Max Lorenz is a singer who polarizes both audiences and critics. In Germany, Lorenz is considered to be one of the great dramatic tenors of the 20th century, while his voice and musical skills, style and expression have a doubtful reputation abroad. John Steane, author of The Grand Tradition – Seventy Years of Singing, described Lorenz' voice as unattractive and ugly. Irvining Kolodin (The Story of the Metropolitan Opera) meant that Lorenz' voice had a hard and unpleasant quality, even though appreciated Lorenz as a serious artist. More or less famous German critics attested Lorenz a "voice of powerful brilliance, capable of clear phrasing, a voice which, even in dramatic moments never offended against the laws of bel-canto" (Helmuth Castagne in the LP edition's booklet of Bayreuth 1936). Friedrich Herzfeld (Magie der Stimme) enthused: "Everything in him was radiant with power – his appearance and his brilliant voice which even mastered Walter Stolzing's dangerous top notes with charming nobility". And Jens Malte Fischer (Große Stimmen) praised his "razor-sharp diction" and compared the power of his voice to a blade that was "victoriously" able to cut even through the thickest orchestration. Fischer considered Lorenz' recordings of Wagner's Tristan and Tannhäuser to be the greatest recordings of these operas that were ever made.
The judgements about Lorenz are inconsistent. This reminds of the case of Aureliano Pertile. The Italian expert Giorgio Gualerzi called Pertile's voice for "probably the most ugly voice, seen from an objective point of view" (magazine Opera, 1985), while Arturo Toscanini called him his favorite tenor. Lorenz was, in spite of all the critics, the leading tenor for the heavy Wagner repertoire in Bayreuth between 1933 and 1945, he sang at the coronation ceremonies in London in 1937 and was Furtwängler's choice for the role of Siegfried in Götterdämmerung at La Scala in 1950. The truth lies – as in Pertile's case – therefore most probably somewhere in between the extremes (if it's possible to talk about truth and objectiveness since everything and especially music lies in the field of perception and subjective taste…).
In his humorous autobiography from 1963, Lorenz frankly admitted: I am not called Max Lorenz. It is a pseudonym. His real name was Max Sülzenfuß and he was born in Düsseldorf on May 10, 1901. His father was a master butcher with an own shop but without any comprehension of music: He wanted me to become his successor. But that did not interest me. I wanted to become a singer. At any price. The fact that Lorenz actually gave up his surname was a symbolic act of rebellion: in German Sülzenfuß means aspic-preserved pork foot.
But the beginning was not easy. It is told that Lorenz' voice was so ugly that his music-teacher dismissed him from the music lessons in school. Everybody, who heard about my intentions said: You want to become a singer? That's ridiculous, you are hoarse! That's strange: My speaking voice is always hoarse. But the more huskily I speak, the better I sing! The education had to be done on the sly and against the father's will. He wanted the boy to learn a "decent" profession. A musical education was in his opinion nothing more than a waste of money. The boy was not even allowed to go to the opera. But Max went secretly, and during the years of dearth in the First World War he organized the tickets by swapping them for sausages and gammons he had stolen from the father's shop. The black suite had to be hidden in the cellar. When his father caught him on his return from the theater he used, as Lorenz wrote, to give him a good trashing. Only the mother was supportive and financed the boy's education. Lorenz studied with Professor Pauli in Cologne – a city that lies about 40 KM away from Düsseldorf: For over five years I secretly went to Cologne three times a week. When I came home in the evening I was not allowed to say a word about how it went. My mother just gave me a glance, which meant: "Was it good?" And I returned the look: "Very good".
After five years of studies, Pauli advised Lorenz to continue the education with Professor Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin. Grenzebach had already worked with Melchior and Kipnis. But Berlin was 400 kilometers away and travels of this caliber could certainly not be done secretly anymore. The father was furious, but it was the mother who got her way: I went to Berlin to see Grenzebach. While I was waiting for my turn I listened to Lauritz Melchior, the famous Heldentenor. He was taking lessons with Grenzebach and I heard how he got dressed to size by the Professor. That was enormously impressive. To me the Professor said: "Well, nice voice, but we would need to take away the rust first. You have to start over again."
And Grenzebach was a very rigorous taskmaster. Lorenz, gifted with a strong body of impressive size and athletic appearance, used to sing with full power. But Grenzebach said: "When you practice, sing piano! Always piano piano! I know that you are able to sing forte. But the voice grows from the piano. You must be able to sing so low that nobody can hear you even when you have the window open! The little will become a lot. Your voice must be like a rubber band. When you pull, it becomes longer and longer!" The consequent use of Grenzebach's method turned, as Lorenz told in a radiobroadcast, the originally lyrical voice into a Heldentenor.
Lorenz had to meet Grenzebach every day, he was the first student to show up and the last to go home. When it was not his turn, he had to listen to the other students and learn from what he heard. He was not allowed to sing arias. Grenzebach told him just to sing single notes throughout the whole year. Grenzebach soon had full control over his promising pupil. He held for example the view that it was absolutely necessary to go to bed early and from time to time he checked whether Lorenz was at home at ten 'o clock in the evening or not. If he did not meet him at home he used to be in a very bad mood. When I showed up the morning after and if I had the slightest sign of indisposition, he used to say placidly: "Go home, this does not make sense! If you go out and are indisposed the morning after, the education is completely useless. If you want to become a singer you have to make sacrifices. That is a ground condition!"
After two years of studies, Grenzebach allowed Lorenz to participate in a big contest for amateur singers organized by a popular magazine (Hackebeils Illustrierte Zeitung). The event took place in the Berlin Philharmonie in 1926. I still remember that the répétiteur said to me: "Stop laughing all the time!" I laughed due to nervousness – I did not even notice it. But when it was my turn, I sang. Next morning I received a telegram: I was the one in 70 participants who had won the first price. The same day the Dresden State Opera [at that time under the direction of Fritz Busch] offered me a contract.
