(16 May 1891 – 8 January 1948)
Richard Tauber was an Austrian tenor.
He was widely acclaimed as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century and some critics said that "his heart felt every word he sang".
Certainly he was one of the few singers in history whose name was known around the world.
As a teenager Richard hoped to become a singer but he failed to impress any of the teachers he auditioned for probably because he always chose to sing Wagner for which he was completely unsuited.
After studying piano he was heard by a prominent voice teacher and encouraged to sing Mozart.
Through connections of his father and after a concert appearance a year before, he was finally able to take the stage as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte in 1913.
Just a matter of days later he played Max in Der Freischütz. In the audience was Baron Seebach of the Dresden Opera who offered the young tenor a five-year contract.
With an aptitude for learning roles very quickly Tauber acquired his reputation as a remarkably quick study learning the role of Gounod's Faust in just 48 hours, Bacchus in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in an afternoon, and so on. It wasn't long before people started to refer to him as "the SOS Tenor".
1922 saw his first associations with the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin State Opera. For many years he was associated with both companies.
He sang tenor roles in many operas, including Don Giovanni, The Bartered Bride, Tosca, Mignon, Faust, Carmen and Die Fledermaus and even sang newer works such as Korngold's Die tote Stadt and Wilhelm Kienzl's Der Evangelimann.
Around this time he began recording his first records. His discography was to reach over seven hundred during his lifetime.
Richard Tauber had a lyrical, agile tenor voice with a warm and elegant legato line.
His excellent breath control and technique gave him a wonderful head voice and messa di voce with a superb pianissimo.
He was also elegant in appearance too – giving him a memorable presence onstage. It was due to a slight squint in his right eye that he began to wear a monocal and coupled with a top hat, he presented a very elegant aristocratic figure- the epitome of Viennese charm and sophistication.
In 1922 something happened which changed the course of Richard Tauber's career. He briefly took over the part of Armand in Franz Lehár's operetta Frasquita at the Theater an der Wien.
While it was only a modest success this diversion from opera did him no harm whatsoever. While some afficianado's looked down on the exercise a new audience was immediately created.
It instantly revived Lehár's flagging career as a composer of operetta and he went on to compose a number of new works specifically created for Tauber's voice and talent.
Often occuring in the second act these pieces were informally known as Tauberlieder.
Such was Tauber's fame he occasionally appeared in films - one, the early German sound film I Kiss Your Hand, Madame with Marlene Dietrich in 1929.
In Vienna he met the soprano Carlotta Vanconti who was married at the time to an Italian gentleman. She divorced him and married Tauber in 1926 but they separated in 1928 and divorced two years later, by which time he was already playing "find the woozle" with Mary Losseff (a vaudeville player) in Berlin.
They lived together for about five years and Mary Losseff became his muse. Unfortunately she was later to become an alcoholic which ended her career but she and Tauber remained lifelong friends and he even supported her until his death.
After appearing in operetta in London in 1931 his London appearances became a regular event and he also toured the USA this same year.
In 1933 he was assaulted in the streets in Germany because of his Jewish heritage and he moved to Austria where he continued to sing at the Vienna State Opera right up to the Anschluss in 1938.
While making some musical films in England in the mid-1930s he met the English actress Diana Napier and they started to play find the woozle before marrying in 1936.
They appeared together in three films (not playing find the woozle) Heart's Desire in 1935, and Land Without Music and Pagliacci both in 1936.
Finally he made his opera debut in London in 1938 singing Die Zauberflöte under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. By this time the naughty Nazis had cancelled the Tauber's passports rendering them as "stateless persons".
This enabled him to apply for British residency which was granted and after a tour of SA he was able to return to Britain in 1940 where he stayed for the duration of the war.
Because there was no operas staged during the war, Richard Tauber made his living by singing, conducting and making gramophone records and doing radio broadcasts.
He even composed English operettas with his lyric writer Fred S. Tysh. Naturally due to the war his savings were still left in Austria and as he had been paid for each recorded performance there were no royalties from those either, however, it was from two songs recorded in Britain Old Chelsea and the song My Heart and I that became his most popular (and lucrative) English recordings.
Around this time, his arthritic condition had become so bad he could no longer move into and away from the microphone for softer and louder notes. This meant a small trolley with rubber wheels had to be employed so he could be silently wheeled back and forth while recording.
In 1946 he toured Canada and in 1947 he was forced to seek medical attention for a persistent cough. Unfortunately the diagnosis was bad and he was diagnosed with lung cancer- one lung already useless and the other one almost totally gone.
At this time the Vienna State Opera was in London for a short season at the Royal Opera House. It was their first visit since the war.
Richard Tauber was invited to sing one performance with his old company- the role of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. It famously has two very challenging arias requiring top breath control to bring it off well.
Those present in the audience that night reported that he sang wonderfully to loud appreciative applause and from live recordings made of the performance there is no doubt this account is correct- however, while the recordings reveal the Tauber qualities of steady focus and tone with an excellent line remain, the phrases were somewhat shortened.
Ironically his career had ended as it began – with Mozart.
Just one week later he was taken into hospital to have his left lung removed, but it was too late and he died soon after on 8 January 1948.
Richard Tauber is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.
A critic once lambasted him for wasting his time singing operetta. Tauber famously replied- I don't sing operetta I sing Lehar!
It must be said whether he sang operetta or opera Richard Tauber was one of the greatest singers who might have been one of the early "cross over artists" but he also enhanced both genres no matter what he sang.
His talents and fame gave many people an introduction to the wonderful world of opera that they would otherwise never have had.