Between 1936 and 1942 Theo Adam sang in the Dresden Kreuz Choir, before active service in the German army. After World War II he worked as a farm labourer, returning to Dresden in 1946. He then studied to become a teacher, but his voice attracted attention and he received vocal tuition from Rudolf Dittrich. Adam made his operatic début in 1949 with the Dresden Opera, to which he remained attached throughout his long career. His repertoire here was extremely large and included such major rôles as the title parts in Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, Wozzeck and Cardillac, as well as Baron Ochs/Der Rosenkavalier, King Philip/Don Carlos, Pizarro/Fidelio, Jochanaan/Salome and Scarpia/Tosca. He took part in the reopening performances in 1985 at the Semper Opera House, Dresden, damaged during the war, as Ochs and the Hermit/Der Freischütz. In addition to his work at Dresden, from 1957 Adam was a member of the Berlin State Opera in East Germany, where he was also active as a stage director from 1972. A highlight of his time with this company was the creation of the title part in the first performance of Dessau’s Einstein (1974).
Having first appeared at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952, as Ortel/Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Theo Adam continued to perform there for nearly thirty years. Major rôles which he sang at Bayreuth included Wotan/Der Ring (1963–1975), Sachs/Die Meistersinger (1968–1970, 1973–1975), Gurnemanz/Parsifal (1976–1980), Amfortas/Parsifal (1965, 1972–1973), Heinrich/Lohengrin ((1954, 1959–1960) and Titurel/Parsifal (1954, 1959). He sang frequently at the Salzburg Festival, in a wide range of rôles: Ochs (1969), Pizarro (1970, 1982–1983), Wozzeck (1972), the title part in the world première of Friedrich Cerha’s Baal (1981), Prospero in Berio’s Un re in ascolto (1984), Moses/Moses und Aron (1987–1988), La Roche/Capriccio (1990) and Schigolch/Lulu (1995). In addition he took part in several major concert performances of rarely performed works, including Karl V (Krenek, 1980), Penthesilea (Schoeck, 1982), Dantons Tod (von Einem, 1983) and Die Gezeichneten (Schreker, 1984). In 1994 he appeared at the Aix-en-Provence Festival as the Speaker in Die Zauberflöte.
Adam sang as a guest in many of the world’s major opera houses, in both the Western and Soviet sectors. Internationally he appeared at Buenos Aires, Brussels (1965–1966), Chicago, Lisbon, London (Covent Garden, 1967, Wotan/Das Rheingold), New York (Metropolitan, 1969, Sachs, Wotan/Das Rheingold, Die Walküre), Paris, Rome (1968, Wotan), San Francisco and Vienna (1954–1993). In West Germany he was a guest at Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, while in Soviet Europe he appeared at Budapest, Moscow, Prague and Warsaw.
Theo Adam was a commanding presence on stage, although his voice could at times show signs of wear and tear: not surprisingly, given his exceptional schedule of performances and range of parts. He wrote two volumes of memoirs (1983 and 1996) and recorded extensively, both in opera and in sacred music. His Wotan is captured in two complete recordings: Marek Janowski’s studio recording made with the Dresden Staatskapelle (the orchestra of the Dresden Opera), and Karl Böhm’s cycle recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival. Other searching portrayals captured on disc include Hans Sachs, recorded with Herbert von Karajan conducting in Adam’s home city of Dresden, and his Dutchman, recorded in London under the baton of Otto Klemperer. Both these recordings were highly praised at the time of first release, as was his Morosius in another Janowski recording, of Richard Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau, also recorded in Dresden. Adam’s sympathetic portrayal of the Music Teacher in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is preserved in the magnificent studio recording conducted by Rudolf Kempe, another son of Dresden.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).