A couple of days later I found my picture in an illustrated magazine; I sent it home. And what did my good old father do, who had always been an encumbrance to my career as a singer? He sent it to the Illustrierte Fleischerzeitung's editorial office („The butcher's illustrated“ newspaper) announcing that his son was appointed to be the new Heldentenor of the Dresden State Opera!
It was of course not completely true that Lorenz' career in Dresden started in a Heldentenor's repertoire. His first role was Walther von der Vogelweide in Wagner's Tannhäuser, followed by the minor tenor-part in Lortzing's Undine. It would not be true either to say that Lorenz had a walkover in these minor parts. I remember that the director who sat somewhere back in the auditorium rose during the rehearsals for Tannhäuser and yelled: If you are that untalented you should sing in Meißen and not in Dresden! (Meißen was a small town with only a couple of thousands of inhabitants in the immediate vicinity of Dresden). And in Dresden, there was Curt Taucher, kind of an idol to me, Paul Schöffler, Meta Seinemeyer, Elisabeth Rethberg, with whom I was going to sing later… all wonderful singers. Tino Pattiera [a Croatian tenore robusto for the Italian repertoire with an exiting but short career] was there too and I had to learn all of his roles… La Forza del Destino, Turandot… Manon Lescaut.
In 1928 Lorenz sang his first main role: it was the part of Meneas in Richard Strauss' Die Ägyptische Helena. A very difficult part, which is, like in so many other operas by Strauss, ungrateful since the technical difficulties and the achieved effect are obviously disproportionate. Quite contrary to Des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescaut, a role that Lorenz had to take over on short notice from the indisposed Pattiera during the season 1928/29. Des Grieux was followed by Radames in Verdi's Aida, Lorenz' second difficult main role, which he sang at the age of only 28 years. During the same season Lorenz had to take on Alvaro in Verdi's La forza del destino (with Paul Schöffler as Don Carlo), Riccardo in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, Manrico in Verdi's Trovatore, Max in Weber's Freischütz and Siegmund in Wagner's Walküre. The fact that Lorenz was able to take on the dramatic repertoire already in the very beginning of his career without ruining the voice proves that he must have possessed a good, solid and robust technique.
Besides his activity as dramatic tenor in Dresden, Lorenz gave recitals, singing classical songs of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Excellent for controlling the voice, as Lorenz said. His busy schedule of the years that followed got in the way of a further engagement in giving recitals – something that Lorenz regretted very much.
DÉBUT IN THE US
The role of Radames was a milestone in Lorenz' career. Lorenz told about a wondrous incident that occurred during his first appearance as Radames: After the first act a gentleman entered the locker room; he was called Arthur Bodanzky, introduced himself as the artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera and seemed determined to invite me to the US. "What have you sung?" "Nothing that would be worth mentioning besides Radames." "Come and visit me next summer in the Schwarzwald. There we can rehearse everything we need."
Bodanzky walked the talk and scheduled Lorenz' debut at the Met for the season 1931/32. The crossing from Bremerhaven to New York is legendary, since Lorenz was not the only tenor on board when the ship left Bremerhaven. The great Heldentenor Rudolf Laubenthal, Armand Tokatyan, Richard Tauber and Jan Kiepura incidentally had booked cabins on the same ship. What else could indicate the abundance of good singers in those times better than the fact that those five top-notch tenors incidentally could meet on one boat! But as to Lorenz the crossing soon became quite uncomfortable. He received a telegram from Bodanzky in which the conductor called Lorenz to prepare the role of Tannhäuser as well. A role I did not know whatsoever about. But Richard Tauber did me a great favor: during the five days the crossing took Tauber rehearsed the role with me. Tauber was definitely the right second: In July 1926 he had to create the first German performance of Puccini's Turandot instead of the indisposed Pattiera. He worked wonders and studied the role of Calaf within three days!
During the rehearsals at the Met I failed many times, since the part was completely new to me. But Bodanzky and all the other stars [Maria Jeritza was Elisabeth] helped me, they wanted my début to be a success. The greatest, most famous colleagues were always also the most kind and modest ones. Everybody helped where they could. And there I have heard the greatest singers in the world: Titta Ruffo, Claudia Muzio – Pinza. I actually loved America very much. I sang Tannhäuser for four or five times, and soon my time in the US was over.
There are rumors that the story about the US début as Lorenz told it is not completely correct or even entirely fictitious. Jürgen Kesting referred to Kolodin's Met-chronicle, which claims that Lorenz gave his début with the role of Walther in Wagner's Meistersinger and not at all with Tannhäuser. In his short biography Erik Erikson pointed out that there exists a review of Lorenz' début as Walther. His Walther was, according to the review, received as the work of a "serious artist and an intelligent musician," though one afflicted with a "hard and unyielding tone quality". He was found a "credible" Siegmund and a positive Siegfried, albeit with the tonal liabilities cited at his debut. A Lohengrin opposite Maria Jeritza was, as Erikson reports, described as "disagreeable in sound and unimpressive in appearance, the judgment on Lorenz's physical presence being at odds with contemporary accounts elsewhere". Jens Malte Fischer thought that Lorenz just misdated the whole story. Fischer believes that it took place in 1933, when Lorenz crossed the ocean for a second time. But the joint travel of the five tenors can be dated back to 1931. Walter Herrmann, author of one of the few Lorenz-biographies, held Lorenz' view.
Crossing the ocean: Lorenz, Laubenthal, Tokatyan, Kiepura, Tauber
It is hard to tell which of the versions is the most probable. Kolodin's chronicle seems reliable although it is not free from mistakes. The newspaper review is a significant piece of evidence and it is hardly believable that it would not mention a performance of Tannhäuser sung by Lorenz. But not everything seems to be fiction: The joint travel for example is documented by photography. Lorenz names Bodanzky and Jeritza (two artists who were demonstrably active at the Met during those years) and talks about the rehearsals. He even set his version out in writing. One can assume that Lorenz would not have done that if the version he told were a lie (as Kesting claimed) – a lie that would have been cloddish and all too easy to expose. Anyway – the assumption that Lorenz somehow misdated the whole episode and/or mixed up different memories seems the most probable answer.
