ON THE FIRST evening of my first visit to the Salzburg Festival in 1951, I attended Die Zauberflote in the Felsenreitschule. The performance was conducted by Furtwangler and although the fabulous cast included Irmgard Seefried, Anton Dermota and Erich Kunz, the singer who impressed most was the bass Josef Greindl, whose large, deep and resonant voice exuded wisdom, authority and benevolence as Sarastro. That the same voice could express evil, hatred and contempt with equal conviction, I discovered at Bayreuth the following year, when as Hagen in Gotterdammerung he electrified the audience with the power of his singing as he summoned the Gibichung Vassals.
Sarastro and Hagen demonstrated the extreme limits of Greindl's wide repertory. He sang many parts, both serious and comic, that lay somewhere between. As Hans Sachs, the role of his Covent Garden debut in 1963, he brought out the human warmth, humour and native wit of the cobbler while his Rocco in Fidelio, which he also sang at Covent Garden, was acutely presented as a jovial rogue with an eye on the main chance. This power of characterisation easily compensated for a certain lack of intrinsic beauty in his black-toned voice.
Greindl was born in Munich, where he studied at the Academy of Music with Paul Bender and Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, both famous Wagnerian singers. In 1935, while still a student, he sang in a performance of Der Freischutz in Munich, making his professional debut in 1936 at Krefeld as Hunding in Die Walkure. In 1942 he joined the Berlin Staatsoper, moving in 1948 to the Stadtische Oper (later the Deutsche Oper) on the west side of the city. Here he remained until 1970 singing, as well as the Wagner bass repertory, Mozart's Sarastro, Osmin and the Commendatore, Kecal in The Bartered Bride, Schigolch in Lulu and, in 1959, Moses in the first German stage performance of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron.
Meanwhile, having first sung at Bayreuth in 1943, as Pogner in Die Meistersinger, Greindl returned after the war and continued to appear there for nearly two decades, as Hagen, Gurnemanz, King Mark, Daland, the Wanderer in Siegfried and in other parts. At Salzburg he created roles in Carl Orff's Antigone in 1949 and the same composer's De temporum fine comoedia in 1973.
He sang at the Metropolitan during the 1952-53 season, at the Paris Opera, at La Scala, Milan - where between 1951 and 1961 he sang Gurnemanz, Pogner, Hagen, King Mark and Schoenberg's Moses - and all the leading German and Austrian opera houses.
From 1961 Greindl taught at Saarbrucken, then in 1973, having retired from the stage, he became professor of singing at the Vienna Conservatory. He made many recordings and virtually all his Wagner roles can be heard in live performances. His Sarastro, Rocco, Osmin and Schigolch are also captured on disc, giving some idea of the breadth of this fine singer's artistic sympathies.