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Karl Friedrich, Austrian Tenor

By February 3, 2024No Comments

I would like to post Karl Friedrich, who was a famous Austrian tenor during the post-WWII period. There is very little information on Friedrich on the internet, and so I have done what I do not like to do; that is, I have used Wikipedia as the main source of information. There are also relatively few recordings of his on youtube. I did find him singing the ending of Die tote Stadt, by Erich Korngold, and that is what I have posted.

Friedrich has a large, beautiful voice. It is very warm without being over darkened. Over darkening is what passes for the norm today.

Korngold, Die Tote Stadt, Akt III “Wo lag sie nicht hier”

Die Tote, wo, lag sie nicht hier,
verzerrt, gebrochnen Augs?
(erblickt die Kristalltruhe, die ein Mondstrahl

Und hier das Haar,
unangetastet leuchtets wie zuvor,
Wie wird mir, was hab ich erlebt,
nein, was hab ich geschaut?
(öffnet die Tür im Hintergrund und stellt sachte
eine brennende Lampe vorn auf den Tisch)

Die Dame von vorher, Herr Paul,
sie kehrte an der Ecke um.
(sie liebevoll anblickend)
Brigitta, du, in alter Lieb und Treu
(Marietta tritt herein, in Erscheinung und
Haltung genau wie sie am Ende von Akt 1
fortging, leicht und liebenswürdig)

Da bin ich wieder,
kaum daß ich Sie verlassen.
Vergaß den Schirm und meine Rosen.
(lächelnd, mit Beziehung)
Man sollt es für ein Omen nehmen,
ein Wink, als ob ich bleiben sollte.

(Da Paul stumm und in sich gekehrt bleibt,
wendet sie sich nach einer Pause – deutliches
pantomimisches Spiel – die Achsel zuckend, mit
feinem ironischem Lächeln, kokett den Schirm
schwingend und an dem Rosenstrauch riechend,
zur Türe.
Dort trifft sie mit dem eintretenden Frank
zusammen, der sich stumm vor ihr verbeugt. Sie
nickt ihm liebenswürdig lächelnd zu. Ab.)

Das also war das Wunder?
(auf Paul zu, dessen beide Hände fassend und
ihm ins Auge blickend)

Es war das Wunder,
ich les in deinem Aug, ist es nicht mehr.
O Freund, ich werde sie nicht mehr wiedersehn.
Ein Traum hat mir den Traum Zerstört,
ein Traum der bittren Wirklichkeit
den Traum der Phantasie.
Die Toten schicken solche Träume,
wenn wir zu viel mit und in ihnen leben.
Wie weit soll unsere Trauer gehen,
wie weit darf sie es, ohn’ uns zu entwurzeln?
Schmerzlicher Zwiespalt des Gefühls!
Ich reise wieder ab.
Sag, willst du mit mir?
Fort aus der Stadt des Todes?
Ich wills, ich wills versuchen…
(Frank gibt Brigitta ein Zeichen sich mit ihm
zurückzuziehen und Paul allein zu lassen.)

Glück, das mir verblieb,
lebe wohl, mein treues Lieb.
Leben trennt von Tod,
grausam Machtgebot.
Harre mein in lichten Höhn,
hier gibt es kein Auferstehn.
(Er erhebt sich, schliesst mit langsamer
Feierlichkeit die zum Zimmer der Toten
führende Tür ab, nimmt die sie schmückenden
Blumen ab, verhüllt das Bild und nimmt auch
hier die Blumen an sich, sie an die Brust
Dann läßt er die Gardine des Fensters herab,
ergreift die Tischlampe und schreitet gesenkten
Hauptes auf die Ausgangstüre im Hintergrunde
zu. Wenn er sie erreicht hat, öffnet und
Abschied nehmend zurückblickt.
Fällt langsam der Vorhang.)

Korngold, The Dead City, Act III, “Where, was it not here?”

The body, where, was it not here,
distorted, with lifeless eyes?
(sees the crystal coffer, shining in the

And here her hair,
untouched and shining as before,
How is all this, what has happened to me,
no, what have I seen?
(opens the door in the background and gently
places a lighted lamp at the front of the table)

The lady who was here just now, Mr Paul,
she has turned back at the corner.
(looking at her affectionately)
Brigitta, you, ever loving and true
(Marietta enters, in appearance and attitude
exactly as she went out at the end of Act 1,
calmly and amiably)

Here I am again,
just after after I left you.
I forgot my parasol and my roses.
(smiling meaningfully)
One could take this for an omen.,
a wink, as I might say.