STATIONS OF A CAREER
The year 1933 marked Lorenz' definite farewell from Dresden. He became a member of the State Opera in Berlin and received his first invitation to Bayreuth. In Berlin, Lorenz had to sing Radames, and although he had a certain routine with this role, his nerves were all on edge. At 5 in the afternoon I suddenly got a panic attack, took the telephone and called Leo Blech [the conductor of the evening] to ask him to do the performance without me. He said: "Just come! I guarantee you: You'll be fine, you will sing well. I'm going to help you."
The performance was a great success. When everything was over I went back to my locker room where I found a photography of Leo Blech, signed with the following words: "The old Verdi sends his best regards!" I took the photography with me as lucky charm whenever I had to sing Radames.
In Berlin Lorenz made the acquaintance of Heinz Tietjen, stage director and musical director in Bayreuth, who always was on the lookout for young talents. Tietjen did not only invite Lorenz to Bayreuth – he also prepared the 32-year-old for his début at the Festspielhaus with an enormous personal employment. His rehearsals with Lorenz were lasting for weeks, two, four hours a day. During the summer of 1933 Lorenz débuted in Bayreuth singing Parsifal, Walther and Siegfried (in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung). A program, that no tenor of today would accomplish. Lorenz stayed loyal to Bayreuth and Tietjen, who had become Lorenz' first mentor and good friend: Between 1933 and 1944 he appeared continuously each summer at the Festspielhaus, singing Parsifal (1933 and 1937), Lohengrin (1936), Siegmund (1937), Siegfried (in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, each year from 1933 to 1942), Walther (1933, 1934, 1943, 1944) and Tristan (1938 and 1939).
Siegfried 1930s Siegfried Bayreuth 1936
Lorenz soon became the leading Heldentenor for the heavy Wagner repertoire in Germany and abroad. The fact that the peak of Lorenz' career coincided with the reign of the National Socialists had assets and drawbacks. On one side one has to admit that Wagner's music never has been supported and subsidized more as during the leadership of Adolf Hitler. That was, on one hand, conductive to Lorenz' career as a Wagner-singer. The special promotion of Wagner's music and the spirit of the time, in which Wagner and the idea of the Nordic superman replaced the occidental religion and became something like a holy issue itself, created the ideal conditions for performing Wagner. The music was performed with a religious seriousness, intense and compact – with a concentration and density that only a black hole, that is about to collapse, can create.
In Bayreuth, enshrined as a Nazi-temple of culture and equipped with outstanding artists, one could work without sorrow. Or as Tietjen wrote: "Max Lorenz on top of all, Prohaska, Maria Müller, Margarethe Klose and the then young Greindl… only with those talented and obsessed artists I could, free from everything earthly, invade the sanctum of art."
Germany was, without any doubt, the home some of the greatest Wagner-performances ever. And Lorenz was, as Tietjen pointed out, an important part of them. In 1936 the Berlin State Opera presented Der fliegende Holländer with Max Lorenz, Rudolf Bockelmann and Martha Fuchs, Easter 1937 brought Parsifal with Max Lorenz, Frida Leider, Ivar Andresen and Erna Berger. Excerpts from the Bayreuth-performances from 1936 are preserved on records. They are a unique climax in the history of Wagner-singing. In 1938 Lorenz sang Tristan in Bayreuth with Germain Lubin and de Sabata conducting. Jens Malte Fischer writes: "There still are many enthusiasts who wait for a tape of this performance to appear. It promises unimagined delight and those who actually heard the performance live say that they've never heard anything better than this in their whole life."
The political isolation of Nazi-Germany had a disadvantageous effect on Lorenz' international career on the other hand. Lorenz sang first of all in Austria (which became a part of Germany in 1938), Italy (part of the Axis), and countries that were relatively indifferent or even benevolent to Germany and her political system: Sweden, the Netherlands, Great Britain. In Vienna Lorenz sang from 1933 to 1945 Riccardo in Verdi's Ballo (for the first time 1933, totally 12 performances), Parsifal (1933/12), Tannhäuser (1936/44), Siegmund (1936/32), Siegfried (Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, 1937/8), Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio (1937/66), Bacchus in Strauss' Ariadne (1937/13), Tristan (1940/28), Pedro in d'Albert's Tiefland (1940/8), Otello (1942/64) and Don José (1944/4).
Riccardo (Wien 1942) Otello (Wien 1942)
In 1937, Lorenz sang Siegfried (Götterdämmerung) in Amsterdam with Prohaska, von Manowarda, Fuchs, Heidersbach and Klose, under the direction of Erich Kleiber. His début at La Scala came in 1938, where sang Siegfried (both of them) and Siegmund (replacing the indisposed Franz Völker) under the direction of Victor de Sabata. His performances must have been very impressive, because shortly after, Lorenz got invested as Commendatore - a title, which made him very proud. I was about to leave Milan when I had a talk with Mataloni, the artistic director of La Scala: "Mr. Lorenz, I would like you to stay here at La Scala for the next couple of years. But I want you for the Italian repertoire. I have observed you during today's rehearsals. I would like you to sing Boito's Nerone here in our house!" In fact, I returned to Milan a couple of weeks later and started rehearsing Nerone. But the atmosphere remained alien to me, and I returned to Berlin and Bayreuth. Lorenz returned to La Scala in 1939 and 1942, both times singing Tristan with de Sabata. The fact that Mataloni wanted Lorenz to sing Nerone underlines the similarity of his voice and Pertile's. It was Pertile who had created the role of Nerone and his recordings of scenes from this opera are often estimated as his best.
