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Otto Edelmann

Bass-baritone with the Vienna State Opera

Otto Edelmann, opera singer: born Brunn am Gebirge, Austria-Hungary 5 February 1917; married 1960 Ilse-Marie Straub (two sons, one daughter); died Vienna 14 May 2003.

There were two distinct strands to the career of the Austrian bass-baritone Otto Edelmann. One was composed of the great Wagner roles, Wotan in Die Walküre, Amfortas and Gurnemanz in Parsifal and King Mark in Tristan und Isolde. The other strand included a number of comic roles such as Leporello in Don Giovanni, Rocco in Fidelio, Plunkett in Martha and Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier.

His finest characterisation, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger, was both Wagnerian and, though hardly to be described as comic, was richly humorous as well as human. Like many other artists of his generation, he lost seven of the best years of his singing life during the Second World War and its aftermath.

Edelmann was born in 1917, just outside Vienna. He studied at the Vienna Music Academy with the Norwegian Wagner tenor Gunnar Graarud, and made his début in 1937 at Gera in Thuringia, as Mozart's Figaro. He was engaged at Nuremberg from 1938 to 1940, and then served as a soldier, fighting on the Eastern Front. In 1947 he became a member of the Vienna State Opera (at that time performing at the Theater an der Wien), where he remained for the rest of his career. From small roles such as the Hermit in Der Freischütz, his début role, and Pali, a gypsy, in Der Zigeunerbaron by Johann Strauss, he soon graduated to major roles such as Leporello, which he sang in 1948 at the Salzburg Festival and Daland in Der fliegende Holländer.

During the 1951-52 season in Vienna, he sang Kecal in The Bartered Bride, and shared the title role of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with Paul Schoffler. When the Bayreuth Festival re-opened in 1951, Edelmann sang Hans Sachs, repeating the part the following year, which was when I first heard him sing. Aged 35, with his fine voice in peak condition, he was a very impressive Sachs. Unlike the other operas that year, all directed by Wieland Wagner, Die Meistersinger was an old, naturalistic production, and the frisson in the audience occasioned by Sachs' tribute to "Holy German Art" in the third act was palpable.

Edelmann appeared at La Scala, Milan, several times between 1951 and 1954. He made his Metropolitan Opera début on 11 November 1954, as Sachs. Baron Ochs was his début role in 1955 at San Francisco. Edelmann took no part in the opening performances of the re-built Vienna State Opera, being in San Francisco at the time, but in 1960 he sang Ochs in Salzburg on the occasion of the opening of the new Festspielhaus with a performance of Der Rosenkavalier.

In 1965 he sang Ochs at Glyndebourne, giving a subtle, warmly sung and not at all vulgar characterisation that perfectly suited the small theatre. During the 1960s he also sang Ochs regularly in Vienna, where the older incumbents of the role had finally retired. In 1970, the year he left the Metropolitan, he sang St Peter in Carl Orff's Der Mond at the Vienna Volksoper. He was awarded the Max Reinhardt Medal at Salzburg in 1971.

Edelmann recorded many of his best roles, including Hans Sachs, Baron Ochs, Wotan in Die Walküre, Leporello and Rocco, while he displays a fine Viennese accent as Graf Waldner in Arabella.

Elizabeth Forbes