Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Richard Breitenfeld a true Bel Canto Baritone
Richard Breitenfeld as Don Giovanni
Richard Breitenfeld is another name best remembered by the collectors of rare acoustic vocal recordings. However, in his day, he was the leading baritone at Frankfurt Am Main and a great favorite of the composers of his generation. The baritone (1869-1942) was born in what is today the Czech Republic. He studied with Johannes Ress in Vienna, also the teacher of Melitta Heim. He made his stage debut in 1897 in Cologne as Di Luna in "Il Trovatore." He created the baritone lead in Die Pompadour by Emanuel Moor while there in 1902. He moved on to Frankfurt Am Main the same year where he sung for the next 30 years as a leading baritone. In 1905 he guested at a Wagner Festival in Amsterdam and created Amfortas at the local premier of Parsifal. His relationship with Amsterdam continued where he created the role of the Spielmann in Humperdink's Konigskinder for their local premiere. While singing at Frankfurt the demand for guest appearances grew, Vienna, Munich, Karlsruhe, Stuttgardt, Wiesbaden and Zurich all sought his talent. 1912 brought the World Premier of the opera Oberst Chabert by Waltershausen where the baritone took on the title role and the role of the Count in Schreker's Die Ferne Klange. 1913 brought the World Premier of Zemlinsky's Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin. In 1915 after the battlefield death of the promising composer Rudi Stefan, Breitenfeld gave his time and sung in a three day festival in his honor. In 1920 he was given the honor of singing in the posthumous premier of Stefan's opera Die ersten Menschen. Frankfurt made a big deal of his 25th Season with the Company in 1927 with a performance to celebrate his artistry as Rigoletto. He retired in 1932 and he was left alone by the Nazi's for nearly a decade.
In August of 1942, Breitenfeld discovered his building in Frankfurt was to be "cleansed" of all Jewish residents and he wrote to the theater and the mayor asking them to stop his eviction and deportation to a camp. He was nearly 73 years of age at the time. Neither interceded and he and his wife were loaded onto a train bound for Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he was murdered in December of that year.
Breitenfeld who was considered one of the finest Wagner heldenbaritones of his day in German speaking World. He made not less than 21 sides, one was unpublished, interestingly it was Amroftas Act III aria from Parsifal. Most likely it was not issued due to pressures brought on by the Wagner family, as Parsifal was still a sensitive subject when he made the recording in 1913 and he has violated the Bayreuth ban when he premiered the role in Amsterdam. The recording we offer in what we believe to be the first time in electronic form is Rodrigo's death scene from Don Carlo. The two sided record was not in very good condition and is incredibly rare. It includes the recitative through "O Carlo Ascolta". Here you hear a baritone with an incredible legato line and a Bel Canto technique that few of his era maintained. He also has a superb trill during the course of the aria. This recording rates on up there with those of Mattia Battistini for his technical prowess.