The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino invited Lorenz in 1941.
London heard Lorenz' Siegfried on the occasion of the coronation ceremonies in 1937.
with Fuchs and Völker in Bayreuth with his wife and Rosvaenge
Some historians absolutely insist that Lorenz was one of Hitler's personal protégés, the "Third Reich's star-tenor, generally the leading tenor in the Third Reich, Hitler's favorite" (Fischer). It is true that Lorenz was the busiest tenor in the Third Reich and that his athletic physical appearance served the propagandized picture of the Nordic superhuman perfectly – in contrast to Franz Völker, the leading lyrical Heldentenor in Nazi-Germany's Bayreuth. Some even said that his musical style, a certain tendency to press forward when the orchestra was conducted too slowly, reminded of the German "Blitzkrieg-strategy, which of course suited the roles very well" (Fischer). But Lorenz was from a political point of view not that easy going.
Lorenz' wife, Lotte, was Jewish – a fact that brought Lorenz in conflict with the authorities after the adoption of the Nuremberg race-law in 1935. Legal proceedings against Lorenz and his wife were soon initiated since § 1.1. of the new law specifically prohibited the marriage of Jews and "citizens of German blood". The whole affair went to such lengths that Lotte Lorenz was not anymore allowed to visit performances in Bayreuth and even got attacked by SS-men in public. A court case because of the violation of § 1.1. was dangerous and could for the accused end in prison (§ 5.1.) or a concentration camp. And the cases of Tauber and Schmidt had proved that the National-Socialists were ruthless, even when it came to famous artists. But Lorenz had powerful friends – one of them was Winifred Wagner, Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law, a close friend of Hitler since 1923 and one of the few persons that were allowed to address Hitler informally (Du instead of Sie). And in the irrational world of Nazi-ideology contacts were the most important, not blood or paragraphs. Once, Herman Göring, chief-commander of the German Luftwaffe, saved one of his most important generals (Milch, who was accused for being half-Jewish) from removal just by pointing out a declarative statement: "I decide who is a Jew and who is not!"
Lorenz denied filing for divorce – successfully, probably thanks to the protection of influential friends. He even coerced the SS-men, who had attacked his wife, into apologizing personally for what they had done. Lorenz had threatened never to sing in Germany again unless the offenders apologized to her. The fact that Lorenz was not part of the spectacular representation of Wagner's Meistersinger in occasion of the year's biggest party congress Reichsparteitag der Freiheit in Nuremberg was maybe caused by the constant disgruntlement between him and the authorities. The part of Walther was then sung by the b-class-tenor Fritz Wolff, who was surrounded by an excellent cast which included Karl Kronenberg (Sachs), Josef von Manowarda (Pogner), Herbert Janssen (Kothner), Maria Müller (Eva) and Wilhelm Furtwängler.
The court case against Lorenz and his wife was not the only attempt to split the marriage. Friedelind Wagner, Winifred and Siegfried Wagner's daughter, tried to convince Lorenz of getting a divorce and marry her instead. Today it seems impossible to find out what or who was the driving force behind these plans, which certainly had the aim to protect Lorenz from any further difficulties. But Lorenz stayed loyal to his wife. Friedelind, originally a fanatic Nazi, changed her opinion about Hitler suddenly in 1940 and emigrated. When the war was over and Lorenz was about to continue his career in the US, she tried to prevent it by spreading the rumor that Lorenz was a Nazi.
Friedelind with Hitler Bayreuth 1938
Lorenz' marriage was not the only cause for conflicts. According to Marcel Prawy (Jan Kiepura's former chief secretary) Lorenz was "a prominent homosexual". In 1936 the authorities therefore tried to ban Lorenz from further appearances in Bayreuth. Again Winifred Wagner held her protective hand over Lorenz. In a one-on-one-interview with Hitler, Winifred Wagner put trough that Lorenz could continue.
Lorenz was as his biographer Walter Herrmann points out, far from being a Nazi. From time to time he was hiding fugitives in his house and organized their emigration from Nazi-Germany. Lorenz cannot be accused for the fact that he himself did not leave Germany just like Toscanini had left Italy. He was, like Furtwängler, an artist who was dependent on German language and art, a man who was closely connected to his home and fatherland. To emigrate can also mean to abandon, to stay can be understood as the attempt to make things better inside the lion's den.
DAS SÜSSE LIED VERHALLT
That Lorenz was not hit by the measures of the so-called denazification in the post-war years can maybe be traced back to the fact that he generally has not been perceived as a Nazi, neither in Germany nor abroad. During the winter 1945/46 Lorenz returned to Vienna singing Otello with Hilde Konetzni as Desdemona and Paul Schöffler as Jago under the direction of Karl Böhm. He even added another complex and extremely difficult part to his repertoire: Hermann in Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, which he sang for the first time in Vienna in 1946. The BBC invited Lorenz during Christmas 1946 for singing Siegmund in Wagner's Walküre – a special act of friendship and reconciliation.
In 1947 Lorenz sang Tristan in Paris (together with Flagstad), his first post-war performance in a country which had been occupied by the Nazis. Everywhere in the opera house one could feel an icy front, especially the orchestra and the stagehands openly showed a hostile attitude. The performance went very well, but the moment after the final chord was awful. It is not exactly a very comfortable feeling standing on stage without knowing how the audience is going to react. The whole house was deadly silent, but then everybody raised and applauded enthusiastically.
One year later Lorenz was heard as Tannhäuser at the Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, together with Tebaldi as Elisabeth and Rossi-Lemeni as Landgraf. Between 1948 and 1952 Lorenz also sang regularly at La Scala: Tristan in 1948 (among Flagstad and Schöffler) and 1951/52 (with Grob-Prandl, S. Björling and de Sabata conducting), in 1949 for the first performance of Die Walküre (with Flagstad, Reining, Höngen and Frantz) and 1950 for the performance of the complete Ring under the direction of Furtwängler.