(As Paul remains silent and withdrawn, she
turns after a pause, – very clear pantomime
action here – shrugging her shoulders with an
ironical little smile, flirtatiously swinging her
parasol and smelling her bunch of roses,
towards the door.
There she meets the incoming Frank, who bows
silently to her. She nods graciously to him with
a smile and leaves.)

So that was the miracle?
(goes up to Paul, holding both of his hands and
looking him in the eye)

It was the miracle,
I can read in your eyes that it is no more.
O Friend, I will not see her again.
A dream has destroyed my dream,
a dream of bitter reality has destroyed
the dream of fantasy.
The dead send such dreams,
if we live too much with them and in them.
How far should our grief go,
how far may it go, without uprooting us?
Harrowing conflict of feeling!
I am leaving again.
Say, will you come with me?
Away from this city of death?
I want to, I want to try…
(Frank gives a sign to Brigitta to withdraw with
him and leave Paul alone.)

Joy, that proved true,
farewell my faithful love.
Life separates from death,
cruel commandment.
Wait for me in a higher sphere,
here there is no resurrection.
(He gets up, closes with slow solemnity the door
leading to the dead woman’s room, removes the
flowers that adorn it, covers the picture and
takes the flowers here as well,holding them to
his heart.
Then he draws the window curtains, takes up
the table lamp and strides with bowed head
towards the exit door in the background.
When he reaches it, he opens it and looks back
in a final farewell.
The curtain falls slowly.)

Korngold’s Die tote Stadt takes its libretto from the novel “Bruges la morte” by the Belgian Symbolist poet Georges Rodenbach and from the poet’s own dramatization of said novel. The plot of the opera takes place in Bruges, the dead city, wearily dreaming of the past amid the mystic peace of its churches and cloisters, its bells, its weather-worn Gothic façades, and its stagnant waterways and abandoned canals.

Synopsis of Die tote Stadt

1890s, a solemn room in Paul’s house in the city of Bruges, Belgium
Paul’s housekeeper, Brigitte, and his friend Frank enter an art studio that houses mementoes of Paul’s late wife, Marie. For two years, Paul has mourned his dead wife, maintaining the room as a kind of shrine. It is filled with Marie’s portraits and belongings, including a braid of her long blonde hair displayed in a glass case. Before today, Brigitte tells Frank, Paul spoke often of how he and Bruges, the dead city, were one, both caught in worshipping the beauty of the past. Yesterday, however, Paul returned from his usual walk laughing and shouting with joy. “The dead are resurrected!” he cried, before ordering Brigitte to open the room and decorate Marie’s keepsakes with flowers.

Frank is astonished, but Paul soon arrives, bursting with excitement. Marie is alive, he tells Frank, restored to him through a woman he met yesterday, a woman who looks and sounds almost exactly like Marie. Paul believes Marie has returned to him in this woman. Frank warns Paul that trying to control death is a dangerous game. Paul, however, refuses to listen, enthralled by the idea that his wife has somehow come back to him in this woman, Marietta.

Frank leaves just as Brigitte announces the arrival of a woman. Marietta enters, and Paul marvels at what seems to be the presence of his dead wife returning to her rooms. At Paul’s request, Marietta dons a scarf and plays a lute, unaware these items once belonged to Marie.

A group of theater performers passes by outside, singing a comic song about kissing a mistress. Marietta greets them and tells Paul she must follow them to rehearsal since she is a dancer at the theater. When she dances, Marietta explains, she feels as if “a demon excites me, masters me, possesses me.” Paul is shocked by Marietta’s profession and passion but declares heaven has sent her to him. He tries to embrace Marietta, who dances around the room to tease him. As she dances, Marietta becomes tangled in a curtain hiding Marie’s portrait. The curtain falls, revealing a painting of Paul’s wife with the same scarf and lute Marietta now holds. Marietta understands Paul is using her to placate the loss of another woman and leaves for the theater, where she is dancing the role of Helen in Robert le Diable.
Paul calls to Marietta, but she is gone. As he stands distraught, Marie steps out from the painting behind him. Marie tells Paul her presence still haunts the house and, through the power of the hair she left behind, the braid in the glass case, she will keep watch over their home. Paul sinks in despair but then remembers Marietta dancing and calls her name once again.

