Wolfgang Windgassen

Picture of Wolfgang Windgassen

Letter from Sigurd Björling.
In 1951, Sigurd Björling was in Bayreuth to sing the Wotans. He attends the rehearsals for Parsifal, hates it and reports home:
"This whole thing is a nightmare. The singers are simply beyond good and evil. The tenor (Windgassen) is about the most awful tenor I have ever heard, Kundry (Mödl) has the rawest voice and the most vulgar appearance of the entire festival, and Amfortas (London) is singing his first Amfortas, and he seems like he got up on the wrong side of the bed. It's easier to count the bars that he sings correctly than the bars he screws up. He is flat most of the time anyway."

I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the letter.

Wolfgang Windgassen was born on June 24th, 1914 in Annemasse, France. His father was Fritz Windgassen, tenor in Kassel and Stuttgart. His mother was Vally van Osten, coloratura soprano in Kassel and sister of Eva von der Osten, who was a favorite in Dresden. Wolfgang Windgassen was married twice. His second wife was the soprano Lore Wissmann.

At the beginning, Windgassen was a voluntary technical assiatant at the Stuttgart opera. He then studied singing with Alfons Fischer and with his own father at the Stuttgart conservatory.

Windgassen made his debut in 1939 at the Stadttheater Pforzheim as Pinkerton.

After the war, Windgassen was engaged at the Staatsoper Stuttgart. First, he sang roles such as Tamino, Hoffmann, Alfredo, Riccardo, Duca, Alvaro, Radames, Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, Pinkerton, Canio, Turiddu, Florestan, Max, and Schwalb (first German performance of Mathis der Maler).

In 1951, Windgassen started singing Wagner roles. His first Siegmund, in 1951, at the Stuttgart Staatsoper was a great success. He sang at the Bayreuth Festival from 1951 to 1970: Erik, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Loge, Siegmund, Siegfried (x2), Stolzing, Tristan and Parsifal.

His repertory included, besides the Wagner roles, Adolar, Kaiser, Florestan, Otello, Eisenstein and even Orlofsky for the TV.

Windgassen sang in Wien, Paris, London, Milano, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Sydney, New York and San Francisco among others. He remained a member of the Stuttgart Staatsoper until his death. In 1970, he started to direct operas. From 1972 to 1974, he was the artistic director of the Stuttgart Staatsoper, and from 1963 to 1972 president of the Genossenschaft Deutscher Bühnenangehöriger (kind of a stage artists trade union). On September 8th in Stuttgart, 1974 he died suddenly from a heart attack, after singing Tannhäser for his 60th birthday. Windgassen is buried at the Waldfriedhof Stuttgart.

from Fritz A. Körke: Almanach der Künstler von Oper, Operette, Schauspiel und Konzert, Nürnberg 1947
The conductor Joseph Keilberth said: "Once upon a time, every provincial theatre's company boasted two or three heldentenors. Today, total breakdown if Windgassen has to cancel a performance." Which was certainly true... and a testimony to the quality of the 1950s/1960s opera scene, though not a favourable one. Windgassen's voice and technique were definitely unremarkable, but he was an intelligent vocal actor.
Wolfgang Windgassen sings Otello: Jeder Knabe kann mein Schwert mir entreißen
In RA format

Wolfgang Windgassen sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
In RA format

Wolfgang Windgassen sings Lohengrin: Nun sei bedankt ... Wenn ich im Kampfe für dich siege, with Astrid Varnay and Joseph Greindl
In RA format

Wolfgang Windgassen sings Lohengrin: In fernem Land
Windgassen's humor: instead of singing "drin ein Gefäß von wundertät'gem Segen", he sings: "drin ein Gesäß von wundertät'gem Segen".
In RA format

Many thanks to Anton Bieber for the picture scan from the Körke book.
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the picture and recording (In fernem Land).

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