Richard Tauber

Born out of wedlock to the soubrette Elisabeth Seifferth and the actor Richard Anton Tauber, Richard was initially fostered by a childless couple in Linz, where in 1897 he began school before leaving the following year to live with his father in Graz. In 1900 they moved: first to Prague, where he attended the German School; then after a short spell in Berlin to Wiesbaden in 1903, where during 1906 Tauber received music lessons from the future conductor Artur Rother. During the following year he decided to become a singer, albeit making little headway owing to his insistence on singing Wagner. This did however persuade his father to enrol him from 1908 at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt to study conducting, composition and piano; and in 1911 he moved to Freiburg, attending the Basle Conservatory and becoming a pupil of voice teacher Carl Beines.

In 1912 Tauber made his concert debut with a song recital. Then his father, who was appointed Intendant of the Chemnitz Theatres in the autumn of 1912, gave his son a six-month contract from the start of 1913. Before Tauber had made his Chemnitz debut as Tamino / Die Zauberflöte at the beginning of March 1913, he was offered a five-year contract with the Dresden Opera to start with the 1913–1914 season. Legally adopted by his father at the time of his Chemnitz debut, he later sang Max / Der Freischütz there before his move to Dresden, where his early roles included Wilhelm Meister / Mignon, Fenton / Falstaff and Walter / Tannhäuser, followed by Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni, Pinkerton / Madama Butterfly, Don José / Carmen and Belmonte / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, among many others.

Immediately before the outbreak of World War I Tauber sang Max at the Zoppot Waldoper opposite Lotte Lehmann; he first sang at the Berlin Staatsoper in 1915 as a very late replacement as Bacchus / Ariadne auf Naxos with the composer Richard Strauss conducting. In Dresden he continued to develop his repertoire and in 1916 was appointed a Kammersänger. Further roles included Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Erik / Der fliegende Holländer, Mathis / Der Evangelimann, Narraboth / Salome and Eisenstein / Die Fledermaus.

Following further guest appearances in Berlin Tauber made his Viennese debut in 1920, initially at the Volksoper and then at the Staatsoper, standing in for Alfred Piccaver as Rodolfo / La Bohème. This was followed by further guest appearances there during the autumn of 1921 as well as performances as Don Ottavio and Belmonte at the Salzburg Festival in 1922. He became a member of the Vienna State Opera from the autumn of 1922 onwards, expanding his repertoire still further to include the title role in Gounod’s Faust, Cavaradossi / Tosca, Alfredo / La traviata, Paul / Die tote Stadt and Hans / The Bartered Bride. During this period Tauber also began to appear at the Teater an der Wien in the operettas of Léhar, including Frasquita and Zigeunerliebe.

From 1923 Tauber began to sing across Germany and abroad, for instance in Munich and Hamburg, as well as in Dresden, Berlin and with the Vienna State Opera on tour in Paris, while maintaining a frequent recording schedule. Further roles included Riccardo / Un ballo in maschera in Berlin and Canio / Pagliacci in Vienna. In Berlin he appeared in the local premiere of Franz Schreker’s Der ferne Klang in 1925, singing opposite the composer’s wife Maria Schreker with Erich Kleiber conducting. By the later 1920s Tauber had become a European star of the first magnitude, appearing in Vienna, Berlin, France, Holland and Hungary, recording intensely and from 1926 onwards often appearing in operettas especially composed for him by Lehár, including Paganini, Der Zarewitsch, Friederike, Das Land des Lächelns, Schön is die Welt and Giuditta. During 1931 he made his English debut in the London premiere of The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns), followed later in the year by his first concert tour of America.

After the advent of Hitler’s National Socialist government in 1933 Tauber was physically attacked in Berlin and left Germany, never to return. While appearing regularly at the Vienna State Opera he toured extensively, mainly singing operetta, and during 1934 starred in the successful British film Blossom Time, followed by Heart’s Desire (1935) and Pagliacci (1936). After meeting the actress Diana Napier, whom he married in 1936 after divorcing his first wife Carlotta Vanconti, he appeared often in England while remaining active in Vienna and on the continent until the Anschluss of 1938. Shortly afterwards he made his debut at the Royal Opera House, London as Tamino (under Beecham), followed by Belmonte and in 1939 Don Ottavio and Hans, after which he undertook an extensive tour of Australia and South Africa. Tauber became a British subject in 1940, writing his operetta Old Chelsea to celebrate this event, and was extremely active throughout World War II, giving concerts all over England.

During 1946 Tauber appeared in New York in Yours Is My Heart, an adaptation of Das Land des Lächelns. This was not a success and left Tauber with huge debts, obliging him to tour the USA and South America in order to repay these. On returning to England in 1947, following persistent vocal problems, he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He refused surgery until he had sung Don Ottavio with the visiting Vienna State Opera at Covent Garden and died at the beginning of the following year.

Tauber possessed an individual tenor voice that exerted an immediate appeal and, as his film roles clearly attest, a great magnetism in character. His workload was phenomenal. His recording career began in 1918, accompanied by Carl Beines, and his total recorded output exceeded over 700 78rpm sides, a number only rivalled by another tenor John McCormack. In addition Tauber was a fluent composer, but it was his singing that made him famous around the world. As one critic commented: ‘…his heart felt every word he sang.’

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