Fritz Wunderlich is one of the most tragic figures in all of opera.
Born on Sept. 26, 1930, he would never reach his true potential as an opera star, dying nine days before what would have been his 36th birthday.
And yet, in that short span, the German tenor achieved what most artists achieve over the course of a full career.
Wunderlich’s early life was far from stellar. Born into Nazi Germany, his father committed suicide when the tenor was but five-years-old. He mastered a number of instruments though and seemed destined for a career as a horn player. However, he would turn into a tenor at the insistence of his teacher Margarethe von Winterfeldt.
He would have a solid career in his native Germany, recording a plethora of his performances in German. It is because of these recordings that we know of his greatness.
In 1966, he performed at the Salzburg Festival and then went on a hunting vacation. With his Met Opera debut just weeks away, he tripped and fell from a stairway in a country house. He was rushed to the hospital but did not make it.
Wunderlich sang everything in German, but he specialized in the operas of Mozart and Wagner. Tamino in “Die Zauberflöte” and Belmonte in “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” are among his most recognized interpretations; for some they are the best renditions of the role ever sung.
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Watch and Listen
Here is a famed recording of “Die Zauberflöte” under the musical direction of Karl Böhm.
And here is Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin.”