Fritz Wunderlich (September 26, 1930 – September 17, 1966)
The esteemed German tenor, Fritz Wunderlich, who was born to a violinist mother and choir director father, was no doubt enveloped in music at an early age. Urged to pursue classical voice training by theater people who heard him singing as they passed the bakery where he worked, the young Wunderlich was granted a scholarship to the Freiburg Music Academy in Breisgau by the town fathers. He studied there from 1950 to 1955, also studying the classical horn which explains his almost supernatural breath control.
After playing Tamino in a 1955 student production of Die Zauberflöte, Fritz Wunderlich was engaged by the Wurttemberg State Opera in Stuttgart. His first professional role was as Ulrich Eislinger in Die Meistersinger. When he was called to play Tamino for an ailing Josef Traxel, Stuttgart had a new star and Fritz Wunderlich's short but amazing career had begun.
During the remaining decade of his life Fritz Wunderlich gained the highest respect as a Mozart singer, lending lyrical brilliance to J.S. Bach, Schubert and Gustav Mahler and melodic tenderness to Bel Canto and light opera roles. Following such greats as Tauber and Schmidt, Wunderlich also devoted a good part of his time to the beautiful songs of such compsers as Strauss, Lehár, Kálmán and Fall. Singing with the Bavarian State Opera and the Vienna State Opera, he also sang every year at the famed Salzburg Festival. After a a highly successful concert tour of the United States in 1964 and engagements at Covent Garden and Edinburgh in 1965, Wunderlich planned his Metropolitan debut as Don Ottavio on October 8, 1966. However, it was not to be. He died September 17, 1966, a week before his 36th birthday in an accidental fall down a stone stairway at a friend's castle in Heidelberg.
Although he never realized his due as a truly international star in his lifetime, Fritz Wunderlich has since become a favorite of opera lovers the world over. One has only to listen to his stunning voice to become a devotee for life. His vocal quality and strength combined with effortless expression and touching lyrical beauty make him one of the truly great tenors of the 20th century and probably of all time.
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