A reader recently asked why I had not written anything about Richard Tauber. I didn’t have a good answer and said I would; this is it. Tauber (1891-1948) was born in Linz, Austria to an unmarried actress. His father was an actor Richard Anton Tauber who eventually acknowledged him and took over his upbringing. Young Tauber wanted to be a singer and was enrolled in a school where he not only studied singing, but also piano, composition, and conducting. This musical education, atypical for a singer, differentiated him from his peers as his career brought him worldwide fame.

After further vocal study with Carle Bienes, Tauber made his operatic debut as Tamino in The Magic Flute in Municipal Theatre in Chemnitz where his father was intendant. He gradually became more prominent such that by 1920 he was a leading tenor at the Vienna State Opera and then at the Berlin State Opera.

He was an amazingly quick study learning the title role in Gounod’s Faust in two days and Baccus in Strauss’ Ariadne Auf Naxos overnight. He saved the German premiere of Puccini’s Turandot in 1926 at the Staatsoper Dresden, learning the role of Calaf in three days when the scheduled tenor became ill.

In 1919 he began his recording career. He made more than 700 records covering opera, popular music, lieder, and operetta. He added operetta to his repertoire in 1920 appearing often in the works of Franz Lehar, many of which were written specifically for him. Tauber’s operatic repertoire was large going from Don Giovanni to Carmen to Tosca and newer works like Die Tote Stadt. He also wrote songs and conducted at the Theater an der Wien among other venues.

Tauber had a “brown” middle European timbre that he used with elegance and style. He could shade his sound, produce finely wrought pianissimi, and when the occasion required it a large, almost spinto, tone. His appearance was as elegant as his singing. He wore a monocle in his right eye to obscure a squint, and frequently appeared in a top hat.

Because of his Jewish ancestry he had to leave Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933. He returned to his native Austria. He left there in 1938 for the same reason he departed Germany. He ended up in the UK where he continued to make recordings and perform on stage. He lost a lot of money by backing and appearing in a Broadway run of Lehar’s The Land of Smiles. He toured South America and made more recordings to recoup his losses. He died in London of lung cancer on January 8, 1948 .

Most of his recordings are still available. I’ve picked a few which give a good aural picture of what audiences found so attractive. Tauber’s last appearance on the operatic stage was as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. The Vienna State Opera was visiting London in 1947 and asked him to participate with his old company. Il mio tesoro shows Tauber’s facility with ornamentation and sustaining a long line.

Two songs, Der Lindenbaum from Schubert’s cycle Die Winterreise and Morgen by Richard Strauss shows the tenor’s mastery of the art song. Just for fun below is a video of Tauber pretending to be Franz Schubert while accompanying himself at the piano (I don’t think he’s really playing it) as he sings ‘Ständchen’. He sounds fine, but looks goofy.

Also by Richard Strauss is the Italian tenor’s aria from the first act of Der Rosenkavalier. It’s the only selection here sung in Italian. It’s an early acoustic recording which likely accounts for some vocal unsteadiness. Di rigori armato in seno

As mentioned above, Tauber was Calaf in the German premiere of Turandot. Both of the tenor’s arias here are sung in German. If the end of Nessun dorma sounds strange it’s because Tauber sings it as written Non piangere Liu…..Nessun dorma

The big tune from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt appear in both the first and third acts of the opera. In the first it’s a duet, Lotte Lehmann is the soprano in this 1924 recording – Marietta’s Lied. The tenor (Paul) sings it alone to end the work – Glück, das mir verblieb. Note that Tauber has all the vocal heft needed for Paul. The role requires a heldentenor for most of the opera.

As far as I know, Tauber never sang any of Wagner’s operas on stage. Nevertheless, he gives a fine reading of Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond from Die Walküre. Of course, this bit is a particularly lyrical moment from the Ring’s most lyrical opera.

Tauber had an ideal voice for the title role of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach (the Kleinzach song) is from the Prologue; while O Dieu! de quelle ivresse is from the Epilogue. Hoffman is drunk in both scenes. Tauber sings German lyrics. Also in German is Elle ne croyait pas from Thomas’ Mignon. Martini’s Plaisir d’amour is an 18th century love song, again in German.

Finally two arias by Lehar whose career was revitalized by Tauber. You are my Heart’s Delight is from The Land of Smiles and is better known as ‘Dein ist mein ganzes herz’. Schön ist die Welt is the title song from Lehar’s 1930 operetta.

Tauber combined musical intelligence, elegance, and charisma into a unique solution. His recordings preserve the vanished German culture that lasted the length of a sigh in the interval that separated the end of World War I and the rise of the Nazis.