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Friedrich Schorr

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Friedrich Schorr set the standard for Wagnerian heldenbariton singing for the two decades between 1920 and 1940. His mahogany-colored bass-baritone may have lacked ultimate freedom in the highest reaches of the great heroic roles, but its beautiful, firmly knit timbre and absolute steadiness (and the singer's mastery of legato) made mockery of the notion that Wagner must be barked and not sung. Whether in the reflective moments of Hans Sachs, Vanderdecken's despair or Wotan's angry outbursts, his control of dynamics and clarity of utterance made his characterizations both riveting and complete. In an age of great Wagnerian singing, he stood at the very forefront. Schorr's father, an attorney, hoped for a career in law for his son. Friedrich won a compromise: if he continued studying law, he could study music as well. Enrolling at Vienna University, he trained under Adolph Robinson, who had been the first to recognize Schorr's vocal gifts. In a year's time, Schorr was heard by the intendent of the Graz Opera who invited him to make his debut in that venue. At the age of 23 and having disclosed nothing about the performance to his parents, the young singer sang the exacting role of Wotan. Armed with the positive reviews, Schorr traveled to Vienna to show his father the contract that had been his reward. The budding heldenbariton was given his father's blessing to become a professional singer and his career began in the deepest waters of the bass-baritone repertory. Schorr remained at Graz from 1911 to 1916, appearing often as a guest at the Vienna Opera where he quickly became a favorite with its discerning public. From 1916 to 1918, he was a member of Prague's National Theatre, after which he spent five years at Cologne. From 1923 to 1932 (and the rise of Hitler), Schorr was a leading artist in Berlin not only in the Wagnerian wing, but in such other roles as Busoni's Faust, Cardinal Borromeo in Pfitzner's Palestrina, and Barak in Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten. During this same period, beginning in 1925, Schorr was a frequent performer at the Bayreuth Festival. Even though his being a Jew was tolerated by Nazis prior to their ascension to power, Schorr ended his affiliation with Bayreuth in the same year he took leave of Berlin. Meanwhile, Schorr visited the United States in 1924 with a company presenting a season of Wagner operas at the Manhattan Opera House. Metropolitan Opera manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza heard him and offered a contract, beginning an association that lasted until the singer's retirement in 1943. Following his debut on February 14 as Wolfram, Schorr offered his Hans Sachs, described by Lawrence Gilman as a "truly great performance" and similarly praised by the other New York critics. London, too, benefited from Schorr's artistry in the years from 1924 to the outbreak of WWII. After eliciting enthusiasm for the Rheingold Wotan which served as his debut, he roused the London audience to fervent applause for his superlative Walküre Wotan, both wrathful and ruminative, sung throughout with the utmost beauty of tone. Though no complete role of his was recorded during his prime, Schorr left an estimable legacy of Wagnerian excerpts, performed with such other titans as Frida Leider and Lauritz Melchior. His single contribution to Walter Legge's Hugo Wolf Society Lieder recording series, Prometheus (performed in the orchestral version), would alone secure Schorr's reputation among the immortals.

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