Richard Tauber (16 May 1891 – 8 January 1948) was an Austrian tenor acclaimed as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Some critics commented that "his heart felt every word he sang".
He was born in Linz, Austria to Elisabeth Seiffert, an actress who played soubrette roles at the local theatre. His father, Richard Anton Tauber, also an actor, was not married to his mother and was unaware of the birth as he was touring America at the time. Being born out of wedlock, he was given the name Richard Denemy (Denemy being his mother's maiden name). He also used the names Ernst Seiffert, Carl Tauber and C. Richard Tauber at various times.
Richard accompanied his mother on tour to various theatres but she found it increasingly difficult to cope, and in 1897 he was sent to school in Linz, when his father took over his upbringing. His father, who had a Jewish background but had converted to Catholicism, hoped that Richard would become a priest, but the boy missed the excitement of the theatre and instead joined his father in Prague, and subsequently in 1903 at the theatre in Wiesbaden. Richard hoped to become a singer but failed to impress any of the teachers he auditioned for, probably because he chose to sing Wagner, for which his voice was not suited. Consequently, his father entered him at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt-am-Main to study piano, composition and conducting, subjects which stood Tauber in good stead in later years. He made rapid progress but he still hoped to become a singer; whilst staying with friends at Freiburg he was heard by the well-known voice teacher Professor Carl Beines who encouraged him to sing more quietly and promised a good career as a Mozart tenor.
He made his debut before the public at a concert at Freiburg on 17 May 1912. In 1913 his father was appointed Intendant of both the Municipal and Stadt-Theater in Chemnitz and was therefore in a position to arrange for Richard to appear as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) on Sunday, 2 March 1913. A few days later he played Max in Der Freischütz, a performance which was attended by Baron Seebach of the Dresden Opera and he offered Richard a five-year contract. The Baron encouraged Tauber to take small roles with other companies to broaden his experience.
During his years in Dresden, Tauber acquired his reputation as a remarkably quick study: he learned the Gounod Faust in 48 hours, Bacchus in Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in an afternoon, and so on. People started to call him "the SOS Tenor".
In 1922, Tauber signed a contract with the Vienna State Opera and appearances with the Berlin State Opera followed; for many years he appeared with both companies — four months with each, leaving four months for concerts and guest appearances with other companies and touring abroad. He sang the tenor role in many operas, including Don Giovanni, The Bartered Bride, Tosca, Mignon, Faust, Carmen and Die Fledermaus, as well as newer works such as Erich Korngold's Die tote Stadt and Wilhelm Kienzl's Der Evangelimann. It was during this period that he began making the first of over seven hundred gramophone records, mainly for the Odeon Records label.
Tauber had a lyrical, flexible tenor voice, and he sang with a warm, elegant legato. His excellent breath control gave him a wonderful head voice and mezza-voce with a superb pianissimo. He was elegant in appearance too — although he had a slight squint in his right eye, he disguised it by wearing a monocle which, when accompanied by a top hat, added to the elegant effect. For many people he became the epitome of Viennese charm.
In 1924 he was offered the part of Armand in Franz Lehár's Frasquita at the Theater an der Wien, which was a huge success. This excursion into operetta was looked down on by some but it did Tauber no harm at all; in fact, it gave Tauber a new audience. Neither did it harm his voice as some had feared — Tauber was too fine a musician to indulge in poor vocal practices in pursuit of popularity. It also revived Lehár's flagging career as a composer of operetta, who composed several successful new works specifically for Tauber's voice and talent. These usually occurred in the second act and were informally known as Tauberlieder. When in Vienna, Tauber also conducted at the Theater an der Wien, and it was here that he met the soprano Carlotta Vanconti who soon divorced her Italian husband and married Tauber. They separated in 1928 and divorced two years later, by which time he had met Mary Losseff at Rudolf Nelson's review in Berlin. They lived together for about five years. Losseff became his muse; it was for her that he wrote Der singende Traum. Sadly, Losseff's career ended when she became an alcoholic, but Tauber remained her lifelong friend and supported her until his death.
In 1931, Tauber made his London debut in operetta and London appearances became a regular event; he also toured the USA in this year. In 1933, Tauber was assaulted in the street by a group of Nazi Brownshirts because of his Jewish ancestry, and he decided to leave Germany for his native Austria, where he continued to sing at the Vienna State Opera. In the mid-thirties he made several musical films in England, and during one of these he met the English actress Diana Napier; they got married in 1936. In 1938 he made his London operatic debut in Die Zauberflöte under Sir Thomas Beecham. In that year, the Nazi government of Germany annexed Austria and the Taubers left Austria for good. In response, the Austrian government withdrew the Taubers' passports and right of abode; as this left them technically stateless persons, Tauber applied for British citizenship. He was touring South Africa when World War II broke out, and returned to Switzerland until he received the papers allowing him to enter the United Kingdom, doing so early in 1940.
Despite receiving lucrative offers from the USA, he remained in the UK for the entire war. There was no opera staged in wartime Britain so he made a living by singing, conducting and making gramophone records and radio broadcasts. He even composed English operettas, together with the lyric writer Fred S. Tysh, from one of which, Old Chelsea, the song My Heart and I became one of his most popular English recordings. It was only these English records that brought him any royalties; for his earlier recordings he had been paid for each performance and he had been compelled to leave his savings behind in Austria. By now he was so crippled by arthritis that he could no longer move into and away from the microphone for softer and louder notes. A small trolley was built on rubber wheels so the engineers could silently roll him back and forth while recording.
In 1947, Tauber sought medical attention for a persistent cough. He was diagnosed with lung cancer; one lung was already useless and the other nearly so.
The Vienna State Opera was in London for a short season at the Royal Opera House —their first visit since the war— and they invited Tauber to sing one performance with his old company. On 27 September 1947, he sang the role of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, not a large part but with two difficult arias that demand good breath control to bring off well. Those in the audience say that he sang wonderfully and to loud applause. Live excerpts of these two arias from this performance survive, and they reveal a tone of undiminished focus and steadiness, a good line, and somewhat shortened phrasing. His career ended as it began – with Mozart.
A week later, Tauber entered hospital to have his left lung removed, but it was too late; he died on 8 January 1948. Tauber is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.
Weitere Aufnahmen von Richard Tauber