure a fit of the ague hath seiz’d me,
Of all motion bereft, I’m distraught!

DON GIOVANNI
Well, what would’st thou? Well, I listen.

THE COMMANDANT
Silence, and mark me, this hour thou hast sought.

DON GIOVANNI
Speak then, tell me, of fear know I nought.

THE COMMANDANT
Thou didst thyself invite me,
For that I must requite thee,
Then answer me, then answer me,
As my guest, when shall I claim thee?

LEPORELLO
standing far off, trembling
Say no, say no;
He is engag’d, excuse him.

DON GIOVANNI
Of fear none shall accuse me,
To none will I succumb!

THE COMMANDANT
Resolve yourself!

DON GIOVANNI
I have resolved myself…

THE COMMANDANT
Thou’lt come, then?

LEPORELLO
Say that you can’t, that you can’t.

DON GIOVANNI
My heart is firm within me,
I have no fear, I’ll come.

THE COMMANDANT
Give me thy hand in token!

DON GIOVANNI
Take it then. Ah, me!

THE COMMANDANT
What is’t?

DON GIOVANNI
What deadly chill is this!

THE COMMANDANT
Turn thee, ere heav’n hath doom’d thee,
There’s time yet for repentance.

DON GIOVANNI
vainly tries to free himself
For me there’s no repentance,
Vanish thou from my sight!

THE COMMANDANT
Dread then, the wrath eternal.

DON GIOVANNI
Away, thou spectre infernal!

THE COMMANDANT
Yes, repent!

DON GIOVANNI
No!

THE COMMANDANT
Yes, repent!

DON GIOVANNI
No!

THE COMMANDANT
Yes!

DON GIOVANNI
No!

THE COMMANDANT
Yes! Now must my soul take flight!

Exit.

Flames appear in all directions, the earth trembles.

DON GIOVANNI
Terrors unknown are freezing me,
Demons of doom are seizing me,
Is hell let loose to torture me?
Or does it mock my sight?

CHORUS
from below, with hollow voices
Torments eternal wait thee!
Burning in endless night!

DON GIOVANNI
My soul is rent in agony!
Condemn’d to endless misery,
Oh, doom of wrath and terror,
No more to see the light!

LEPORELLO
The fire of doom surrounds him,
Its fiery glare confounds him,
What sounds, what sights of terror,
Oh, I shall die, oh, I shall die of fright!

The flames increase and engulf Don Giovanni.

WOTAN
Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb wohl! Leb wohl! Leb wohl!

Muss ich dich meiden,
und darf nicht minnig
mein Gruß dich mehr grüßen;
sollst du nun nicht mehr neben mir reiten,
noch Met beim Mahl mir reichen;
muss ich verlieren dich, die ich liebe,
du lachende Lust meines Auges:
ein bräutliches Feuer soll dir nun brennen,
wie nie einer Braut es gebrannt!
Flammende Glut umglühe den Fels;
mit zehrenden Schrecken
scheuch’ es den Zagen;
der Feige fliehe Brünnhildes Fels! –
Denn einer nur freie die Braut,
der freier als ich, der Gott!

Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,
das oft ich lächelnd gekost,
wenn Kampfeslust ein Kuss dir lohnte,
wenn kindisch lallend der Helden Lob
von holden Lippen dir floss:
dieser Augen strahlendes Paar,
das oft im Sturm mir geglänzt,
wenn Hoffnungssehnen das Herz mir sengte,
nach Weltenwonne mein Wunsch verlangte
aus wild webendem Bangen:
zum letztenmal
letz’ es mich heut’
mit des Lebewohles letztem Kuss!
Dem glücklichen Manne
glänze sein Stern:
dem unseligen Ew’gen
muss es scheidend sich schließen.

Denn so kehrt der Gott sich dir ab,
so küsst er die Gottheit von dir!

Loge, hör’! Lausche hieher!
Wie zuerst ich dich fand, als feurige Glut,
wie dann einst du mir schwandest,
als schweifende Lohe;
wie ich dich band, bann ich dich heut’!
Herauf, wabernde Lohe,
umlodre mir feurig den Fels!

Loge! Loge! Hieher!

Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet,
durchschreite das Feuer nie!

Wotan
Farewell, thou valiant, glorious child!
Thou once the holiest pride of my heart!
Farewell! farewell! farewell!

