Fritz Wunderlich

26 September 1930 Kusel – 17 September 1966 Heidelberg

Fritz Wunderlich sings Mattinata

Fritz Wunderlich singsTurandot: Keiner schlafe

Wunderlich's parents were musicians, and already as a young child, he played the accordion and the horn at local dance events, and thus contributed to the family income. He had also his first stage experiences as an actor and singer in his native village, with a local amateur group. From 1950 to 1955, he studied horn, piano and voice at the Freiburg academy of music. He still played at dance events, now so as to fund his studies. In 1952, he sang his first professional concerts and oratorios, all locally. His first radio appearances (in operetta) soon followed; in 1954, he sang Tamino in a Freiburg student performance.

Wunderlich got his first contract in Stuttgart – he would stay a member of that theater for all his life, while at the same time belonging to the Munich opera from 1960. Initially, he sang small parts, but that changed in 1956, when he stepped in for Josef Traxel as Tamino; instantly, he became a start, and made his first disc recordings the same year. In 1958, he was at the Aix-en-Provence and Edinburg festivals for the first time, in 1959 at the festival in Salzburg and the Vienna Staatsoper, in 1960 in Berlin (in concert) and at the Cologne opera, in 1961 in London and Hamburg (both in concert) as well as at the Teatro Colón, in 1962 at the Hamburg Staatsoper. In 1963, he made a contract with the Vienna Staatsoper for regular guest appearances. In 1965, he was Don Ottavio at Covent Garden.

In 1966, he was preparing for his Met debut, when he had a fatal accident: he fell down the stairs at a friend's hunting lodge, and broke his neck. There's a widespread rumor that he was heavily drunk, but as by the testimonies of those present, that's an invention, and in reality, he just stepped on his undone shoelace.

Wunderlich produced a huntingly beautiful tone; as always, that's not (only) a question of natural timbre, but primarily of vocal technique, and thus a genuine merit and not just good luck. His voice was huge, as evidenced by the TV recording of a Munich Barbiere with his close friend Hermann Prey, and with Hans Hotter as Basilio. Prey and Hotter are two singers that (unlike Wunderlich) I had the chance to hear on stage: Prey's voice was enormous, and Hotter's voice was about twice Prey's, the largest voice that I've ever experienced in a theater. Now from that Barbiere, it's obvious that Wunderlich's voice was larger than Prey's, and not much smaller than Hotter's, which is quite amazing for such a purely lyrical tenor. What is, however, also obvious from the Barbiere recording is that his coloratura was far from being perfect. He was also not exactly very Italianate (but he sang a lot of Italian roles, not always very successfully in my opinion), and he could be unbecomingly sentimental, above all in operetta and light music. Bottom line, his tragic early death has certainly helped create a myth, and cover certain shortcomings; but there's no doubt that even without the myth and even acknowledging the shortcomings, he was an absolutely remarkable singer.

Picture source; reference 1 and reference 2 for the biography

I would like to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the recording.


