Obituary: Karl-Josef Hering

KARL-JOSEF Hering, the German tenor renowned above all for his portrayal of Siegfried in Wagner's Ring cycle, originally intended to pursue a business career. He took up singing "just for a lark", but became serious about it when his voice developed heroic proportions.

After gaining experience in Hanover and Krefeld, Hering was engaged in 1966 by the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, and remained with the company until 1979, when ill-health forced him to retire. He then became landlord of the Fisher Cabin, an old and well-known hostelry in the Zehlendorf district of Berlin. There he frequently entertained his guests with a song.

Hering was born in Westonnen, Westphalia, and had already begun commercial training when he started to study with Franz Volker, a German tenor famous for his Wagnerian roles. Hering also studied with Max Lorenz, another heroic tenor. He made his debut in 1958 in Hanover, where he progressed from the First Prisoner in Fidelio to Florestan, the hero of Beethoven's opera. In 1964 he moved to Krefeld and in 1966 to Berlin, where one of his earlier roles was Max in Der Freischutz.

In October the same year he made his Covent Garden debut as Siegfried in Gotterdammerung: everyone admired his voice, the kind of heroic tenor not heard in London for many years - older opera lovers even invoked the name of Lauritz Melchior in comparison - but his lack of stage experience and stiff acting were also commented upon.

In Berlin the following April, Hering first sang the young Siegfried, and it became immediately obvious that he had found his perfect role. Nearly two metres tall (around 6ft 5in) and broad to match, the tenor effortlessly conveyed the thoughtless, badly behaved child that lies at the heart of Siegfried, while his "big, never- failing voice unites melody and words with complete naturalness", as the late Arthur Jacobs wrote, continuing, "I really enjoy his Siegfried." So did I, quite enormously, when Hering sang both Siegfrieds at Covent Garden in September 1968.

Meanwhile Hering was rapidly acquiring new roles. He sang Pedro in Tiefland at the Vienna Volksoper, Parsifal in Marseilles and, in 1969, Erik in Der fliegende Hollander in Berlin. He visited Buenos Aires the same year, to sing Andres in Wozzeck and Max. He added Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Aegisthus in Elektra and Hermann in The Queen of Spades to his Deutsche Oper repertory, and in 1970 returned to Covent Garden for both Siegfrieds in what turned out to be his final visit.

Siegmund in Die Walkure took him across the Berlin Wall to the Staatsoper, while he made guest appearances all over Germany, usually as Siegfried, which he also sang in Toronto. Hering was made a Berlin Kammersanger in 1974: his final new role at the Deutsche Oper was the Drum Major in Wozzeck, a character for which his gigantic stature well suited him. His retirement at the age of 50 because of ill-health was a great loss to opera. At any time there are very few tenors who can sing Siegfried; hardly any of them can sing the role the way Hering did.

Karl-Josef Hering, opera singer and innkeeper: born Westonnen, Westphalia 14 February 1929; died Berlin 20 May 1998.

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