Obituary: Marko Rothmuller
Friday 05 February 1993
THE CROATIAN baritone Marko Rothmuller, a member of the Covent Garden Opera Company, in London, in the immediate post-war years, was a very fine actor-singer, whose performances of Rigoletto, Scarpia, Jokanaan and similar heavyweight roles were greatly admired.
During the same period he appeared frequently at Glyndebourne in a rather different repertory that included Mozart's Count Almaviva and Nick Shadow in The Rake's Progress. He sang the title-role of Wozzeck in the first British stage performance (1952) of Alban Berg's opera, having as a young man studied composition with Berg in Vienna. Rothmuller himself wrote a Symphony for Strings, two string quartets and other chamber music, and also published a book, Die Musik der Juden, which was translated into English. After his retirement as a singer, he taught music at the University of Indiana, at Bloomington.
Born Aaron Rothmuller in Trnjani, a village near Brod, he showed early promise as a musician. When he was four his parents, who were shopkeepers, moved to Zagreb, where he was educated. At the Academy of Music he studied not only singing but violin, piano, harmony and counterpoint. He also collected folk-songs and conducted choral performances. In 1928 he went to Vienna to study composition with Berg and singing with the Hungarian baritone Franz Steiner. His voice had developed into a strong, warm-toned and flexible instrument and during his last year as a student he began to sing in concerts.
Rothmuller made his operatic debut in September 1932 as Prince Ottokar in Die Freischutz at Hamburg-Altona, where he was engaged at the Schiller Opera House. After a year he was forced to leave by the growth of anti-Semitism in Germany, and returned to Zagreb. At the National Theatre he sang the Verdi baritone roles as well as Telramund in Lohengrin and Amfortas in Parsifal. Amfortas became his favourite role, although he never sang it in London, unfortunately. In 1935 Rothmuller became a member of the Stadttheater, Zurich, where he remained throughout the Second World War.
At Zurich, where he made his debut in the title-role of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Rothmuller acquired a vast and very varied repertory, ranging from Mozart, Gluck and Rossini to Berlioz, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Puccini. In 1938 he created the part of Truchsess von Waldburg in Hindemith's Mathis der Maler. He sang Vendramin in Othmar Schoeck's Massimilla Doni and many other roles in modern works, but the core of his repertory was Verdi: Germont pere, Amonasro, Renato (Un ballo in maschera), Luna, Ford, Miller, Iago, Amonasro and, in particular, Rigoletto.
After the war in 1946, while continuing to sing in Zurich, Rothmuller joined the Vienna State Opera, with whom he visited Covent Garden in 1947, as Jokanaan in Salome. This was not his first visit to London. He had made his Covent Garden debut in 1938 as Krusina in The Bartered Bride, and earlier in 1947 he sang Rigoletto for the New London Opera Company at the Cambridge Theatre. In 1948 he joined the Covent Garden Opera Company, and the following year he began his association with Glyndebourne by singing Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte at the Edinburgh Festival.
Rothmuller soon became a much-valued member of the ensemble at Covent Garden. His Escamillo, his Tomsky in The Queen of Spades, his Gunther in Gotterdammerung were eloquently acted and sung; his Rigoletto and Scarpia were memorable, outsize characterisations; but it was undoubtedly as Wozzeck that he made the strongest impression. Under the magic baton of Erich Kleiber he found humanity in a poor, down-trodden creature and expressed the hidden feelings of a man unable to express them for himself.
Glyndebourne provided Rothmuller with two of his best Verdi roles, Don Carlo in La forza del destino and Macbeth, both of them sung at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1954-55, at Glyndebourne, he gave a superb performance of Nick Shadow in The Rake's Progress - his English diction was particularly good. The rest of his career was spent in the United States. Having made his US debut in 1948 with New York City Opera, he first sang at the Metropolitan during the 1959-60 season as Kothner in Die Meistersinger and Biterolf in Tannhauser, returning for the 1965-66 season. Then he taught in New York before going to Bloomington.
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