operacast.com

Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948):
A Brief Appreciation

 


VRCS Annual CDs FOR SALE!

OPERA ON THE INTERNET (HOME) | LIST OF OPERA STATIONS | OPERA TABLE
SCHEDULE PAGES THIS SATURDAY |
THIS SUNDAY | THIS WEEK : MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY | THURSDAY | FRIDAY
NEXT SATURDAY | NEXT SUNDAY | NEXT WEEK - MONDAY TO FRIDAY

The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797 - 1847 NEW BOOK

OperaBlog

A FEW REFLECTIONS

BAYREUTH BROADCASTS 2003 INTERNET RADIO FOR SIMPLETONS | INTERNET RADIO FOR TECHIES

THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO OPERA RECORDINGS & VIDEOS | REVIEWS: BY OPERA TITLE BY COMPOSER THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO BOOKS ON OPERA | FAVORITE OPERA LINKS

SIGN OUR GUESTBOOK | VIEW GUESTBOOK
DOWNLOADS:

REAL AUDIO (Get the FREE Version - we recommend RP Version 8 - you can download it here) | WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER | WINAMP (MP3 Player) (Preferred Version 5.09 may be downloaded here) | QUICKTIME PLAYER | CHAINCAST PLAYER

 

RICHARD TAUBER (pic.) (1891 - 1948) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION

--Geoffrey Riggs


I once had a discussion with one aficionado, a Gunter Kossodo who moderated an all-day Ring des Nibelungen marathon on FM radio once a year and who was a regular lecturer at the New School and Bayreuth, who had seen both Jussi Bjoerling and Richard Tauber in person in Vienna during the '30s. He told me that, in person, the lower two thirds of the Tauber instrument were more resonant, heavier and more spinto-ish than Bjoerling, but that Bjoerling had greater strength and penetration when it came to the upper third. Personally, I happen to feel -- and Gunter Kossodo happened to agree -- that Tauber's top, while efficient enough, does not come off as much more than efficient on recordings. Certainly, his top is not on a par with Bjoerling's, Pavarotti's or that of many other lirico spintos regularly discussed.

Furthermore, so far as I know, Tauber never really had a high C. We hear one glancing high C in the "Che gelida manina" (1924), but it's definitely not sustained. Tauber also narrows his vowels higher up in a very Viennese way, which is disconcerting to a listener used to the golden outpouring of other tenors. With all this, it's remarkable what a vibrant core Tauber's upper tones still have. However weird his upper vowels up front, one has the feeling that his actual throat is always squared open in the fine Caruso manner! That said, his top is still not quite of the quality of some of the others even so. Yes, once in a while, as in the climax of his 1927 "La donna e mobile", he'll give one a ringing and open high B that's perfectly fine. But such notes are not his stock in trade.

Given all this, though, he is my favorite all the same.

Why?

Heart.

Well, more than heart, actually, but that's where it all starts. Yes, one must at least have a genuinely musical and resilient voice capable of maintaining a vibrant, fully resonated vocal line. But all the greatest tenors already have that. Once that necessity is established as a given, heart then starts to bulk hugely in my estimation.

In this connection, Tauber's apparent spontaneity in expression is nothing less than astounding. It is particularly so since it's always in the context of a wealth of detail and tonal shading. How come the variety of his dynamics and of his vocal coloring is so staggering while the impression of spontaneity of expression is still maintained so consistently at the same time? That such an abundance of the most insightful nuance should also come off as the ultimate in spontaneity is the greatest paradox of the sheer heart that Tauber brings to his singing. He can fool the listener into imagining that all that abundance of nuance is merely the inspiration of the moment -- when it clearly can't be. Hours and hours must go into it. But it doesn't sound that way. That is genius. That a singer should be able to combine the most scrupulous musicianship with the most extroverted and heartfelt style seems almost an impossibility. Tauber shows that it isn't.

Whether or not his voice is sumptuous in the Caruso/Bjoerling way, his command of musical communication is such that nothing he does sounds unmusical. Rather, I find his very tones intrinsically engaging in any case, and he certainly has a voice that is essentially attractive in absolute terms, even if relatively plain by certain standards. At any rate, I never feel that one has to make allowances for any unattractive sounds, the way one does for certain other perfectly fine artists. Instead, Tauber's voice usually has a truly magnetic and genuinely simpatico quality. It's just that it's not downright stunning like some others.

Especially to his credit is the way he maintains consistent technical security throughout an arduous career. In fact, at around the age of 48 or so, circa 1939, even the narrowed vowels start to open up somewhat! Arguably, his finest years technically (we can argue about when the voice itself sounds its best) were from around 1939 to 1942, from age 47 to 51. That shows tremendous discipline, particularly when one considers that his operatic career began in 1913, when he turned 22. Imagine: thirty years of solid arduous performing where the technical prowess and vocal resiliency continually get better! That is an astonishing track record. Decline does not first appear until the initial onslaught in 1943 (he was 52) of the first signs of the nasty cough that heralded the lung cancer that eventually killed him in 1948 at age 56. Even so, he painstakingly manages to learn how to "sing around it", and there is, in fact, an astonishing vocal recovery that is readily audible, starting around the second half of 1946 at age 55, less than two years before his death! This after he had been sounding like a singer on his last legs! Again, sheer technical discipline that seems unfathomable! His most amazing feat (and we have recorded excerpts) was probably his final appearance on stage: a Don Ottavio in 1947 where he sounds perfectly fine again! Yet he was back in the hospital again within days, never to come out, fading inexorably until his death in early 1948.

