OP0133. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 28 March, 1965, Nationaltheater, Munich, w.Patané Cond. Bayerischen Staatsoper Ensemble; Teresa Stratas, Fritz Wunderlich, Hermann Prey, Brigitte Fassbänder, etc. (Germany) 2-Orfeo C344 932, w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 4011790344225
“Teresa Stratas is the most ‘in the moment’ opera singer I have ever seen: no other artist in my experience sang with her passion for truth, her courage and her integrity. Her commitment was unswerving, her instinct impeccable, and her craft - her sheer know-how on a stage - was prodigious. The details of a Stratas performance were indelible; Stratas was the most vulnerable of singers - Nothing stood between Stratas and her music, which she served with extraordinary force.
The first OPERA NEWS interview with Stratas ran in the issue of December 12, 1959, on the occasion of her Texaco broadcast debut, as the actress Poussette in Manon - an event that followed the twenty-one-year-old soprano’s Met debut, in the same role, by less than two months. That interview, by Gerald Fitzgerald, told of her beginnings in Canada….The Met kept Stratas extremely busy - more than a quarter of the 384 performances in her twenty-five-season Met career were sung during her first two seasons with the company, when she was used chiefly in comprimario roles. Her first leading parts at the Met, as Liù (1961) and Mimì (1962), confirmed that Stratas was an artist of rare intelligence and sensitivity, and Met general manager Rudolf Bing gave his rising star increasingly important assignments, among them Sardula in the U.S. premiere of Menotti’s LAST SAVAGE (1964), Lisa in THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1965), the last new production in the Old Met on Thirty-Ninth Street, and Gretel in the first performances of the beloved Merrill-O’Hearn staging of Humperdinck’s opera (1967).
In a 1980 OPERA NEWS interview with Robert Jacobson, Stratas reflected on her responsibility as an artist: ‘I wonder if I have received a gift or a curse. I like to feel it’s a gift and sense the responsibility for it strongly - I feel I was chosen to develop a gift and convey it. If I touch some one person in an evening and enrich them and bring them happiness, then I have accomplished what I was put here to do’. As one who was lucky enough to see Stratas in some of her greatest roles, I will always be grateful to have shared that gift; those moments in the presence of her artistry will be with me forever.”
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, May 2015
“Since his New York recital debut in 1956, Mr. Prey performed frequently in New York and attracted a loyal following. Just last spring, with the conductor James Levine at the piano, Mr. Prey gave a recital of late Schubert lieder, including the composer's last song cycle, SCHWANENGESANG at the 92d Street Y. That concert concluded the Y's Schubertiade, a 10-year examination of Schubert's works, which was Mr. Prey's idea and for which he had served as musical director. An illness earlier in the year had forced him to postpone the recital. When he did perform, though his voice had frayed, the musicianship, intelligence, and unmannered expressivity that were hallmarks of his work were undiminished. Recalling that recital, Trudy Miller, who was the program director of the Schubertiade, said yesterday: ‘It was clear to all of us there that Hermann Prey was leaving a blueprint of his artistry’.
Though Mr. Prey's voice was a mellow, lyric baritone, he sang with such focused sound and robust projection that he enjoyed an active career in opera. He avoided the heavier Verdi roles, but excelled at Mozart, Gluck, Rossini, and lighter Strauss and Wagner roles. One of his great achievements was Beckmesser in Wagner's MEISTERSINGER, which he sang at the Met in 1993. To his characterization of a town clerk in medieval Nuremberg, typically portrayed as a scheming buffoon, Mr. Prey brought an emotional complexity and light-on-the-feet comic grace that made Beckmesser endearing.
Mr. Prey's voice was ideally suited to lieder, and he left a large and important discography, including songs by Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, Mahler, and Carl Loewe, a neglected 19th-century composer whom Mr. Prey championed.
Commenting on Mr. Prey's 1985 recording of Schubert's WINTERREISE with the pianist Philippe Bianconi, THE NEW YORK TIMES critic Bernard Holland wrote: ‘This is Schubert singing that does not twist sound for pictorial or dramatic effect but instead creates, with unusual musical clarity and purity of tone, a narrative voice which, though concerned and moved, tells the story first and lives it only indirectly’.
Mr. Prey was born on July 11, 1929, in Berlin, the son of a merchant. His mother encouraged her son's love of music. At 15, he passed the physical examination for the German army. But when his draft notice arrived during the last siege of Berlin in 1945, his father burned it. Speaking of it in an interview with THE TIMES in 1970, Mr. Prey said: ‘For three weeks we had been living in the basement of my grandfather's house, eating canned foods. We would listen in terror to the screeching of the bombs, the explosions day and night, the gunfire. . . I know that the fear I learned then is at the root of the icy emotions I project whenever I sing Schubert's WINTERREISE’.
After the war, Mr. Prey led a school band in concerts for English and American troops. To earn money, he sang and played piano and accordion. In 1948, he enrolled in the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin to study with Gunter Baum.
In 1952, he won the third annual Meistersinger contest, sponsored by the United States Armed Forces assistance program for German youth activities. Some 2,800 singers between the ages of 18 and 25 entered, and Mr. Prey took first place, winning a stipend of $190 and a two-week concert tour of the United States. His American debut came in November of that year as a guest of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
Returning to Germany, Mr. Prey joined the Hamburg Staatsoper, singing a wide range of repertory, including a number of contemporary operas by Rolf Liebermann, Gottfried von Einem, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Hans Werner Henze. Though he was not notably involved with new music in later years, he became a highly praised interpreter of the title role in Berg's WOZZECK.
Mr. Prey's 1960 Met debut, as Wolfram in Wagner's TANNHÄUSER, received mixed notices. But he triumphed in his subsequent Met roles, including the Count in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, and Eisenstein in DIE FLEDERMAUS. One of his favorites was Papageno in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE which he first sang at the Met in 1967. ‘Papageno is misinterpreted by many singers today’, Mr. Prey said in the 1970 TIMES interview. ‘He is actually 'ein Wesen,' a creature of God in nature, a living thing between animal and human, a folk philosopher, a kind of Peter Pan who flies, a wise member of Snow White's dwarfs’.
At 6 feet, with a perpetually unkempt shock of curly blond (later silver-gray) hair, Mr. Prey was a compelling figure on stage. He was also easygoing, articulate and telegenic: for some years he served as host of a television program in Munich, performing songs, discussing music and interviewing guests, which earned him a reputation as Europe's Leonard Bernstein.
Mr. Prey's longevity as a singer was due, in part, to solid technique and a willingness to turn down roles too heavy for his voice. ‘I become so sad when I see my colleagues whose voices have gone while they are still young’, he was quoted as saying in MUSICAL AMERICA in 1970. He added, ‘I want people to say, when I am 65 or 70, 'Oh look, here comes old Prey to do WINTERREISE’. Let's go hear him’.''
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 July, 1998