(very passionately) Must I forsake thee,
and may my welcome
of love no more greet thee;
may’st thou now ne’er more ride as my comrade,
nor bear me mead at banquet;
must I abandon thee, whom I loved so,
thou laughing delight of my eyes?
Such a bridal fire for thee shall be kindled
as ne’er yet has burned for a bride!
Threatening flames shall flare round the cliff:
let withering terrors daunt the craven!
let cowards fly from Brünnhilde’s rock!
For one alone winneth the bride;
one freer than I, the god!

(Brünnhilde, deeply moved, sinks in ecstasy on
Wotan’s breast: he holds her in a long embrace.)
(She throws her head back again and, still
embracing Wotan, gazes with deep enthusiasm in his eyes.)

Thy brightly glittering eyes,
that, smiling, oft I caressed,
when valor won a kiss as reward,
when childish lispings of heroes’ praise
from sweetest lips has flowed forth:
those gleaming radiant eyes
that oft in storms on me shone,
when hopeless yearning my heart had wasted,
when world’s delights all my wishes wakened,
thro’ wild wildering sadness:

once more today, lured by their light,
my lips shall give them love’s farewell!
On mortal more blessed once may they beam:
on me, hapless immortal,
must they close now forever.
(He clasps her head in his hands.)

For so turns the god now from thee,
so kisses thy godhood away!
(He kisses her long on the eyes. She sinks back with
closed eyes, unconscious, in his arms. He gently bears
her to a low mossy mound, which is overshadowed
by a wide-spreading fir tree, and lays her upon it.)

(He looks upon her and closes her helmet: his eyes
then rest on the form of the sleeper, which he now
completely covers with the great steel shield of the
Valkyrie. He turns slowly away, then again turns
around with a sorrowful look.)

(He strides with solemn decision to the middle of
the stage and directs the point of his spear toward a
large rock.)

Loge, hear! Listen to my word!
As I found thee of old, a glimmering flame,
as from me thou didst vanish,
in wandering fire;
as once I stayed thee, stir I thee now!
Appear! come, waving fire,
and wind thee in flames round the rock!

(During the following he strikes the rock thrice
with his spear.)

Loge! Loge! appear!
(A flash of flame issues from the rock, which swells
to an ever-brightening fiery glow.)
(Flickering flames break forth.)

(Bright shooting flames surround Wotan. With his
spear he directs the sea of fire to encircle the rocks; it
presently spreads toward the background, where it
encloses the mountain in flames
.)

He who my spearpoint’s sharpness feareth
shall cross not the flaming fire!

Ludwig Weber
July 29, 1899 – December 9, 1974

The Austrian bass, Ludwig Weber, initially planned to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher, but he also studied painting with Alfred Roller at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule. He discovered his vocal promise when he sang in the choir of the Wiener Oratorien-Vereinigung and decided to pursue an opera career. In 1919 he began studies in Vienna with Alfred Borrotau, a well respected teacher.

In 1920 Ludwig Weber made his professional debut as Fiorello in The Barber of Seville at the Vienna Volksoper, where he sang for a few years in smaller roles. Possessing one of the largest dark-and-cavernous-type bass voices of the 20th century, Weber was in equally high demand for villainous roles and noble characters. In the mid 1920’s was singing in mid-size to leading roles with smaller companies throughout Germany. From 1925 to 1927 he was the first bass singer at the Stadttheater of Wuppertal; from 1927 to 1932 he was engaged at the opera house of Düsseldorf. In 1930, he appeared as a guest and performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in Wagner’s operas conducted by Franz von Hoesslin as Hunding and Fafner as Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1932-1933, he sang at the Opera House of Cologne. After a successful appearance at the Munich Wagner Festival of 1931 he became in 1933 a member of the Staatsoper of Munich, where he remained until 1945, where he participated, among other things, in 1934 in the premiere of the opera Lucedia by Vittorio Giannini and on July 14, 1938 in the premiere of opera “Der Friedenstag” by Richard Strauss.

During his period in Munich, Ludwig Weber began to receive invitations to sing abroad. In 1936 he joined the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London, where he sang numerous roles for several years. He appeared as a guest at Milan’s La Scala, at the Grand Opéra Paris, at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires; he had great successes in Amsterdam and Brussels; he also worked appeared at the Maggio Musicale in Florence.

In 1945 Ludwig Weber became a member of the Wiener Staatsoper, where he sang a wide repertoire for the next two decades. In the opening performance of the rebuilt Wiener Staatsoper, on May 11, 1955, he sang Rocco in Fidelio. He had great success at the Salzburg Festival. In the years 1951-1956, 1958 and 1960-1963 he was part of the Bayreuth Festival Ensemble, where he is remembered as one of great Wagnerian bass singers.