Richard Versalle

3 December 1932 Muskegon (Michigan) – 5 January 1996 New York City

Versalle was a marine first, then a lab technician and a chemical salesman. He was in his early 40s when he decided that he would rather be an opera singer, and studied voice in Chicago.

He sang in a Chicago baroque ensemble, then he made his stage debut in 1978 at the Met as the Messenger in Aida. He went to Germany and got a contract in Saarbrücken, where he was successful as Otello. In 1984, he was hired by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Düsseldorf-Duisburg), for roles like Riccardo, Cavaradossi, Paul (Die tote Stadt by Korngold) or Peter Grimes. Guest appearances took him to Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Zürich.

His breakthrough came when eternally indisposed René Kollo had to be replaced as Tannhäuser in Bayreuth in 1985. Versalle was successful, and Tannhäuser became his signature role: he repeated the role in Bayreuth in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and he sang it at the Vienna Staatsoper, in Tokyo, in Genova, and once at the Met (again as a cover) in 1992, after returning to the US. He was back to the Met a few further times, and he died there on stage from a heart attack, in a premiere of Janáček's Věc Makropoulos (The Makropoulos affair).

Reference 1: The Charlotte Observer, 21 January 1996; reference 2: Kutsch & Riemens

Richard Versalle sings Tannhäuser: Dir töne Lob, with Ruthild Engert-Ely

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