Schreier’s father was a church organist, cantor and teacher who gave him his initial musical training; then at eight years old he entered the preparatory class for the esteemed Dresdner Kreuzchor (Choir of the Church of the Cross). He sang one of The Three Boys / Die Zauberflöte in 1944, an experience that suggested a musical career to him; and when he was ten, he entered the Choir School of the Kreuzchor. This was after the wartime bombing of Dresden, so the few choir members and choir masters lived together in a cellar on the outskirts of the city. Schreier was then singing as a boy soprano, but it was soon discovered that he was in fact an alto, and as such he rose to become the first alto soloist with the choir. The conductor of the Kreuzchor, Rudolf Mauersberger, recognised his musical gifts and provided him with many opportunities, including the performance of compositions especially written for his voice, as well as recordings (1948–1951). When Schreier was sixteen his voice broke and he became a tenor, enabling him both to remain a member of the Kreuzchor and eventually to realise his ambition of singing the tenor Evangelist parts in the Bach Passions and Christmas Oratorio.
Having decided upon a professional career, he moved on to the Leipzig Radio Chorus and from 1954 to 1956 took singing lessons with Fritz Polster. In 1956 he entered the Dresden Musikhochschule (Music High School) studying singing with H. Winkler and also conducting. Schreier also studied at the Dresden State Opera’s training school, where he sang Paolino / Il matrimonio segreto in 1957. After graduating from the Musikhochschule in 1959 he joined the Dresden State Opera as a lyric tenor, making his professional operatic stage debut as the First Prisoner / Fidelio in that year.
In 1962 Schreier had a major success at Dresden singing Belmonte / Die Entführung aus dem Serail and after appearing as a guest with the Berlin State Opera in this role he became a member of that company in 1963. With the Berlin State Opera he sang the major Mozart tenor roles, which he also sang in Hamburg, Munich and elsewhere, and took part in the premiere of Dessau’s Einstein (1974). He also toured widely within the Communist bloc countries, including to Moscow, as well as to Western Europe.
During 1966 Schreier made his debuts at the Vienna State Opera as Tamino / Die Zauberflöte; in London (with the Hamburg State Opera) singing Ferrando / Così fan tutte; and at the Bayreuth Festival as the Young Sailor / Tristan und Isolde. The following year saw his debuts as Tamino at the Salzburg Festival and the Metropolitan Opera, where he also sang Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni. During 1969 he sang at La Scala, Milan and at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires.
Schreier became an important fixture of the Salzburg Festival: in addition to singing Tamino there frequently (1967–1970, 1981–1984) he also appeared as Ferrando (1972–1977), Idamante / Idomeneo (1973, 1976) and Belmonte (1980–1981) and participated in numerous concerts and recitals. Among the first performances at Salzburg in which he took part were Orff’s De temporum fine comoedia (1973) and Frank Martin’s Golgotha (1986). He conducted Dvořák’s Stabat Mater there in 1990; he had been conducting professionally since 1970, specialising in the music of Bach, Haydn and Mozart. At the Salzburg Easter Festival Schreier sang David / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Loge / Das Rheingold with Karajan conducting (1974), followed later by Mime / Das Rheingold and Siegfried. A major later role was the title part in Pfitzner’s Palestrina, which he sang in both Munich and East Berlin. He formally retired from the operatic stage in 2000, singing Tamino.
In parallel with his operatic career Schreier was recognised as one of the foremost lieder singers of his generation, notable for his exemplary diction and disarming simplicity of delivery, combined when appropriate with considerable intensity. He retired from all professional singing five years after his operatic retirement, with a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Prague.
Schreier’s discography is very large, driven extensively by his recordings for the East German recording organisation VEB, many of which were reissued in the West, the Americas and the Far East.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).