Born: 26 September 1930
Died: 17 September 1966
Fritz Wunderlich was born in Kusel in the Palatinate, Germany. His mother was a violinist and his father was a choirmaster. For a short time, the family kept the inn “Emrichs Bräustübl” (Emrich’s Brewing Cottage). Fritz’s father lost his job due to pressure imposed upon him by local Nazis, in addition to suffering from a severe battlefield injury. He committed suicide when Fritz was five years old.
Fritz mastered several instruments while still a schoolboy and when he entered the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in 1950, his principal study was the horn. Then the singing teacher Margarethe von Winterfeldt [de] discovered and trained his voice.
Wunderlich was soon noted as a brilliant young tenor, especially in Mozartian roles, but he later expanded his reach to the full range of the lyric tenor repertoire.
It was the fashion during Wunderlich’s career for German theatres to perform operas in the local rather than original language. Therefore, most of his recordings of the standard operatic repertoire are sung in German, including Verdi’s La traviata and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. (He sang his recording of the Verdi Requiem in distinctly Germanic Latin.) Wunderlich achieved the highest distinction within the German repertory. Of special importance is a recording of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, conducted by Karl Böhm, in which Wunderlich gave a critically acclaimed performance as Prince Tamino, opposite baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the role of Papageno. There is also a live performance of The Magic Flute recorded in 1960 at the Salzburg Festival, and several recordings as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Recordings also exist of lesser-known Mozart operas such as Zaide and La finta giardiniera
Wunderlich’s crystal-clear voice, exquisite diction, and intelligent but passionate interpretation also led him to impressive renditions of the lieder cycles of Schubert and Schumann with pianist Hubert Giesen [de], who was also his artistic mentor. His famous recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe remains a gold standard of this genre. Many tenors since have emulated Wunderlich’s interpretation of this cycle.
Another notable recording he left is J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, with fellow singers Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, and Franz Crass, conducted by Karl Richter. He recorded an album of pre-Bach sacred songs, featuring music of Schütz, Telemann, Buxtehude, and other less well-known composers. With Christa Ludwig he recorded Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer.
At the time of his death, he had been recording Haydn’s The Creation, with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Wiener Singverein under Herbert von Karajan with other soloists Christa Ludwig, Gundula Janowitz, Walter Berry and Fischer-Dieskau. Wunderlich had completed recording his arias, but Werner Krenn was hired to record the recitatives. Several recorded live performances of Wunderlich singing the whole part, under Karajan, survive.
Numerous anthology albums of him singing arias from opera and operetta are available.