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Lauritz Melchior

Lauritz Melchior

(March 20, 1890 – March 19, 1973)

Click here for recordings and performances by Lauritz Melchior.

Lauritz Melchior was a Danish born American heldentenor.

He was to go on to be acclaimed as the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and even today he is still considered to have been the quintessence of his voice type.

Starting out as a boy soprano in his native Copenhagen, Denmark he was to go on to debut in 1913 in the baritone role of Silvio in Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci at the Royal Theatre (Det Kongelige Teater) in Copenhagen.

He sang mostly secondary baritone and bass roles for the Royal Danish Opera and provincial Scandianavian opera companies over the next few years.

It was only during a performance of Il Trovatore after he busted a high C to help cover an ailing Leonora that the Azucena was so stunned by what she heard she insisted he was no baritone but "a tenor with the lid on".

He took time out to retrain and restudy before his debut in the title role of Tannhauser happened at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen in 1918.

It was a huge turning point in his career. In 1920 he visited England and sang in concerts there.

By 1923 word of his talent had spread to Bayreuth to Cosima & Siegfried Wagner. Lauritz Melchior was engaged to sing Siegmund and Parsifal at a Wagner festival in Bayreuth.

In turn, this led to doors opening for him in Berlin around the same time as accoustic records were starting to be cut for recording companies like Polydor.

In 1924 he scored a huge success with his debut as Siegmund at the Royal Opera House in London and a few weeks later he made his debuts at Bayreuth in the roles of Siegmund and Parsifal.

This was followed in February 1926 with his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York singing Tannhäuser opposite Maria Jeritza.

While he was not generally acclaimed there, he wasn't criticised either- success at the Met was to come later. He went on to appear at the Hamburg State Opera Germany, performing roles such as Lohengrin, Otello, Radames in Aida and Jean van Leyden in Le Prophète. He also sang regularly at other major houses throughout Germany.

His breakthrough performance at the Metropolitan finally came when he sang Tristan in Tristan und Isolde in March 1929. From this point, his career flourished.

From 1924 to 1939 Lauritz Melchior appeared at Covent Garden as Otello and Florestan as well as performing other Wagnerian roles.

He also sang at Buenos Aires (Teatro Colón) (1931-1943), San Francisco Opera (1934-1945) and Chicago Opera (1934-1945).

He made a lot of recordings and sang with some of the most celebrated artists of his time including Kirsten Flagstad, Lotte Lehmann, Helen Traubel, Marjorie Lawrence and Elisabeth Rethberg.

He made numerous TV appearances in his latter years and performed in 5 Hollywood Musicals. He was honoured in 1947 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His final appearance with Danish radio in 1960 on the occasion of his 70th Birthday was an electrifying performance of the first act of Die Walkure.

In the late 1960s, he helped establish a fund through Juilliard for the training of potential heldentenors. It is called "The Lauritz Melchior Heldentenor Foundation."

He died in California in 1973 and was buried in his native Copenhagen.

Click here for recordings and performances by Lauritz Melchior.

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