But La Scala was again also interested in Lorenz' Italian repertoire, especially in his Otello, which they wanted him to sing in Italian (all the performances in Vienna were sung in German). But Lorenz refused again, this time not because he found the atmosphere alien, but simply because he thought that his Italian would not be good enough. Lorenz had only sung the role of Otello twice before in the original language, and that was in Paris. Later, the director of the RAI, Fidia Schiavoni, told that he actually had seen one of the performances of Otello in Paris and remembered that Lorenz' Italian was excellent. He was convinced that Lorenz' Otello in Italian would have been a great success.
In 1947/48 and 1950 Lorenz returned to the US, performing Tristan, Tannhäuser and Siegmund (in Wagner's Walküre with the great Swedish baritone Joel Berglund) and, in 1950, again Tannhäuser and Lohengrin with Astrid Varnay as Elisabeth and Ortrud.
A performance of Tristan at the Teatro Grattacielo ("Skyscraper") in Genova in 1948 brought him together with a young soprano, who would become one of the greatest stars in opera only a couple of years later: Maria Callas. Lorenz as Tristan, Callas as Isolde, Nicolai as Brangäne and Rossi-Lemeni as the King, Tullio Serafin conducting. There actually are unconfirmed rumors that a recording of this performance does exist. Also Maria Callas was looking for it, as we can read in a letter she wrote to Lorenz in 1968:
"Dear Max – I hope you remember me since the old days we sang together. I will never forget our performances together. I hope you are well and content with your life. (…)
I wonder if it is true that you have a tape of our 'Tristan' together. I was told that you have one, and I would be so happy if I could have a copy for my personal pleasure. Could you write to me if so – and anyway I would so like to hear from you.
Much affection and hoping to hear from you
I remain yours –
Lorenz remembered Maria as an excellent Wagner-singer as well as Maria Callas remembered Lorenz as a loveable colleague. In 1956, in the occasion of a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor in Vienna, Callas and di Stefano invited Lorenz for dinner at their hotel. It is not a well know fact that Lorenz actually was one of the first mentors of the young di Stefano.
with Callas, Wien 1956
But in spite of his international success, Lorenz' career began to draw to a close. The overwhelming power of his voice started to run dry – surely a kind of natural wear after over 20 years within the dramatic repertoire. His performances became more and more infrequent, and a certain turning away from the Heldenfach in favor of the Charakterfach was one of the logical consequences of the vocal decline during the mid 1950s. But Lorenz was, at least as to the Vienna State Opera, still the first choice – a fact, that proves that the artist Lorenz was made of something more than "just" a voice. In Vienna, Lorenz was now set up first of all in the operas of Richard Strauss and modern opera. In 1949 he added Herodes (Salome) and Aeghist (Elektra) to his repertoire. In 1953 he created, on personal request by the composer Gottfried von Einem, the role of Josef K. in the first performance of the Kafka-opera Der Prozess. In 1954 he created the main role in another world premiere: Podestà in Rolf Liebermann's Penelope. The year after he appeared in Alban Berg's Wozzek in the bit part of the Tambourmajor.
Herbert von Karajan's takeover as musical director at the Vienna State Opera marked the definitive end of Lorenz' career. Karajan was, in this case comparable to Solti, not only a musician but also a manager. And as the manager of the Vienna State Opera it was his ultimate ambition to make as much profit as possible. This meant nothing else than the destruction of the old Viennese ensemble in favor of international jetset-star-casts or, as he called it, "a common marked for the arts". And Karajan unleashed a real "star-carousel", wearing out one singer after the other. In his understanding of opera, his conception of sound, the orchestra played a much bigger role than before, stopped being accompaniment and became the dominant element. The permanent rotation meant a constant source of stress and the excessive demand to sing over a symphony orchestra ruined many talented singers and initiated the general decline of the art of singing. The "new style" of performing and the international stars, which Karajan took along to Vienna, soon made Lorenz dispensable. The break between him and Karajan can maybe be compared to the irritation between Björling and Solti. Solti was, like Karajan, a conductor-producer with new ideas of the orchestra's role within the opera and without any sense for classical ensembles, which (in his opinion) were old-fashioned and not suitable for the actual marked. The unscrupulous sacking of Björling (1960) and Lorenz (1955) meant definitively the end of the old tradition.
Lorenz quit at the State Opera and switched to the small Vienna Volksoper, singing parts like Orpheus in Offenbach's operetta and Buffalo Bill in Irving Berlin's musical Annie get your gun (1957). The parts I sing become smaller and smaller the older I get. But it is great to observe the young generation. And from time to time one of the young comes to me and asks: "Mr. Lorenz, how did you do that then?" And I am glad to tell them about it.
Teaching James King
In 1962 Lorenz returned to the State Opera for one last performance: Herodes in Salome, definitely his last appearance on stage. It was not a happy farewell. Lorenz was, as legend has it, due to sorrow about his unfriendly displacement by Karajan, unable to take curtain calls for saying goodbye to the beloved audience and left the house through the side entrance.
After his farewell Lorenz was appointed to a professorship at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Among his most famous pupils were the tenors Jean Cox and James King. And for a third and last time Lorenz refused an offer from Italy: a professorship at Santa Cecilia in Rome.
He died on January 11 1975.
Max Lorenz did certainly not have an „ugly“ voice (as John Steane wrote). Lorenz renditions are characterized by a strong declamatory and expressive style, paired, as Jens Malte Fischer wrote, with a "razor-sharp diction". Lorenz meant that expression and the beauty of sound (made possible by a solid technique) often were conflicting (cf. interview): I do not care if some notes sound ugly. And he made perfectly clear that the beauty of sound was not always the most important for him: it is the expression that counts. The declamatory gesture demands expressions that conflict with the golden rules of the art of belcanto. It's not only about affective bursts like shouting, screaming and crying, but also about the color of the vowels, which, in certain moments, has to be more open or closed, brighter or darker. It occurs for example that a high G or even an A flat is taken completely opened. The liquid and nasal consonants (like r, n, m) are pronounced with an extreme intensity. It even occurs that the musical line and certain single notes get sacrificed for expressive eruptions.
