ORFEO International


October 2010

Fritz Wunderlich, *26 September 1930

The name of Fritz Wunderlich has long since been the stuff of legend, and yet it is impossible not to recall that he might have still been alive today and that we would now be celebrating his eightieth birthday if he had not been snatched away by his tragically early death. Fritz Wunderlich
Fritz Wunderlich
Foto: Fayer
When people speak of the “tenor miracle” of Fritz Wunderlich, the only question that remains unresolved is what he was not capable of singing. The unmistakable brilliance of his voice and the radiance of his top notes, to say nothing of his effortless and tasteful vocalism, were altogether unique. There was nothing that he could not do. His abilities meant that he was predestined, of course, to perform a readily accessible repertory, including Mozart and Verdi and even popular operetta arias and canzonettas. But he was also in demand in Baroque works, and even if this repertory was governed by different stylistic criteria from those that obtain today, he was none the less regularly invited to work on such pieces with leading conductors of their day, including Ferdinand Leitner and Rafael Kubelík. The result of their collaboration was a whole series of magnificent overall interpretations. But it did not stop there. Fritz Wunderlich also took part in the first performances of several works by Werner Egk in Munich, and elsewhere too he took an enthusiastic interest in contemporary music. He also appeared in a production of Janáèek’s The Excursions of Mr Brouèek, a work that was still regarded as “modern” in the late 1950s and that even today remains too little known. He brought far more to the production than just a top C, for all that this proved useful as a marketing ploy for a production that was felt at the time to be daring. Can one expect more than this from an operatic star – not just to shine in the regular repertory (although that in itself is far from easy) but also to place one’s stamp on relatively unknown works that are far harder to communicate to audiences? Whether in operas, lieder or oratorios, Fritz Wunderlich managed to do all this. Perhaps he ultimately remains unforgotten because he never thought it beneath himself to appear in marginal roles that were not necessarily grateful but which thanks to him proved sensational – here one thinks especially of the operas of Richard Strauss.