Gottlob Frick

The youngest of thirteen children, his father a forester, Gottlob Frick sang in his local church choir and took singing lessons with Fritz Windgassen, head of the opera class at the Stuttgart High School of Music and father of the tenor Wolfgang Windgassen. At twenty-one he joined the chorus of Stuttgart Opera and after three years was auditioned by Siegfried Wagner, then in his last season as director of the Bayreuth Festival, who engaged him to sing small parts. Between 1931 and 1934 Frick studied privately in Stuttgart with Julius Neudorffer-Opitz, who had enjoyed a successful career as a heroic baritone.

Frick made his debut as a soloist in 1934 at Coburg, singing Daland / Der fliegende Holländer. Later, while a member of the Königsberg Opera, he was heard by Karl Böhm, then director of the Dresden State Opera, who engaged him immediately. Frick stayed at Dresden for ten years, until 1950, where his varied repertoire included Sarastro / Die Zauberflöte, Osmin / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Commendatore / Don Giovanni, Caspar / Der Freischütz, Prince Gremin / Eugene Onegin, Pimen / Boris Godunov, King Philip / Don Carlo (which he named as his favourite role), Padre Guardiano / La forza del destino, Falstaff / Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and two comic roles in operas by Lortzing: Burgomaster van Bett / Zar und Zimmermann and Baculus in Der Wildschütz. He also created the role of Caliban in Heinrich Sutermeister’s operatic version of The Tempest, Die Zauberinsel, premiered at Dresden in 1942.

In 1950 Frick joined the Städtische Oper (later Deutsche Oper) in Berlin, the year in which he also made his debut at La Scala, Milan as the Landgrave / Tannhäuser. The following year saw the first of many valued appearances at the Royal Opera House, London as Fafner, Hunding and Hagen in two cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen. His other Wagner roles included King Mark / Tristan und Isolde and King Henry / Lohengrin. In 1953 Frick became a member both of the Vienna State Opera and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and in 1955 he first sang at the Salzburg Festival, as Pope Pius IV / Palestrina; he also took part in the world premiere of Werner Egk’s Irische Legende, given there the same year.

Returning to Bayreuth in 1957 as Pogner / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and singing Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen in the Ring cycles of 1960 to 1964, Frick also sang in the Ring cycle of 1957 at Covent Garden, where for the next decade he appeared in nearly every season, both in the Ring and as Gurnemanz / Parsifal, Rocco / Fidelio (with Klemperer) and Daland. At the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Frick featured in one season only, 1961–1962, when he sang Fafner (in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried), Hunding and Hagen in four cycles of the Ring, giving sixteen performances in less than six weeks.

After an especially tiring Ring cycle at Munich in 1970, Frick announced his retirement from the operatic stage. However he continued to sing in concert and still occasionally appeared in opera at Stuttgart, Vienna and Munich. In 1971 he sang Gurnemanz at short notice in Reginald Goodall’s only Parsifal at Covent Garden; and to honour his seventieth birthday in 1976 the Stuttgart Opera staged Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, in which he sang Falstaff.

Furtwängler described Frick’s voice as ‘the blackest bass in Germany’, which was a most apt description of its beautiful, velvet quality. To this may be added Frick’s great musicianship, humanity and wit, all of which made him an ideal interpreter of the major parts in the bass repertoire. His recorded legacy, of both commercial and live recordings, is substantial and does him full justice.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).