"Dir töne Lob" Tannhäuser
Plácido Domingo (b. 1941)
Plácido Domingo is one of the most beloved and respected opera singers of the 20th century. Born in Madrid to parents who were zarzuela performers, Domingo and his parents moved to Mexico when he was eight years old. After studying voice, piano and conducting at the Mexico City Conservatory, he made his operatic début in Monterey as Alfredo in La Traviata, and then spent two and a half years with the Israel National Opera, singing 280 performances of twelve different roles. In 1966 he created the title role in the United States première of Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo at the New York City Opera, while appearing there in the standard repertoire as well. His Metropolitan Opera début came in 1968, as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur. By the mid 1970's Domingo was considered the world's greatest tenor. Having already conquered the Italian and French repertory, Domingo began concentrating on the music of Wagner. He has sung Lohengrin and Tannhäusser, and he has made a specialty of singing Siegmund and Parsifal. Although he has never sung Tristan und Isolde onstage, Domingo is finally ready to tackle Wagner's toughest tenor role. EMI has announced that it plans to record a complete version of the work featuring Domingo in the title role.
"Los den Anker!" Tristan und Isolde
Ben Heppner (b. 1956)
Ben Heppner, one of the most popular current Wagnerian singers was born in British Columbia, Canada, and began his musical studies at the University of British Columbia School of Music. He first gained national attention in 1979 as the winner of the Canadian Broadcasting Company Talent Festival. He is recognized as one of the finest dramatic tenors before the public today. He excels in roles, from Wagner's Tristan and Lohengrin to Verdi's Otello and Berlioz' Aeneas. He performs frequently with the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Opéra National de Paris, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. His European début was as Lohengrin at the Royal Swedish Opera. Ben Heppner's Wagnerian triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera include Robert Wilson's Lohengrin, and the new Dieter Dorn Jürgen Rose production of Tristan und Isolde. He has also performed the role of Walther von Stolzing at the Metropolitan's Die Meistersinger. All of these performances were lead by the Met's Musical Director, James Levine.
"So weit Leben und Weben " Das Rheingold
Siegfried Jerusalem (b. 1940)
How bassoonist Siegfried Jerusalem became one of the leading heldentenors of his generation is one of the great stories in the world of opera. At a recording in Stuttgart of the operetta "Der Zigeunerbaron," the tenor, Franco Bonisolli, had backed out of the production, and Jerusalem was playing bassoon in the orchestra. With no tenor in sight, his colleagues in the orchestra knew that Jerusalem sang and persuaded him to audition for conductor Kurt Eichhorn. He was impressed with his voice, and Jerusalem learned the part in one week and recorded it. Already in his thirties, Jerusalem started his new musical life as a singer. He studied the part of Lohengrin, and learned it in two weeks, took it to auditions everywhere and was given a contract to sing it in Aachen. Lohengrin was also the vehicle for his début in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Bayreuth, the Metropolitan Opera, and La Scala. He has performed Parsifal at Bayreuth, Vienna, Paris and Hamburg; Tristan at Bayreuth, and Siegmund and Siegfried just about everywhere. These days, Jerusalem has left behind his heldentenor days and now concentrates on the Charaktertenor Wagner roles. Loge in Das Rheingold is one of his specialties.
"Isolde Kommt" Tristan und Isolde
Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973)
Lauritz Melchior started singing, in Denmark, at an early age when a boarder in his father's house, who was a voice teacher, gave Melchior and the other children in the family singing lessons. He often accompanied his sister, who was blind, to the opera, and from her reactions he learned how dramatically powerful a voice can be. Like many Wagnerian tenors he started his career as a baritone; first studying at the Copenhagen Royal Opera School. His unofficial début was in 1912 as Germont in La Traviata with a tiny touring company. He made his début as a tenor in 1918 as Tannhäuser, again at the Copenhagen Royal Opera. His Covent Garden début was in 1924 as Siegmund. He auditioned for Siegfried Wagner and made his Bayreuth début in 1924 as Parsifal. He continued to take leading roles there, including the legendary 1930 Tristan und Isolde under Arturo Toscanini, who dubbed him "Tristanissimo." His Metropolitan Opera début was in 1926 as Tannhauser and he sang there regularly until 1950, when one of Rudolf Bing's first actions as general manager was to decline to renew his contract. After this dismissal, Melchior retired from the stage, though he continued to appear in films and operettas, sang on the radio, including a broadcast of the first act of Die Walkure from Copenhagen on his 70th birthday.
"Es giebt ein Schwert" Siegfried
Gerhard Stolze (1926-1979)
Gerhard Stolze belonged to the generation of singers assembled together by Wieland Wagner for the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. Together with such luminaries as Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl, Ludwig Weber, and Wolfgang Windgassen, Stolze became an integral part of the "New-Bayreuth" singers, taking part in the original 1951 productions of Parsifal and Die Meistersinger. His unique tenor voice and incredible acting talents made him a memorable Charaktertenor during the decade of the 1950's and 60's. Although many critics accused him of barking his roles rather than singing them, Stolze's style had a unique edge that made the characters he sang come to life. To contemporary audiences who might not have had the opportunity to hear him live, he is best known for his recorded legacy. In particular, his chilling interpretation of Mime in the John Culshaw Sir Georg Solti London/Decca Ring recording is unforgettable. His non-Wagnerian repertory included Herod in Richard Strauss' Salome. His wild unsettling performance, alongside the Salome of Birgit Nilsson, was also recorded by London and also conducted by Sir Georg Solti.
"Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater" Die Walküre
Jacques Urlus (1867-1935)
Jacques Urlus was born in Hergenrath near Aix-la-Chapelle to Dutch parents. Urlus spent his early years in Tilburg and Utrecht where he worked in a steel mill and sang in a local choir. In 1892 Urlus met the director of the Dutch National Opera House, and without having any serious vocal training  he made his début in Amsterdam, as Beppe in Pagliacci on September 20, 1894. In 1898 he was invited by Siegfried Wagner to Bayreuth to restudy his repertory of Wagner operas in German, since he had previously sung all his roles in Dutch. However, he left Bayreuth prematurely and he was not given a contract there until 1914. By the turn of the century he had become a leading heroic tenor. He appeared in Berlin, Vienna and London. In 1912 he made his début as Tristan at the Met. During World War I he was successful at maintaining his international fame, and in 1922 returned to the United States. At the age of 63 he made his début at the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona in the role of Tristan. An amazingly talented, durable, and versatile singer, when he died in Noordwjik all of Holland mourned his passing.
"Winterstürme" Die Walküre
Jon Vickers (b. 1926)
Born in 1926 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, Jon Vickers fully intended to pursue a career in business until he was 22 when he was persuaded to study singing by a fellow singer and he won a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He steadily built his career in Canada until his big break came in the form of an audition for Sir David Webster of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London in 1956. After a début as Riccardo in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, he hit the big time by tackling two of the most challenging roles in the entire repertoire during his first year there (1957): Aeneas in Berlioz's Les Troyens and the title role in Verdi's Don Carlo. Thought of as primarily an "Italian tenor" in Europe, he was guided more into the German repertoire as a result of his association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, largely because the director, Sir Rudolf Bing, felt adequately covered in the Italian repertoire with singers such as Corelli and Tucker, whereas the German repertoire was seriously lacking an exponent. He continued to sing the "big" roles -- Otello, Samson (both Handel's and Saint-Saens'), Peter Grimes, Tristan, Florestan, Parsifal, Siegmund -- until he gradually wound down his career as a singer in the later 1980's.
"Dir töne Lob" Tannhäuser
Ramón Vinay (1912-1996)
Ramón Vinay was born in Chile to a French father and a Chilean mother. The family moved to Mexico City and he studied singing with José Pierson, making his début as Don Alfonso in La Favorita, a baritone role. In 1944, after having continued his vocal studies with René Maison, he performed as a tenor for the first time, singing Don José, Samson, Cavaradossi and Puccini’s Des Grieux. The following year he made his début as Don José at the New York City Center Opera. The role of Otello served for his début at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1946, where he was regularly engaged until 1961. His international career began when Arturo Toscanini invited him to sing Otello in a recording released by RCA in 1946. Vinay was a widely acknowledged interpreter of Heldentenor Wagner roles, and he appeared at Bayreuth regularly between 1952 and 1957. His repertory included Tristan, Parsifal, Siegmund and Tannhäuser. In 1962 he returned to the baritone roles, singing Telramund at Bayreuth. Ramón Vinay sang his last performances at the Opera of Santiago de Chile in 1971, but still appeared in concert performances until 1974. After he stopped singing, he worked as a stage director and was appointed  General Manager of the Opera House in Santiago de Chile for a short time. He died in Puebla, Mexico, January 4, 1996.
"Brünnhilde, heilige Braut" Götterdämmerung
Wolfgang Windgassen (1914-1974)
Wolfgang Windgassen was the son of the famous heldentenor Fritz Windgassen. He made his début in 1939, and eventually would grow as an artist to become his father's successor at the Stuttgart State Opera. He would be a member of this company until his death. Windgassen sang in all the important opera houses throughout the world as a guest. He was member of the Bayreuth festival from 1951 until 1970, where he sang all the important heldentenor roles from Eric to Parsifal. Windgassen is considered by many to be the most important Wagner tenor after World War II. He made an impressive amount of recordings which included complete sets of Wagner operas, a new kind of undertaking that recording companies were pioneering. He is the Siegfried in the fabled John Culshaw, Sir Georg Solti complete Ring recording, and he is the Tristan in the classic live recording made at Bayreuth in 1966 conducted by Karl Böhm and featuring Birgit Nilsson and Christa Ludwig. One of the outstanding heldentenor voices of the century, his complete recordings of the Ring operas helped to introduce a new postwar public to Wagner's work.
More Great Wagnerian Tenors of the Past. Click the aria's name to hear a sound sample.
Albert Reiss
Karl Erb
Ernst Kraus
Joachim Sattler
Eric Schmedes
Rudolf Berger
Heinrich Knote