Franz Völker

31 March 1899 Neu-Isenburg – 5 December 1965 Darmstadt

Franz Völker

Franz Völker as Otello with Jaro Prohaska
Otello with Jaro Prohaska

Franz Völker as Hermann
German in Pikovaja dama

As Parsifal

Franz Völker sings Pagliacci: Hüll dich in Tand nur
In RA format

Franz Völker sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (1)
In RA format

Franz Völker sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (2)
In RA format

Franz Völker sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (3), live and incomplete
In RA format

Franz Völker sings Operetta pastiche
includes Die Dollarprinzessin: Das sind die Dollarprinzessen – Der Graf von Luxemburg: Bist du's, lachendes Glück? – Die Zirkusprinzessin: Zwei Märchenaugen – Gräfin Mariza: Grüß mir mein Wien – Schön ist die Welt: Liebste, glaub an mich – Das Land des Lächelns: Dein ist mein ganzes Herz
In RA format

Franz Völker singsLohengrin: In fernem Land (complete with the rarely performed second verse)
In RA format

Franz Völker singsOtello: Jeder Knabe kann mein Schwert mir entreißen
In RA format

Franz Völker singsIl trovatore: Lodern zum Himmel

Franz Völker was certainly one of the best German tenors ever: a heldentenor capable of every vocal shade and nuance that you'd wish for, with easy production of a radiant tone; not exactly very Italianate, but in the German repertory simply fantastic: finally a Wagner tenor who sings instead of belting, shouting and coughing. And yet, there are also few singers in the history of opera who fell as deep as he did: in 1939, all of a sudden, he lost in fact his voice. In his later recordings (no disc recordings anymore, just live and radio), he is so terrible that it's just painful to listen to him; it's not even a caricature of his former voice, he sounds like 95-year-old.

But examining the (numerous) recordings from his prime carefully, I don't hear any fault; so how come that extreme downfall? It's remarkable how many German singers lost their voices prematurely in or soon after the Nazi period: Wittrisch, Bockelmann, Groh, Anders, Lorenz, Böhme, Meyer-Welfing, Fidesser, Niemar, Kötter, Hartmann, Fügel; even Domgraf-Fassbaender's voice, in spite of his fantastic technique, lost much of its shine and flexibility in the early 1940s, when the singer himself was still far from old (born 1897). Well, the voice is a delicate instrument, and depends very much on the psyche; times were upsetting, and the exceeding majority of German singers was on shockingly friendly terms with the Nazi regime; some voices may have fallen victim to delusion when the Nazis lost the war and had reduced much-praised German glory to rubble (in the figurative and the literary sense), others may have waned under the pressure of remorse when the respective singer realized what a monstrous ideology he or she had initially supported, or at least favored. (A few other singers, like Lorenz, certainly suffered from the constant pressure of living in a system they did not support.)

Völker had been a bank clerk, and sang in a choir as a pastime; in 1925, he was discovered in an amateur singing competition, Clemens Krauss – then director of the Frankfurt opera – organized brief vocal training for him and hired him in 1926 (debut role: Florestan). In 1931, he went to Vienna with Krauss, who had become director of the Staatsoper there; and in 1935, he went again with Krauss, this time to the Berlin Staatsoper. But that 1935 move was not a harmless, normal career step: Krauss had been lured by the Nazis with lots of money and excellent working conditions to come to Berlin, in a successful attempt to support their imperialistic appetite on the field of cultural politics. Because he didn't come alone to Berlin; he took the most important singers of "his" Vienna Staatsoper with him, Viorica Ursuleac, Karl Hammes (a fierce Nazi), Gertrud Rünger, Josef von Manowarda (another fierce Nazi)... and Völker. The Vienna Staatsoper was left with a much reduced troupe of singers, and had grave difficulties to stage many operas for years to come (in fact, until Nazi Germany took over the country in 1938). That coup weakened the (authoritarian and German national, but nonetheless firmly anti-Nazi) Austrian regime on the level of cultural representation, and opera has always been the dearer to the hearts of the Austrian elite than any other form of representation. With all the I've-only-lived-for-my-art-and-never-thought-of-politics self-concept, and even if he just followed his mentor Krauss, it's impossible that Völker didn't apprehend what he had been participating in.

