Opera aficionados will relish this warm revisiting of the years spent at Bayreuth by tenor Lauritz Melchior. Rich in photographs and anecdotal material it is a revelatory look at a time, the years 1923 - 1931, a place, and a man. It is also a warm, personal recollection as is revealed in the narrative written by his son, Ib Melchior.
As many know Bayreuth, a small town in Bavaria, is the home of the Wagner Festivals. Relatively early in his career Richard Wagner had felt the need for a theater solely for the performing of his operas. Deciding that a large city was not an appropriate site, Wagner selected this relatively unknown town for his Festspielhaus. A Patron's Association underwrote the cost of building, and the cornerstone was laid on May 22, 1872, Wagner's 59th birthday.
Following the great composer's death the Festival was overseen by his widow, Cosima, and son, Siegfried Wagner. It was for them that Mr. Melchior auditioned in 1923 as the Festival was scheduled to resume after being interrupted by the war.
It has been said that following Mr. Melchior's singing Siegfried consulted with his mother, and then simply said, "Mother likes you."
Thus began a benchmark period in the artist's career. He was to spend several hours each day under the tutelage of famed voice coach Karl Kittel, and from Cosima he gained insights into the Wagner characters. With unparalleled thoroughness she even gave him acting instructions concerning the body, the face, and the eyes, which she called "mirrors of the soul."
Among the many friendships developed during the Bayreuth years was one with Siegfried's wife, Winifred, who had great admiration for Adolf Hitler. Nonetheless, at that time Hitler received scant attention from others at Bayreuth.
Surely the thought never occurred to Mr. Melchior that some 8 years later, following Siegfried's death, the atmosphere in Bayreuth would be dramatically altered.. Hitler moved into Siegfried's rooms, and his brown shirted troopers overran the small town. The tenor would leave Bayreuth not to return.
Nonetheless, during those "Golden Years" glorious operas were performed - Parsifal, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and more. In addition, lifelong friendships were forged as steins were hoisted.. It is a never-to-be-forgotten period in the archives of music history.
What of the man who is called one of the greatest heroic tenors of all time? He quickly took to Lederhosen, wearing them whenever possible. Music was his metier, hunting his passion. He had an irrepressible sense of humor, which is evidenced in the MGM films he later made. He was more than generous to his fellow performers, and genuinely loved mankind.
Lauritz Melchior: The Golden Years of Bayreuth is enriched by over 315 never before published photographs, and notes from Mr. Melchior's journals. A volume to be prized, it is apt tribute to the man called "...not the world's greatest Wagner tenor...the only one!"
- Gail Cooke