On the other side stands Lorenz' warm, beautiful and powerful voice. Listening to his recordings it seems improper to call his voice for metallic. It surely has the brilliance of Björling's steel and Lauri Volpi's squillo, but it did not have that "two-fisted" presence and tension that Björling, Svanholm and Melchior had in their voices. Lorenz' voice is not a bright, hard element, its state of aggregation is fluent, not like water, rather tough and dark like crude oil.
The fact that Lorenz is by far more popular in Germany than abroad is due to the language barrier. If you don't understand the words, which Lorenz expresses in music, you miss the half of the performance. What remain are performances characterized by an expressive impetus and rhetorical exaggerations.
Another thing that is not only missed by listeners who are not able to understand German is Lorenz' presence on stage, which was an important part of his performances and which must have been very impressive, as many testimonies of his former colleagues confirm. Belcanto Society's videotape Legends of opera contains a short clip of a rehearsal of Götterdämmerung in Bayreuth from 1934, with Frida Leider, Heinz Tietjen and Karl Elmendorff conducting, a clip, which approves those impressions. It even seems that his appearance compensated for the language barrier: His successes abroad (in Sweden, England, France and Italy) prove this theory. And de Sabata, Furtwängler and Serafin would never have accepted an unmusical singer with bad voice.
Connoisseurs like John Steane seem to forget that the record is a very imperfect medium. Judging Lorenz only by his recordings, maybe even without being able to understand the words he sings, can lead to a disadvantageous impression. But such an impression would be, as said, incomplete – a judgement based on this impression undifferentiated and unfair.
"Why was he unique? Max Lorenz was an exceptionally gifted artist – nature gave him a glorious tenor-voice and a body, which was classically beautiful in every movement, in every position. Furthermore he was warmhearted and had such a powerful inner imagination, which made him become the characters he portrayed on stage. His great art produced the impression of being completely natural and inartificial." Winifred Wagner
"It was an incredible situation being on stage together with Max Lorenz. This singer was in every sense the implementation of what I had been looking for for years: A Meistersinger, who deserved the title well." Astrid Varnay
"During spring 1954 I sang in Vienna for the first time (…). The great Max Lorenz was my Siegmund, and I also experienced what many other colleagues had told me about him: He encouraged me, he helped, and he cared. He taught me what it means to have a really good colleague."
"He was Lohengrin and Siegmund in my performances, an exceptional singer and actor, and when we met for the first time, he greeted me with the following words: 'Kyss mig i arslet!' ('Kiss my ass'). I begged his pardon, but he repeated the sentence in an even more sonorous Swedish. I understood that I did not mishear, and there was an explanation too. In 1936 Max Lorenz had given a couple of guest performances in Wagner's Ring in Stockholm, and that's where they had taught him this unpolished address of welcome. Max was obviously very proud of having command of it and I pretended to be flattered." Birgit Nilsson
"Dear Max! Back in my 'Viking' after a long journey through Europe I would like to thank you for all the great time we've had together. For me it was like re-experiencing our youth and man-days. I hope that the Lord is going to keep you healthy and fresh for many more years and that we will meet again. Our friendship will last until we will sing our songs with a harp in our hand sitting on a cloud.
Keep your throat moist!
Your old comrade and friend Lauritz" Lauritz Melchior
at home with Melchior
The following excerpt is taken from a radio-interview with Lorenz made during the 1960s.
Das ist für jeden Sänger sehr wichtig, daß er einen Regisseur hat, der ihn formt. Ich konnte nie leiden, wenn
For every singer it is very important to have a director who is able to form him. I never liked it if somebody
jemand nur sang und die Rolle nicht erfaßt hat. Ich habe immer die Rollen schon vorher ausgearbeitet, das ist bei den
just sang without understanding the role. I have always prepared the roles before I had to sing them.
großen, die ich später gesungen habe ja sehr wichtig – Tristan oder Siegfried, da kommt es auf die große Einteilung an.
That is essential when you have to sing big roles like I did – Tristan or Siegfried, the big lines are important.
Mir war auch egal, ob ein Ton mal schön ist oder nicht schön, bei mir war der Ausdruck die Hauptsache. Es gibt heute
I never cared whether a note was beautiful or not, the expression was the main thing to me. Today, there are directors
Regisseure, die sagen: "Du mußt das so machen, wie ich das will!" Da kann es nie eine Leistung sein, die von innen
who say: "You have to do it the way I want it!" Like that, there can never emerge a performance with empathy.
heraus empfunden ist. Ich finde immer, ein Opernregisseur muß musikalische Vorbildung haben, das muß doch sein!
I always thought that an opera-director has to have a well-grounded musical education – it just has to be so!
Am liebsten lassen die den Othello auf der Hinterbühne auftreten, weil es zum Bild paßt, und das ist alles malerisch…
They preferably let Otello act out backstage, just because it suits the stage design, the pictorial aspects come to the fore.
Ich bin vielleicht, wie man sagt, noch aus der guten alten Zeit und wenn ich heute in den Siegfried gehen und singen
Maybe I am, so to say, from the good old times, and if I imagine that I should go and sing Siegfried with just a piece of
sollte und mir vorstellen, daß da nur eine Holzplatte ist und ein Lichtstrahl, und das soll mir den ganzen Siegfriedwald
wood and a light beam on stage replacing Siegfried's forest… no, I think that I could never build up the necessary mood
ersetzen… nein, ich glaube, ich hätte gar keine Stimmung als Gestalter auf der Bühne.
for creating the role.
