Obituary: Oper Köln Baritone Claudio Nicolai Dies at 91

By Francisco Salazar

Recognized baritone Claudio Nicolai has died at the age of 91.

The baritone died on May 11 in his home in the Canary Islands in La Palma.

Born March 7, 1929 in Kiel, Germany, Claudio was baptized Claus Hennecke. His father was in the Navy and became an admiral staff officer during World War II.

The baritone started his career as a tenor studying in Vienna and eventually changed his name to Nicolai. In 1954 he went on to perform at the Theater am Gärtnerplatz, Munich, first as a tenor and then eventually changing to a baritone.

On Sept. 22, 1964 he made his debut at the Oper Köln where he would perform for 25 years in 1,066 performances. The opera of his debut was “Così fan tutte;” he would also perform the Mozart for his farewell in 1989. Throughout his career he would be known for his impeccable technique and his acting chops.

Among the operas that he performed in Köln were “Le nozze di Figaro,” “The Merry Widow,” “The Wild Shooter,” “Pique Dame,” “Il matrimonio segreto,” “Don Carlo,” “Don Giovanni,” “The Soldiers,” “Tannhäuser,” and “Eugene Onegin,” among many others. His most performed role was Papageno in “Die Zauberflöte,” which he sang on 108 times.

Nicolai also went on to sing at the Salzburg Festival under Herbert von Karajan, the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Opernhaus Zurich and Berlin State Opera, and performed with such legends as Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Margaret Price, Lucia Popp, Carlos Feller, Maria Ewing, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Anna Tomowa-Sintow throughout his career.

He also left a number of recordings including “Die Soldaten,” “Così fan tutte” and “Il Matrimonio Segreto” and appeared in a number of operetta broadcasts.

Nicolai taught at the Köln University of Applied Sciences until 1991 when he Germany.

He is survived by wife Carmen and his sons.

Here he is in “Le Nozze di Figaro.”