Live Recordings from Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan
Max Lorenz was one of the leading heldentenors of his time, with an operatic and recital career beginning in the early 1930s and lasting almost three decades.
Lorenz possessed a powerful, ringing voice which he used in an impassioned manner, and he was highly regarded for his commitment as a singing actor. He sang all the leading parts in Wagner's operas – Tannhäuser, Siegfried, Tristan, Siegmund, Walter, Erik, and Parsifal – and his performances of Florestan in Fidelio, Verdi's Otello, and Strauss's Bacchus and Herod were also widely seen and celebrated.
Lorenz was born in Düsseldorf in 1901 and studied with Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin in the 1920s. He made his debut at the Semperoper in Dresden in 1927, becoming a principal tenor. From 1929 to 1944 he was a member of the ensemble at the Berlin State Opera, and sang many times at the Bayreuth Festival (1933–39, 1952, 1954).
He appeared many times at international opera houses: The New York Metropolitan Opera (1931–34), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1934 and 1937); and the Vienna State Opera (1929–33, 1936–44, 1954). He also frequently appeared in the German seasons at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in the late 30s and late 40s.
We are lucky that many recordings have survived, many discs of individual arias and recordings of live performances. Notably, he was recorded live in a performance of Die Meistersinger at the Bayreuth Festival (1943), under the baton of Furtwängler; and, in a 1952 Bayreuth performance of Götterdämmerung, under the baton of Josef Keilberth.
His Life and the Third Reich
In 1932, Lorenz married his manager, Charlotte (Lotte) Appel, who was Jewish. Lotte knew her husband was homosexual, and his homosexuality was mostly tolerated by the Nazis as a well-known secret. When Lorenz had to appear in court because of an affair with a young man, Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, advised Winifred Wagner, the director of the Bayreuth Festival, that Lorenz would not be suitable to continue singing at the Festival. Frau Wagner answered that in that case she might close the Festival because, without Lorenz, "Bayreuth can't be done."
As for his Jewish wife, Lorenz insisted on being open about his marriage to a Jewish woman, which was taken as a provocation by the Nazis. In 1943 when Lorenz was away from home, the SS burst in to arrest Lotte and her mother for deportation to the concentration camps. At the last moment, their arrest was halted when Lotte was able to make a phone call to the sister of Hermann Göring.
Göring ordered the SS to leave the Lorenz residence and not to bother the two women. Göring, who was one of the highest leaders of the Nazi regime, stated in a letter of 21 March 1943 that Lorenz was under his personal protection and that no action should be taken against him, his wife, or her mother. Thus, they all survived the war together.
Max Lorenz died in Salzburg in 1975, where he had been a professor at the Mozarteum for many years. He is buried, with his beloved Lotte, at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, in a section reserved for honorary Austrians.
Lorenz's fascinating life – at an intersection of the world of Wagner and his operas and the vicious obsession of National Socialism with removing "non-Aryan" elements from German society and culture – provides very interesting elements to explore in a monodrama with music.
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