Für mich war Tietjen der einzig Wissende als Regisseur auf der Bühne. Der wußte, wie man den Sänger zu
For me, Tietjen was the only director on stage who really knew. He knew how to form a singer, he knew
formen hat, was er von ihm verlangen konnte, und dann hat er gesagt: "Wie stellst du dir das jetzt vor, kannst du mir das
what he could expect from the singers, and then he said: "how do you imagine this scene, can you play it for me? Just
vorspielen? Spiel's mal so, wie du dir das vorstellst! Das würd' ich machen, das würd' ich nicht machen, das ist
do it the way you like. I would do so and not so, this is great and that is bad."
großartig und das ist schlecht." Eines Tages in Berlin kam Tietjen und hatte den Plan, mit mir in Bayreuth Tristan zu
One day in Berlin Tietjen came with the plan to stage Tristan with me in Bayreuth: "Do you have the heart to do that?"
machen. "Würden Sie sich das trauen?" Und ich hab' gesagt: "Trauen… ich weiß nicht, das ist ja eine Riesenrolle…"
And I said: "The heart to do that… I don't know, that is a huge part…"
"Ich werde mit Ihnen diese Rolle von Anfang an studieren. Sie bekommen jetzt Ihre Proben, musikalisch, und weiter
"I will study the partwith you from scratch. For now you will get your rehearsals and that's all you do."
machen Sie gar nichts." Und ich habe dann durch Monate hindurch mit dem Chef jeden Tag zwei bis drei Stunden in
And then I studied with him every day for two or three hours lasting for months in a room, where there were only a
einem Zimmer gearbeitet, da war nur der Korrepetitor und seine Sekretärin, die das notiert hat, diese Bemerkungen, und
répétiteur and a secretary, who noted everything he said. And we rehearsed every snatch and every step and every
jeden Griff und jeden Schritt und jede Bewegung, hunderte und hunderte Male probiert. Wie ich dann nach Bayreuth
movement for hundreds and hundreds of times. And when I then came to Bayreuth and the rehearsals began, I was so
kam und die Proben begannen, war ich so sicher, als wenn ich die Rolle zigmal gesungen hätte. Heute kommt der von
secure as if I already had sung the part for umpteen times.
Norwegen und der [unverständlich] aus Italien, die sich kaum kennen und treffen sich auf der Bühne, das kann doch gar
Today one singer comes from Norway and the other one from Italy; they barely know each other and meet on stage for
nicht so sein wie ein Ensemble, was seit Jahrzehnten zusammen gegründet ist. Ich wußte genau jeden Griff, den der
the first time, that can't work as well as an ensemble, which has worked together for decades. I exactly knew every
Partner gemacht hat, ob er piano singt, ob er forte singt, da gehört eine jahrelange Tradition dazu, daß sie aufeinander
movement my partner was going to do, if he or her would sing piano or forte, it is the tradition that makes artists work
abgestimmt sind. Sie kriegten auch keinen Urlaub, wenn Sie wußten, Sie machen eine große Premiere – das gibt's doch
together. And you couldn't vacation before a great premiere –
heute gar nicht mehr.
that would be unthinkable today.
BEETHOVEN Fidelio - Florestan
BERG Wozzek - Tambourmajor
BERLIN Annie get your gun - Buffalo Bill
BIZET Carmen - Don José
D'ALBERT Tiefland - Pedro
EGK Irische Legende
GLUCK Iphigenie in Aulis - Achilles
GRAENER Prinz von Homburg - Prinz Friedrich
HEGER Bettler Namenlos
LIEBERMANN Penelope - Podestà
LORTZING Undine - von Ringstetten
MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana - Turiddu
MOZART Idomeneo - Idamantes
MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunow - Demetrius
PUCCINI Manon Lescaut - Des Grieux
Turandot - Calaf
R. STRAUSS Ariadne - Bacchus
Salome - Herodes, Naraboth
Elektra - Aeghist
Rosenkavalier - Sänger
Ägyptische Helena - Menelaus
Frau ohne Schatten - Kaiser
TCHAIKOVSKY Pique Dame - Hermann
VERDI Aida - Radames
La Forza del Destino - Alvaro
Trovatore - Manrico
Un ballo in maschera - Riccardo
VON EINEM Der Prozeß - Josef K.
VON KLEINEM Die Königin - Roberto Devereux
WAGNER Fliegender Holländer - Erik
Götterdämmerung - Siegfried
Meistersinger - Walther von Stolzing
Rheingold - Loge
Tristan und Isolde - Tristan
Walküre - Sigmund
WEBER Freischütz - Max
COMMENTED DISCOGRAPHY (Selection)
Lorenz' recorded legacy is very large. Most of the existing recordings are live-recordings. The recordings listed and commented below are a selection of his best ones.
a) Complete operas and highlights
Bayreuth 1936: Excerpts from Siegfried w/ Tietjen, Bayreuth live 1936 (Teldec)
One of Lorenz' best recordings. The sound quality of the CD is unfortunately not good. Not only the noise but also the ring of Lorenz' voice has been removed. The LP with the same title is the better choice.
Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer, highlights w/ Flagstad, Janssen; Fritz Reiner, London live 1937 (Standing Room only, Golden Melodram)
A dream cast with Lorenz in very good form. As far as I know the only live recording with Lorenz and Flagstad together beside the Ring from 1950. The sound quality is OK.
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera, excerpts w/ H. Konetzni, Ahlersmeyer; Karl Böhm, Wien live 1942 (Koch Schwann: Wiener Staatsoper live Vol. 8)
Interesting document. Lorenz sings the role of Riccardo (including the high C in the end of the duet) without any effort.
Wagner: Rienzi, abridged w/ Klose, Scheppan; Johannes Schüler, Dresden live 1942 (Radio Years)
This is one of the first recordings that were made directly on tape. The singing is good but sounds a bit obtrusive.
Wagner: Meistersinger w/ Prohaska, Müller, Greindl; Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bayreuth live 1943 (Grammophono 2000, Arkadia, M&A)
Very good sound. One of the best recordings of this opera.