Late evening a few months later, a canal and street bordering Marietta’s house in Bruges

Paul stands on the street corner, watching Marietta’s window. She did not appear at the theater, and he has come to see if she is with another man.

A group of nuns passes by on their way to mass. Paul recognizes one of the nuns, Brigitte, his former housekeeper. Brigitte maintains his sinful relationship with Marietta drove her away, but Paul believes he is not betraying Marie, who has returned to him in the form of Marietta. Brigitte says she does not understand him and follows her sisters into mass.

Frank arrives and notices Paul watching Marietta’s house. Frank confronts Paul, telling him to return home to the memory of his wife. Paul refuses. Frank confesses he is in a relationship with Marietta, and, to prove it, shows Paul the key Marietta has given him to her house. Paul snatches the key, and Frank staggers away.
Just then, a boat of Marietta’s fellow dancers floats along the canal towards her house. They are coming to see why she missed her performance at the theatre. Paul hides and watches as they sing and laugh. Marietta enters on the arm of a handsome man named Gaston. The dancers tease Marietta for abandoning her gloomy companion (Paul) in favor of this new relationship. Marietta drinks champagne and flirts as Paul spies on her.

Paul reveals his secret to Marietta: he has loved her only as a shadow of his true love for Marie. Stunned, Marietta confronts Paul with the fact that she herself has brought him happiness. She insists Paul confess his love for her, Marietta, not Marie. Paul admits his love for Marietta and agrees to take her to his home, where she plans to banish Marie’s ghost forever!

Morning the following day, the room of mementos in Paul’s home
Marietta enters in her nightgown. She compares the powerless picture of the dead woman to her own vibrant desires. As she sings, an Easter celebration begins outside. Children in the procession sing of life as Paul rushes in, distraught. The prayers and music of the church have awakened his remorse for betraying his wife. Marietta laughs and sings of Gaston as Paul becomes enthralled with the procession, his guilt mounting until, finally, he bows in prayer as the relic passes by. Marietta declares she will not share Paul with the dead, whether they be saints or his wife, and demands a kiss. Repulsed and overwhelmed with grief, Paul envisions the procession entering the room, condemning him for betraying his sacred love for Marie.

Marietta is insulted that Paul prefers mourning the dead to love and life with her. Paul orders her to leave, but she insists she will triumph over her dead rival and shatters the glass case with Marie’s braided hair. Marietta then winds the braid about her neck like a scarf and dances mockingly before Marie’s portrait. Furious at this desecration, Paul strangles Marietta with the golden braid as darkness falls on stage.

The darkness lifts as Paul stands bewildered. The room looks untouched. Marie’s hair is in the case just as before and nothing has been damaged. Brigitte enters, telling him that the woman who was just with him has returned. Astounded, Paul watches as Marietta enters, retrieves her parasol, and then leaves. Frank enters, and Paul realizes his relationship with Marietta was an illusion sent as a warning of what dangers may fall if he continues to mourn his wife so fiercely. He tells Frank he will try to leave the dead city of Bruges and is finally ready to say goodbye to Marie.

Karl Friedrich
January 15, 1905 – April 8, 1981

Karl Friedrich was an Austrian operatic tenor. A member of the Vienna State Opera from 1938 to 1970, he is regarded as one of the leading tenors at the house during World War II and afterwards.

Born in Vienna, Friedrich began as an apprentice metalworker. He studied voice at the Vienna Academy. In 1937, he was invited to appear as Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at the Vienna State Opera. A reviewer noted: “We have heard the flower aria only from Romanesque singers with the same passion and with such flowery lips, rarely with such beautiful messa di voce”. He then performed at the Salzburg Festival as Adolar in Weber’s Euryanthe, conducted by Bruno Walter. Friedrich became a member of the Vienna State Opera on September 1, 1938 and remained at the house until 1970. He sang the entire lyrical-dramatic tenor repertoire.

Friedrich was a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival. He also performed many parts in Franz Lehár’s operettas, both on stage and on radio. He recorded the complete operettas Giuditta and Paganini, and appeared as Florestan in a recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio, conducted by Clemens Krauss.

Friedrich was awarded the title Kammersänger in 1948. He became an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera in 1973.