Obituary: Erich Kunz

When the Vienna State Opera company gave a short season at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1947, the baritone Erich Kunz sang three Mozart roles: Figaro, Leporello in Don Giovanni, and Guglielmo in Cosi fan Tutte. His voice, light in timbre but strongly projected, and his stylish singing were greatly admired. It was not, however, his first appearance in Britain. During the summer of 1936 he had sung in the chorus of Glyndebourne and on one occasion had taken over the speaking part of the Pasha Selim in Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail from Carl Ebert, the director.

After the Second World War, Kunz again appeared with the Glyndebourne company, singing Guglielmo in Edinburgh (1948) and at the company's base in Sussex (1950). The Vienna State Opera visited London once more in 1954, this time playing at the Royal Festival Hall. They brought only Mozart's three Da Ponte operas with them and Kunz sang, as before, Figaro Leporello, and Guglielmo.

Although Kunz never appeared with a British opera company again, he sang all over Europe, often with the Vienna Opera and usually in one of six roles: Papageno in Die Zauberflote, Faninal in Der Rosenkavalier and Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger, as well as Figaro, Leporello, and Guglielmo. At home in Vienna he took part in many operettas at the Volksoper, and was perfectly happy to sing character roles such as the Circus Manager in The Bartered Bride or the Fifth Jew in Salome, if not otherwise engaged. Kunz was one of those singers who enjoyed their work, and he could always communicate his own enjoyment to an audience. A natural comedian with superb diction and impeccable timing, he was sometimes accused of overplaying the comic business, especially in The Magic Flute, but he never for an instant endangered the musical or vocal side of a performance with his clowning.

Kunz was born in Vienna, where he studied with Theodor Leirhammer and Hans Duhan. He made his debut in 1933 at Troppau, in Silesia, as Osmin in Die Entfuhrung. In 1936, after his season at Glyndebourne, he was engaged at Plauen, and in 1937 at Breslau. In 1941 he became a member of the Vienna State Opera, remaining there for 35 years. He first appeared at Salzburg in 1942, and at Bayreuth the following year, returning in 1951 when the Festival reopened after the war. His Beckmesser was legendary, and he sang it at La Scala, at the Metropolitan (where he made his debut as Leporello in 1952), and in Vienna during the celebrations for the reopening of the State Opera House in 1955.

On that occasion the critic Peter Heyworth wrote: "His economy of gesture and of grotesque vocal effects raised this character from the level of an Aldwych farce to that of great comedy." From my seat in the gallery, I cheered and applauded with the rest of the audience.

Kunz's characterisation of Faninal was equally interesting and equally restrained. He sang it at Salzburg in 1960 when the newly built Festspielhaus was opened with Der Rosenkavalier, and at La Scala in 1962; Faninal was also one of his roles at the Met. Of his Mozart interpretations, Leporello and Guglielmo were probably the finest, but Figaro and Papageno were the most popular. With the incomparable team of singers then available in Vienna and in Salzburg - which included Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa Della Casa, Irmgard Seefried and Sena Jurinac; Anton Dermota, George London and Walter Berry as well as Kunz - performances of Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte, Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Zauberflote were experiences for opera lovers to treasure for the rest of their lives.

Kunz continued to sing until the mid-1970s. In 1976 at the Vienna State Opera he created the role of the President's Valet in the premiere of Kabale und Liebe, Gottfried von Einem's version of the Schiller play adapted by Verdi in Luisa Miller. The production was taken to the Florence Maggio Musicale the same year, and the BBC broadcast a tape of the premiere on Radio 3 the following September. In 1978 Kunz committed his well-known portrait of Fifth Jew in Salome to disc, in a recording of Strauss's opera conducted by Herbert von Karajan that remains one of the finest ever made.

Kunz made many recordings. His Mozart roles, as well as Beckmesser and Faninal, are all represented, while in the early 1950s he made some unrivalled operetta recordings: Colonel Frank in Die Fledermaus, Danilo in The Merry Widow with Schwarzkopf, Caramello in A Night in Venice and Graf Peter Homonay in The Gypsy Baron. Kunz also recorded a number of Viennese popular songs, in which his thick Viennese accent does not camouflage the artistry of his singing.

Elizabeth Forbes

Erich Kunz, singer: born Vienna 20 May 1909; married Winfriede Kurzbauer (one son, one daughter); died Vienna 8 September 1995.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor