Walter Berry studied engineering before enrolling as a singing student at the Vienna Academy of Music, where he worked with Hermann Gallos as well as with Endre Koréh, Hans Duhan and Josef Witt. While still at the Academy he made his stage début singing Simone/Gianni Schicchi, Falstaff/Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Nicolai) and van Bett/Zar und Zimmermann (Lortzing), and joined the Vienna State Opera in 1950.
Here Berry made his début in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher and initially undertook small rôles such as Silvano/Un ballo in maschera. Soon however he graduated to Masetto/Don Giovanni, and then to Papageno/Die Zauberflöte and Figaro/Le nozze di Figaro. This was his first major success in Vienna (1954) and the rôle that became his calling-card in other houses. A staunch member of the Viennese ensemble throughout his long career (appearing as Baron Ochs/Der Rosenkavalier for the first time there in 1968), Berry sang a total of seventy-seven rôles, thirty-seven of them major parts, for the company. He was especially noted as an interpreter of the Mozart operas both in Vienna and at the Salzburg Festival.
Berry first appeared at Salzburg in 1952, singing Masetto, Papageno, Leporello/Don Giovanni, Agamemnon/Iphigénie en Aulide, Barak/Die Frau ohne Schatten and Don Magnifico/La Cenerentola between then and 1989. Among the first performances at Salzburg in which he participated were Gottfried von Einem’s Der Prozess (1953), Rolf Liebermann’s Penelope (1954) and Die Schule der Frauen (1957) and Werner Egk’s Irische Legende (1955). He also gave many notable song recitals, at Salzburg as well as elsewhere, was a fine soloist in numerous choral works, and sang Wotan/Die Walküre at the 1967 Salzburg Easter Festival.
The Vienna State Opera’s visit to the Royal Festival Hall of 1954, when Berry sang Figaro and Masetto, was the first time he appeared in London. He made his début at Covent Garden in 1976 as Barak and returned as Count Waldner/Arabella in 1986. From 1961 he sang regularly with the Städtischen, later Deutches, Opera in Berlin, and from 1966 was a frequent guest at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where he sang nine rôles over eighty-three performances including Barak, Baron Ochs, Wotan, Don Alfonso/Così fan tutte and Don Pizarro/Fidelio. Berry also appeared at Chicago (Figaro/Le nozze di Figaro, 1957) and at San Francisco (Alberich/Der Ring des Nibelungen, 1985 and Klingsor/Parsifal, 1988). He sang as a guest at Barcelona (1955), the Aix-en-Provence Festival (Papageno, 1958), Tokyo (1963), Paris (Wozzeck/Wozzeck and Barak, 1966, 1972) and at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow as part of the Vienna State Opera’s visit of 1971, as well as at Brussels, Buenos Aires, Munich and Stuttgart.
Apart from the many rôles already mentioned, others of which Berry was a fine exponent included Amonasro/Aida, Jochanaan/Salome, the four villains in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and Cardinal Morone in Pfitzner’s Palestrina; his innate sense of humour found full expression in his portrayal of Dr Falke/Die Fledermaus. Whatever the rôle, Berry’s sure sense of musicality always shone through. Nothing was exaggerated, nor did he seek to go beyond his natural limits, which may explain the length of his career: during the1990s he was singing two of his finest parts, La Roche/Capriccio and the Music Master/Ariadne auf Naxos at the Vienna State Opera, as well as the rôle of Father Wesener in Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten (1990).
Between 1956 and 1971 Berry was married to mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig and they frequently sang together both on stage and on record. Their recording of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, conducted by István Kertész, is one of the finest accounts of this opera in the catalogue. Also notable is their recording of Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Berry as Ochs and Ludwig as the Marschallin. Other important recordings include Karl Böhm’s account of Così fan tutte made for EMI in which Berry sang Don Alfonso, and Pierre Boulez’s early recording of Wozzeck, made with the forces of the Paris Opera for Columbia-USA.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).