Unlike many a tenor, he was a genuinely charismatic showman in terms of his physical deportment across the footlights. Even though afflicted with a slight limp and a slight squint(!), and hardly a man known for conventional matinee-idol looks, his control as an actor of the space around him was still exceptional for an opera singer. There are even certain films -- his early film of Land des Laechelns and his later Blossom Time and English-language Pagliacci spring to mind -- that happen to be pretty expertly acted. No, he is no Lawrence Olivier, but the camera does not "catch him out" as a liar, a rare gift among singers. Instead, he is able to wear his heart on his sleeve in all these movies and to do so with a modicum of real "Presence". Even when he sang Ottavio at Covent Garden (1939), it was felt that he dominated the hall by sheer presence even when matinee-idol Pinza was on stage alongside him! That's real charisma. (Of course, Pinza still had the more sumptuous voice, even if Tauber may have been the more unusual musical persona.)

In Lieder especially, we hear yet another gift: a true romance with words. No matter how eccentric his diction, he always manages to get the words across like a true story-teller, but without compromising legato and tone. So many singers seem to believe one must compromise either one or the other to a degree. Tauber shows this isn't so. Instead, with a gift for infinite vocal shading, nuance is applied to each and every line of poetry reminiscent of some expert Shak[e]spearean actor. All this while the blandishments of true bel canto line are never compromised. Other equally fine Lieder singers sometimes sacrifice certain bel canto attributes for the sake of the kind of nuance Tauber is so expert in. But Tauber never does. He always sings an unbroken legato through all the range of nuance. An unusual combination as rare as it is welcome.

Of course, his highest operatic achievement was in Mozart. This meant that his vocal agility had to be of a high order. And when we hear his cuts of certain arias and duets from Auber, Rossini, Mozart and the like, we are aware of deftly articulated passagework (even in Verdi, try his cadenza at the conclusion of the "La donna e mobile" from '27) throughout. He didn't just sing a bel canto line, he had the adeptness to surmount all the intricate vocal agility entailed in true bel canto singing. We even have an easy trill at the conclusion of his "Am stillen Herd" (1927), a Wagner aria that requires this but that is rarely undertaken by a true bel canto tenor! In many ways, this 1927 record may be one of his most startling of all.

Finally, though reared in the traditions of Central European houses of the prewar period, with everything sung in German, he acquired later in his career a gift for languages that was striking. This is testimony to a sharp ear, among other things. In his annus mirabilis, 1939, we have him performing Ottavio in that famed Don Giovanni at Covent Garden with Ezio Pinza in the original Italian (even though he had first learned it in German). From that same year, Tauber's recorded "Dalla sua pace" in the original Italian may be the finest souvenir of his mastery in Mozart and of this role. In fact, Ottavio was often cited as his greatest role, an assessment that is hard to dispute after hearing this record. Also from 1939, "live" in concert, we hear him performing Don Jose's "Fleur" aria in the original French (and in fairly good French in the bargain). His growing fluency in English, once he became a naturalized British subject following the 1938 Anschluss in Vienna, was perhaps partly responsible for his having opened up his vowels generally in the years following. We hear this especially in his popular-song recordings during the late '30s/early '40s, where the English becomes notably more natural and relaxed. Sure, it still has a recognizable accent, but it flows more euphoniously than earlier. Linguistically, the icing on the cake during this phase (alas, no recording exists) was his once singing the one song most indelibly associated with him, "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz", in Arabic during a concert tour in the Middle East!

So there we have heart, impeccable vocal control and longevity, artistic imagination, strict musicianship, charisma, a romance with words, vocal agility and linguistic facility of a high order rolled into one. Few other singers, let alone tenors, have excelled at such a high level in all eight aspects. This is why Tauber, to this day, remains my favorite singer, let alone my favorite tenor.

A fine sampler of his work in opera can be acquired here.

 

-- Geoffrey Riggs

 

MARIA CALLAS (1923 - 1977) -- HER BEST RECORDINGS IN GOOD SOUND

CARMEN -- FROM COMEDY TO TRAGEDY

ENRICO CARUSO (1873 - 1921) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION

FRANCO CORELLI (1921 - 2003) -- RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS

DON CARLOS -- RANDOM JOTTINGS

DONIZETTI AND BRINKMANSHIP

GREATEST SINGER?

THE TENOR AND RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)

MEISTERSINGER ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES

RECALLING ROBERT MERRILL (1917 - 2004)

PARSIFAL ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES

HISTORY OF OPERA IN MINIATURE

VIOLETTA IN LA TRAVIATA

PARTIAL OVERVIEW OF TRISTAN ON CD

IL TROVATORE ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES

UPCOMING SINGERS

 

OPERA ON THE INTERNET (HOME) | LIST OF OPERA STATIONS | OPERA TABLE
SCHEDULE PAGES THIS SATURDAY |
THIS SUNDAY | THIS WEEK : MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY | THURSDAY | FRIDAY
NEXT SATURDAY | NEXT SUNDAY | NEXT WEEK - MONDAY TO FRIDAY

The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797 - 1847 NEW BOOK

OperaBlog

BAYREUTH BROADCASTS 2003 INTERNET RADIO FOR SIMPLETONS | INTERNET RADIO FOR TECHIES

THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO OPERA RECORDINGS & VIDEOS | REVIEWS: BY OPERA TITLE BY COMPOSER THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO BOOKS ON OPERA | FAVORITE OPERA LINKS

SIGN OUR GUESTBOOK | VIEW GUESTBOOK
DOWNLOADS:

REAL AUDIO (Get the FREE Version - we recommend RP Version 8 - you can download it here) | WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER | WINAMP (MP3 Player) (Preferred Version 5.09 may be downloaded here) | QUICKTIME PLAYER | CHAINCAST PLAYER

 

We welcome any and all comments and suggestions. Contact us at admin@operacast.com or leave your comments and questions in our guest book.

This page last revised 8/17/10 2:49 PM EST

Copyright ©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006 G. S. Riggs & E. H. Riggs