As long as his voice was healthy, he had a splendid career, also internationally: La Scala, Rome, Maggio Musicale, Paris Opéra, Covent Garden, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Munich – and above all, Bayreuth from 1933. That was all over from 1939 onwards (only Bayreuth continued to employ him until 1942). After the war, he sang in Munich until retiring in 1952.


Fidelio – Frankfurt, Oper, 2 November 1926
Tristan und Isolde (Junger Seemann) – Frankfurt, Oper, 12 January 1927
Der Freischütz – Frankfurt, Oper, 5 February 1927
Der fliegende Holländer (Erik) – Frankfurt, Oper, 1 April 1927
Turandot (Altoum) – Frankfurt, Oper, 14 August 1927
Doktor Faust (Herzog von Parma) – Frankfurt, Oper, 18 August 1927
Der Rosenkavalier (Sänger) – Frankfurt, Oper, 21 August 1927
Jonny spielt auf – Frankfurt, Oper, 22 October 1927
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Frankfurt, Oper, 30 October 1927
Der Zigeunerbaron – Frankfurt, Oper, 4 February 1928
La forza del destino – Frankfurt, Oper, 10 February 1928
Il trovatore – Frankfurt, Oper, 20 May 1928
Cavalleria rusticana – Frankfurt, Oper, 28 June 1928
Das geheime Königreich (by Krenek) – Frankfurt, Oper, 9 October 1928
Aida – Frankfurt, Oper, 18 November 1928
Die Fledermaus (Alfred) – Frankfurt, Oper, 26 December 1928
Die Walküre – Frankfurt, Oper, 12 May 1929
Fra Diavolo – Frankfurt, Oper, 7 November 1929
Das Land des Lächelns – Frankfurt, Oper, 30 November 1929
Indigo – Frankfurt, Oper, 15 March 1930
Lohengrin – Frankfurt, Oper, 6 April 1930
Belshazzar (by Händel) – Frankfurt, Oper, 16 April 1930
Der Bettelstudent – Frankfurt, Oper, 26 June 1930
Tannhäuser – Frankfurt, Oper, 11 January 1931
Così fan tutte – Salzburg, Festspielhaus, 14 August 1931
Pagliacci – Wien, Staatsoper, 20 October 1931
Pikovaja dama – Wien, Staatsoper, 10 May 1931
Don Carlo – Wien, Staatsoper, 10 May 1932
La Juive – Wien, Staatsoper, 26 October 1932
Die Frau ohne Schatten – Salzburg, Festspielhaus, Summer 1932
Rienzi – Wien, Staatsoper, 25 March 1933
Die ägyptische Helena (Menelas) – Salzburg, Festspielhaus, 14 August 1933
Otello – Wien, Staatsoper, 15 December 1933
Die Zauberflöte – Wien, Staatsoper, 4 November 1934
Die ägyptische Helena/revised version – Berlin, Staatsoper, 30 March 1935
Carmen – Berlin, Staatsoper, 18 April 1937
Parsifal – Bayreuth, Festspielhaus, 3 August 1938
Tiefland – Berlin, Staatsoper, 14 October 1939
Dalibor – Berlin, Staatsoper, 5 October 1940
Guntram – Berlin, Staatsoper, 13 June 1942
Mariana (Nazified version of Nicolai's Il proscritto) – Berlin, Staatsoper, 3 March 1943
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the recording (Pagliacci) and picture (top).
I wish to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the recordings (operetta pastiche, Lohengrin).
References for the repertory: Stimmen, die um die Welt gingen, no. 50, December 1995
The Record Collector, volume 48/no. 3, September 2003
References for the biography: Kutsch & Riemens
Robert Schlesinger, Gott sei mit unserm Führer. Der Opernbetrieb im deutschen Faschismus, Wien 1997

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