Faust (Goethe's play with incidental music by Josef Müller-Blattau; role: Student) – Kusel, Kulturring, 1947 Rumpelstilzchen (fairy-tale play with music by Josef Müller-Blattau; role: Hofarzt) – Kusel, Kulturring, Christmas 1947
Hänsel und Gretel (yes, the opera by Humperdinck; role: not certain, allegedly Father Peter, a baritone!!) – Kusel, Kulturring, 16 December 1948
Glück am Rhein (operetta by Georg Mielke; role: Heinz Felden) – Kusel, Kulturring, December 1950/January 1951
Die Zauberflöte (Tamino) – Freiburg, Musikhochschule, 21 July 1954
Der Bettelstudent (Adam) – Freiburg, Theater, 1954
Orfeo (Apollo, Pastore, Spirito) – Hitzacker, Sommerliche Musiktage, 23 July 1955
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Ulrich Esslinger) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 30 September 1955
Der Freischütz (Kilian) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, October 1955
Tannhäuser (Heinrich der Schreiber) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, October 1955
Otello (Rodrigo) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, October 1955
Boris Godunov (Boyar-in-Attendance) – Stuttgart, October 1955
Aida (Messaggero) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, January 1956
Antigonae (by Orff; role: one of the 15 Theban Ancients) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 9 March 1956 (German premiere)
Turandot (Pang) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, April 1956
Prodaná nevěsta (Jeník) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 14 Mai 1956
Volo di notte (by Dallapiccola; role: Pellerin) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 22 Mai 1956
Otello (Cassio) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 14 June 1956
Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Belmonte) – Staatsoper, Stuttgart, 16 June 1956
La finta giardiniera (Belfiore) – Schloss Ludwigsburg, Barocktheater, 30 June 1956
Eine Nacht in Venedig (Caramello) – Stuttgart, Anlagensee, 12 July – 15 August 1956
Wozzeck (Andres) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, November 1956
Pagliacci (Beppe) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, December 1956
Jephtha (Prophet) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 2 February 1957
Oedipus rex (Hirte) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, February 1957
Der Rosenkavalier (Italienischer Sänger) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, February 1957
Oedipus rex (Oedipus) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 18 March 1957
Der Revisor (by Egk; role: Bobtschinskij) – Schwetzingen, Rokokoschlosstheater, 9 May 1957 (world premiere)
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Fenton) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 18 July 1957
Così fan tutte (Ferrando) – Stuttgart,Staatsoper
Salome (Narraboth) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 18 December 1957
Die Wunderinsel (= Alfonso und Estrella by Schubert; role: Ferdinand) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 26 January 1958
Der Wilschütz (Kronthal) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 12 March 1958
Tristan und Isolde (Junger Seemann) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 1958
Der Mond (Erzähler) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, June 1958
Osud (Hrázda) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 26 October 1958 (German premiere)
Tannhäuser (Walther von der Vogelweide) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 8 November 1958
Der Barbier von Sevilla (Almaviva) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, December 1958
Die Schweigsame Frau (Henry) – Salzburg, Kleines (?) Festspielhaus, July 1959
Výlety páně Broučkovy (Mazal/Azurean/Peter) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, September 1959 (German premiere)
Oedipus der Tyrann (Tiresias) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 11 December 1959 (world premiere)
Lucia di Lammermoor (Arturo) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper
Don Giovanni (Don Ottavio) – Köln, Oper, 20 March 1960
La traviata (Alfredo) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, May ? 1960
Die Schule der Frauen (by Liebermann; role: Horace) – Munich, Cuvilliés-Theater, 1 December 1960
Die Fledermaus (Alfred) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, December 1960
Don Pasquale (Ernesto) – München, Nationaltheater, February 1961
Die Frau ohne Schatten (Stimme eines Jünglings) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, February 1961
Il turco in Italia (Don Narciso) – Stuttgart, Staatsoper, March ? 1961
La Cenerentola (Don Ramiro) – München, Nationaltheater, November 1961
Evgenij Onegin (Lenskij) – München, Nationaltheater, 22 December 1961
Palestrina (Abdisu) – München, Prinzregententheater, 21 December 1962
Die Verlobung in San Domingo (by Egk; role: Christoph von Ried) – München, Nationaltheater, 27 November 1963 (world premiere)
Giulio Cesare (Sesto) – München, Nationaltheater, 22 December 1963
Capriccio (Italienischer Tenor) – Wien, Staatsoper, 21 March 1964
Daphne (Leukippos) – München, Nationaltheater, 22? May 1964
Der fliegende Holländer (Steuermann) – München, Nationaltheater, 23 October 1964
Palestrina (Palestrina) – Wien, Staatsoper, 16 December 1964

Reference 1: Werner Pfister Fritz Wunderlich Biographie, Mainz 2005
Reference 2
Reference 3

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