Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, dead at 86

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's voice was one of my first operatic experiences.  Decca had repackaged the Sir Georg Solti Ring and was eager to sell it to a new audience of potential Wagnerites.  A colorful envelope containing a plastic disc arrived at my house.  It was a three minute commercial selling Richard Wagner's titanic music.  I must have been eleven or twelve years old.  The music blew me away.  I had never heard such sounds before.  Nestled among the more stentorian excerpts on the disc was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Gunther's entrance line from the second act of Götterdämmerung ("Brünnhild', die hehrste Frau, bring' ich euch her zum Rhein.") There was an effortlessness in his singing that was unique.  I was hooked on his sound.  Later on, of course, I learned about his incredible command of diction, breath control, and purity of sound, nurtured in years of studying and singing lieder, in particular, the songs of Franz Schubert.  Fischer-Dieskau's voice was a small instrument compared to the titans of his day, but he knew how to use it.  In the London/Decca recording of Puccini's Tosca, in which he is paired against the powerhouse singing of Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli, his reading of Scarpia's music leaves a lasting impression for its subtlety and aristocratic phrasing.  Even when he was miscast in a role, Fischer-Dieskau was memorable. However, when the role suited him like a glove as in Count Almaviva in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, he created an operatic triumph. 

I've no doubt that he will be best remembered for his extraordinary performances and recordings of the songs of Schubert.  His association with pianist Gerald Moore created some of the definitive readings of this genre.  Luckily, it was all recorded when they were both at the height of their talents.  Below is a film of the young Fischer-Dieskau, with Gerald Moore at the piano, singing the quintessential Schubert song "Der Erlkönig."  The way that he embodies the four roles in Goethe's poem (Narrator, Father, Son, Erlkönig) is a master-class in technique, and a fitting tribute to this amazing performer.

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