A rather difficult subject to discuss is the tenor Helge Roswaenge.
He never became the international star that the quality of his voice deserved. Mainly because of the political background and the Second World War, which occurred when he was in his prime.
On the other hand, he was such a glutton for work and was so much in demand, near home, that there was little time left to travel.
For the two seasons, just prior to the war, he was on the roster of six main German and Austrian Theatres.
Contracted for a certain number of performances in each, also doing guest performances and concerts.
In one year, he sang just over 200 times in 25 different cities. This was made possible by having a ‘go anywhere’ contract, with Lufthansa. And later he wrote, that if there had been no war, he would have had his own plane.
Most remarkable of all perhaps, was that he was largely, self-taught. And yet, they were still getting rave notices for his concerts, when over 70.
He was born on the 29th of August 1897 in Copenhagen, and although his fine voice soon became apparent, it was as a chemist that he qualified at the Copenhagen Polytechnic. This distinction was to stand him in good stead later on.
By a stroke of fate, from studying for his degree and the singing, Helge had a nervous breakdown and was sent to lodge with a Danish countrywoman, for a complete rest.
Her husband was performing at the Sheraton theater and Helge was able to attend all performances, plays, operas etc and polish up on his German.
Again, his voice attracted attention, and a contract was arranged at the small town of Patrim, where he was joined by the local celebrity, the coloratura soprano, Ion Copouldono.
Then to New Strelix, for a successful audition and a debut in August 1921, in La Boheme, with further appearances in Martha, Carmen, Faust and Hoffman.
He attracted attention and was asked to sing at Altenburg.
‘Yes, but you must engage my wife too’
‘Who is she?’
‘What, the whole donna from Shervin, certainly, two flies with one blow!
A successful debut together in Martha, and a stay of two happy years there.
Next another two years together at Bua in Switzerland. Helge increasing his repertoire dramatically.
Time for our first record.
Here he is, in one of his most famous roles. Huon in Verba’s opera, Oberon. And surprisingly I think, our first sample from a much-admired composer.
Now the Roswaengers were moving up in the world.
A three-year contract with Cologne in 1926 followed. And more importantly, an argument between Leo Blech, the conductor and director at Berlin and Richard Tauber, saw Blech offer Roswaenge a contract.
At Berlin, it was Blech who gave Roswaenge his final polish. He sang at all three houses, Lecco, Charlottenburg and the state opera.
His debut was in the 3rd of May 1927 in La Traviata, and he was to sing in Berlin in all the great occasions until the end of the war.
He was now also guesting regularly at Vienna and at Salzburg. The Viennese press reported ‘at last, a tenor of the highest class ‘Roswaenge success was complete. He has the happiest placing for lyric and hellion tenor, this artist can sing Tamino, as well as Radames, Du Belmonte or Huon, equal justice, Rau, Fusco, Liono, or any modern part.
On the 30th of Jan 1933, the third richt began. Which coincided with Roswaenge’s best years.
As an Arian, he was accepted but it led to trouble later.
In 1934, he sang for the first came at Bayreuth, as Parsifal. His wife still tagging along as an Esquire or a flower maiden.
They parted company in 1943, not unexpectedly, he being a star, she only being able to obtain small parts from the great houses.
He was now showing an unbelievable capacity for work.
In 1936 at the age of 39, during the months of October and November for example, he had only seven free days in October, and six in November. Singing all over Germany, Austria, and Denmark.
To his sorrow, Leo Blech was banished as a Jew, Roswaenge immediately sent him some money, as they had been such good friends.
Here is an extract from one of their happiest corporations.
The famous Blech presentation, of Verdi’s Sicilian-Vespers, in 1932, with Roswaenge, Sikhist, Connetz and Licht.
On May the 13th 1945, the Russians arrived in Berlin, to find Helge Roswaenge in his undamaged villa, sheltering several people, as it had a well-built cellar and a spring in the garden.
After a few weeks, he was taken to an internment camp, near Moscow, and there he spent nearly six months, before being released to the Danish embassy in Moscow.
He made his way back to Denmark via Helsinki and Stockholm, but the press gave him a hard time, as a suspected collaborator.
He joined a group who decided to try and make a fresh start in South America. They bought an old boat ‘The Elvie’ and set about making it seaworthy. They actually set out on their hair-raising journey on September the 17th 1946. Reached Dover on the 10th of October. Behest on the 15th and onto Karuna, were Roswaenge gave a concert to raise cash for food and fuel.
Then onto Vigo, where because of shortage of cash Roswaenge took a job as a chemist, arranging to meet up again with the Elvie at Las Palmas, in the Canaries. He arrived at Las Palmas as arranged, but had to wait two months for the boat, as they had been held up in North Africa, because of passport irregularities.
By this time, some of the original group had given up the idea, so it was abandoned and the boat, sold.
Roswaenge took his share and returned to Vigo and later to practice as a chemist at Barcelona.
When the dust began to settle after the war, he was invited to sing in Vienna for the 1948/49 season. And then back to Berlin for appearances there. And he was at Salzburg for the last time later in 1949, singing in Rosen Cavalier and in a special performance of Verdi’s Requiem with Roswaenge, Colza, Zadik and Kristoff, under Herbert en Carrion.
Here is his celebrated, Le Postilion de Lonjumeau aria, complete with high D from the chest. The note that Tambourlick first unleashed onto an unsuspecting public.
The Vienna records show that Roswaenge had been a regular guest artist at the State Opera there in 1927, 1932/33, 36 and 37. And was engaged on the roster from September 1937 and is shown as remaining on it until 1958.
Then Van Carrion had all operas sung in the original language. And Roswaenge declined to learn so many of his parts in new, in his 62nd year and his engagement was terminated.
It was the turn of Berlin to show him as a regular guest artist again, until 1958. After 1958, he sang more frequently in Operetta and concerts, but as late as in 1962, at the age of 65, he was in Vienna again singing Trovatore, to a sold-out House.
There were eleven curtain calls after Dequeue Apeira, and over 40 at the end of the performance.
His only American appearances were in 1963/64, where he gave concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York, at 68.
For his 70th birthday, the president of Austria personally appointed him Professor, and gave him the Vienna gold medal of honor.
He died peacefully, in the night of the 19th of June 1972.
Roswaegne was a little unfortunate, in that, the peak period of his career coincided with the third richt, Second World War period. Which coupled with the fact, that he only sang in German, internationally limited him to works proper to the language.
Mainly either to countries without a political bias, and the occasional guest tour of the Berlin State Opera Company.
So, he never traveled enough to get the international acclaim, that the quality of his voice merited.
Apart from all the secondary German opera houses, he performed in the main ones of Amsterdam and for Val, Alessio in Barcelona, the three opera houses in Berlin, then Belgrade, Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Cairo, Copenhagen, Krakow, Danzig, Geneva, Gratz, The Hague, Hamburg, Labiana, Luxembourg, Munich, the opera in Paris, the German theatre in Prague, the Real at Rome, and the National Theatre in Sarajevo, as well as places mentioned more specifically earlier.
His discography in The Record Collector, lists, 272 sides, starting in 1927.
The vast majority were recorded for the gramophone stroke Polydor Electrola company.
There were six parlaphone Odeon’s in 1928, fourteen Telefunkens in 1932/33, and 10 Deca’s after the war.
There is only one Roswaegne record to finish with, for he was a celebrated Florestan in Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio.
Roswaegne builds up impressively to a great climax of accumulated emotion, realizing that the devotion of his wife, might yet release him from his murderous jailer. So, turn the tape over and enjoy one of the gramophones outstanding performances.