René Kollo (actual name Kollodzievsky; his grandfather, Walter Kollo and his father Willi, were both operetta and light music composers) grew up in the town of Wyk auf Föhr, the only town on Föhr, the second largest of the North Frisian Islands on the German coast of the North Sea; and although interested in music, studied photography in Hamburg. In the mid-1950s Kollo began playing in jazz clubs as a self-taught drummer, while in Berlin he studied acting with Else Bongers and singing with Elsa Varena, who recognised his talent. His first recording contract, for popular songs, was signed when he was twenty; but it was not until 1965 that he made his operatic debut in Braunschweig, in a triple bill of operas by Stravinsky: Mavra, Renard, and Oedipus Rex. Kollo remained at Braunschweig for two years, singing lyric roles, before moving to the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf.
In 1969 he first appeared at the Bayreuth Festival, singing the Steersman / Der fliegende Holländer. Major roles at Bayreuth quickly followed: Erik / Der fliegende Holländer (1970), Lohengrin (1971), Walter von Stoltzing / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1973), Parsifal (1975), Siegfried in the legendary Chereau / Boulez Ring cycle (1976), and Tristan / Tristan und Isolde (1981). Kollo appeared as a guest throughout Germany, notably at Munich and Frankfurt, and made his debut at La Scala, Milan as Matteo / Arabella in 1970.
Between 1971 and 1991 he sang regularly with the Vienna State Opera, where his roles included Florestan / Fidelio, the Emperor / Die Frau ohne Schatten, Hermann / The Queen of Spades and Lača / Jenůfa, as well as the major Wagnerian parts. He made his debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1972 as the tenor soloist in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 1974 as Walter; and at the summer Salzburg Festival the same year as Tamino / Die Zauberflöte and Tito / La Clemenza di Tito. Kollo first sang at the Royal Opera House, London in 1976 as Siegmund / Die Walküre, followed by Max / Der Freischütz (1977), Lohengrin (1977 and 1980), Tannhäuser / Tannhäuser (1987), Siegmund (1989) and Siegfried in the Ring cycles of 1990 and 1991. His debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, also took place in 1976, as Lohengrin; in 1979 he sang here Bacchus / Ariadne auf Naxos.
The 1980s witnessed a general shift to heavier, as well as character, parts for Kollo, including Tannhäuser (Geneva, 1986), Otello (Frankfurt, 1988), Peter Grimes (Munich, 1991), Palestrina (Berlin, 1996), Canio / Pagliacci (Hamburg, 1997) and the Elector in Henze’s Der Prinz von Homburg (Berlin, 1997–1998), as well as his debut at the Paris Opera as Tristan in 1985.
Aided by his acting skills and good looks, Kollo was very active in popular music and operetta as well as opera, with his own show on German television. Operettas in which he sang with great success included Die Fledermaus, Wiener Blut, La belle Hélène, Das Land des Lächelns, Gräfin Maritza, Die Csárdásfürstin and Die lustige Witwe, which he recorded with Karajan.
Kollo directed Parsifal at Darmstadt in 1986 and Tiefland at Ulm in 1991, and was the director of Berlin’s operetta theatre, the Metropol, for the 1996–1997 season. In 2000 he retired from the operatic stage while continuing to appear occasionally in cameo roles. He made many sound and video recordings, including Paul in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt for Munich radio, all of which attest to his remarkable versatility.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).