Lauritz Melchior as Parsifal

Lauritz Melchior Web

Mini Bio-Timeline

 

Bibliography 
Repertoire
Filmography 
Selected Recordings
Lauritz Melchior arrives for his Metropolitan Opera Debut, 1926 Lauritz Melchior 1930 Lauritz Melchior 1935 Lauritz Melchior 1938

A Brief Narration Concerning Lauritz Melchior, 1890-1973

A Mini-Timeline

At the present time, this biographical note is strictly narrative rather than evaluative (that is, descriptive of his Wagnerian music-drama). It serves as an introduction to the more extensive chronology-in-progress on this website.

Lauritz Melchior, the Heldentenor, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 20, 1890. His childhood was full of amateur performing, and he was a boy soprano in the choir of Copenhagen's Anglican church. He made his debut as a member of the Royal Danish Opera in the role of Silvio (Pagliacci) in 1913, after instruction with Poul Bang and others. 1913 was also the year of his first phonograph recordings. His performances for Royal Danish Opera over the next four years consisted of smaller baritone and even bass roles.

In 1917 he trained with retired Danish tenor Vilhelm Herold. In 1918, now singing as a tenor, Melchior gave his first performance as Tannhäuser. He left Denmark for England in 1920. In England he tested new roles through concert singing-as a regular at Sir Henry Wood's 'Proms'-while training with Victor Beigel. He performed regularly between 1922 and 1923, mainly in England, however in concerts, not in the opera. Removing to Germany in 1922, he studied with retired Wagnerian soprano Anna Bahr Mildenburg in Munich, and Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin.

1924 saw his first performances at Bayreuth (Siegmund, Parsifal), and at Covent Garden (Siegmund), two of the most important theaters of his career. Another crucial debut came in 1926: the Metropolitan Opera, portraying Tannhäuser. The remainder of the 1920s passed by in a whirlwind of newness. He debuted Wagnerian roles he would become most associated with internationally, such as Siegfried and Tristan, along with Italian and French roles he would not.

In the mid to late 1920s, his performances were divided between Berlin's two opera houses, the Städtische and the Staatsoper, and the Hamburg Staatsoper, in addition to the aforementioned Covent Garden, Bayreuth, and Met. Perhaps the most important German theatre as far as his career was concerned (excepting Bayreuth) during the late 1920s was the Hamburg Staatsoper, as here occurred his first Lohengrin and Otello.

Although in the 1920s Melchior was planning to make Germany the center of his career, the unforeseen Nazification and Great Depression of the early 1930s in fact moved him away from that country's theaters, including "Hitler's Bayreuth." After 1933, the majority of his opera season was spent at the Metropolitan. It was a Dionysiac time for Wagner performance. His only new operatic role in the 1930s was Florestan.

Melchior's European opera career ended at Copenhagen's Royal Opera, where it had begun, shortly after the outbreak of World War Two, 1939.  Melchior spent World War II in the United States, where his operatic performances were confined to the Met, with visits to San Francisco (debut, 1934) and Buenos Aires (debut, 1931). Melchior appeared in four Joe Pasternak-produced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals between 1944 and 1948 (discussed further here). Coincidental with his foray into Hollywood, his guest appearances on radio shows began during World War II; his appearances on the radio paired him with almost all popular singers and comedians of the time. After the war he eased up on opera performances. He turned increasingly to concertizing across America, in big cities and small. He became an American citizen in 1947.

Melchior left the Met and the opera after a much publicized kafuffle with incoming General Manager Rudolf Bing, giving his last performance (Lohengrin) in February of 1950. His final movie role was in Paramount's The Stars are Singing (1953). Intense concertizing, which included everything from joint Wagner concerts with soprano Helen Traubel to two summers in bandleader Guy Lombardo's musical comedy, Arabian Nights, continued until early 1956, when Melchior, at 65 year old, more or less retired. He continued to give periodic charity concerts and make television and radio appearances, such as a 1960 Danmarks Radio performance of Die Walkure, Act I to mark his 70th birthday. For a good part of the 1960s, Melchior worked to start a "Lauritz Melchior Heldentenor Competition," finally established through Juilliard in 1969.

Lauritz Melchior died in Santa Monica, California on March 18, 1973 at age 82. His ashes are buried in Copenhagen.


Mini-Timeline:

1890
  • birth in Copenhagen, Denmark
1908
  • decides to make his living onstage as a bass/baritone: takes singing, acting lessons
1911
  • professional concert debut in Svendborg, Denmark
1913 
  • professional opera debut at Royal Theatre, Copenhagen; first phonograph recordings
1917-1918
  • trains for a year with tenor Vilhelm Herold in Denmark
1918
  • debut in heldentenor role of Tannhäuser at Royal Theatre, Copenhagen
1920
  • sings in an experimental broadcast from England to the Scandinavian capitals; London concert debut
1922-1923

  • begins his training with Victor Beigel in London, learns German language; gives one of the earliest radio concerts in England; begins training with Anna von Mildenburg [Anna Bahr-Mildenburg] in Munich, with Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin; first concerts in Germany; first German phonograph recordings
1924
  • opera debuts in London and in Germany, including Berlin; most consequentially, first Bayreuth Festival; first Siegmund, Parsifal
1925
  • first Siegfried in Siegfried
1926
  • Metropolitan Opera debut in New York and concert debut in the United States
1927
  • first Siegfried in Götterdämmerung; first Lohengrin
1928
  • first Otello
1929
  • first Tristan
1931
  • final appearance at Bayreuth festivals; first opera appearances in South America
1935
  • first performance with Kirsten Flagstad at Metropolitan
1939
  • last opera performances in Europe
1944
  • films first motion picture in Hollywood
1949
  • first (and last) concert tour of South Africa
1950
  • final opera appearances
1955-56
  • final regular stage appearances (nightclub and musical comedy)
1969
  • The "Lauritz Melchior Heldentenor Foundation" at Juilliard gives its first grants
1973
  • death in Santa Monica, California; burial in Copenhagen, Denmark


TOP OF PAGE

Information to share? Questions? Suggestions? Write me at ringedwithfire@heroictenor.com using Melchior's name in the subject line of the email
Copyright © 2005-2007 Victoria Boutilier, All Rights Reserved
Last Updated April 1, 2007