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde w/ Buchner, Prohaska; Robert Heger, Berlin live 1943 (Grammophono 2000)
Obtrusive sound. Lorenz sings the duet and the entire 3rd act with nervous emphasis and febrile intensity.
Wagner: Die Walküre, act 1 w/ Teschemacher, Böhme; Karl Elmendorff, Dresden 1944 (Preiser)
In this recording Lorenz sounds a little overeager. A certain tendency towards a "wobble" is evident. But Teschemacher is a wonderful Sieglinde, maybe the best since Lotte Lehmann. Karl Elmendorff conducts in big lines which suite the music very well.
R. Strauss: Ariadne w/ M. Reining, P. Schöffler; Karl Böhm, Wien live 1944 (Preiser, highlights on Arlecchino)
Good sound and singing. Authentic Strauss-document made by Strauss' favorite musicians.
Wagner: Die Walküre, excerpts w/ H. Konetzni, A. Böhm, I. Björck; Sir Thomas Beecham, London live 1947, plus scenes from Siegfried (1938), Parsifal (1933) and Lohengrin (1948/53) (Archipel)
One of Lorenz' best recordings, electrifying conducting by Beecham. The sound is OK.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung w/ Flagstad; Wilhelm Furtwängler, Milan live 1950 (Opera d'oro, M&A)
Again Lorenz in very good form. The only possibility to hear his complete Siegfried.
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde w/ Grob-Prandl, Björling; Victor de Sabata, Milan live 1951 (Archipel, Nuova Era)
The cast of this recording is wonderful. Unfortunately very poor sound.
"Max Lorenz - The complete Electrola-recordings 1927-1942: Meisersinger, Walküre Tannhäuser, Carmen, Aida, La Juive, Der Evangelimann, L'Africaine, La Forza, Pagliacci, Lohengrin, Rienzi, Siegfried, Lieder by von Weingartner and Hildach (Preiser)
"Max Lorenz - Arias and duets": Tannhäuser (1930), Lohengrin (1928/29), Meistersinger (1927/28), La Forza del Destino (1929), Rienzi (1930), Holländer (1930), Ja Juive (1929), Carmen (1929), L'Africaine (1930), Aida (1928/30), Pagliacci (1929) (Minerva)
These two recitals are a collection of Lorenz' early studio-recordings. The renditions of Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and La Forza belong to his best recordings.
"Max Lorenz": Rienzi (1942), Tannhäuser (1943), Holländer (1930), Lohengrin (1928/9), Tristan (1943), Meistersinger (1927/28/39), Walküre (1944), Götterdämmerung (1944) (Preiser, Phonographe)
The recordings from the 1920s and the clip form the Flying Dutchman are identical with the ones one the two recitals above. The scenes from Rienzi, Tannhäuser, Walküre, Götterdämmerung and Tristan are taken from the complete recordings of these operas made for the German radio (Rienzi and Tristan are published on CD, see above).
"Max Lorenz": Excerpts from Die Walküre w/ Reining and Arthur Rother (1941,from Ein Schwert verhiess mir to the Finale of act 1), Siegfried (1938), Holländer (1948), Parsifal (1933), Lohengrin (1948/53), Aida (1952), La Forza (1952), Otello (1952), Pagliacci (1952), Annie get your gun (1957) (Myto)
Interesting collection of rare live material. The recording of Celeste Aida is taken from the complete recording issued by Myto. The excerpt from Otello (Niun mi tema) is very impressive – it is a pity that a complete recording of Lorenz' Otello does not exist.
The other clips from La Forza and Pagliacci demonstrate that Lorenz still was in very good form in the beginning 1950s.
"Max Lorenz singt Richard Wagner": Excerpts from a 1950 radiobroadcast of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung w/ Helena Braun and Arthur Rother conducting plus excerpts from Tristan with Christel Goltz and Ferdinand Leitner conducting (1950) (Preiser)
Good, atmospheric "remake" of the 1943/44-performances. Good sound.
"Max Lorenz singt Wagner": Rienzi (1942), Tannhäuser (1942), Tristan (1942), Walküre (1943), Siegfried (München 1937), Meistersinger (München 1938) (Preiser)
"Max Lorenz sings Wagner": Tristan (1942), Walküre excerpts (Dresden 1944 w/ Elmendorff), excerpts from Götterdämmerung w/ Scheppan and Klose (Berlin 1944) (Vocal Archives)
Wozzeck (Vienna 1955, Andante), Der Prozeß (Vienna 1953, Orfeo), Penelope (1954), Aida (Frankfurt 1952, Myto), Palestrina (excerpts, Vienna 1955, Myto), Elektra (Vienna 1957, Opera d'oro, Orfeo), Salome (Vienna 1951, Orfeo), Salome (Frankfurt 1952, Myto), Tristan und Isolde (Hamburg 1949, Myto), Tristan und Isolde (Buenos Aires 1938, Archipel).
Max Lorenz also appeared on the following compilations:
Wiener Staatsoper Live Vol. 8 (Ballo in maschera), 17 (Tannhäuser), 19 (Die Walküre), 20 (Meistersinger and Tannhäuser), Famous Tenors of the past (Preiser), Four famous Wagnerian Tenors (Preiser), Great Singers at the Berlin State opera (Nimbus), Great Singers at the opera houses of Europe (Nimbus), Great singers of the Bayreuth Festival (Vocal Archives), Great singers of the Bayreuth Festival 1907-1943 (Documents)
 Max Lorenz: Berlin, Bayreuth, Wien; in: Hannes Reinhardt (ed.): Das musikalische Selbstportrait. Berlin 1963, p. 91 ff. Lorenz' own words, mostly quotations from this autobiography, will be typed in Italics, as well as quotations from a radio broadcast made during the 1960s in which Lorenz told about his life.