Skip to comments.Hans Hotter -- obituary
Posted on 12/12/2003 6:26:16 PM PST by dighton
Hans Hotter, the Austrian bass-baritone who has died aged 94, was famous for his portrayal of Wotan in Wagners Ring Cycle; he sang the part for more than 30 years - longer than anyone else - and performed it for the last time at Covent Garden in 1967, when he decided to retire.
With his tall, imposing figure, impressive, beaky profile and voluminous voice, Hotter was the very epitome of the impassioned, anguished god. But his abilities in the role went beyond that into an instinctive understanding of Wotans tortured psyche. Sometimes, he confessed, Wotan became a burden to me.
Hotter was equally notable in other Wagnerian parts. His Dutchman, a haunted, wrecked figure, has yet to be surpassed; his Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger nicely balanced the poet with the cobbler; and in Parsifal he was renowned first as the tortured Amfortas, and later as the wise, noble Gurnemanz. Happily, all these interpretations are preserved on disc in live performances for the instruction and pleasure of future interpreters and listeners.
Hotter had a fine tonal range, great musical sensibility, nobility of style and a commanding, majestic stage presence. He was a notable exponent of roles in the operas of Richard Strauss - a great admirer of Hotters singing.
He created the Commandant in Friedenstag; Jupiter in Die Liebe der Danae; and Olivier in Capriccio. He was also superb as John the Baptist in Salome, Orest in Elektra, and as Mandryka in Arabella, all of which were enhanced by his magnetic presence.
In his early years he was a noted Mozart singer, particularly as a handsome, irresistible Count Almaviva, and an equally irresistible Don Giovanni. In Verdi he was an evil, saturnine Iago in Otello, a sinister Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos (a role he performed 480 times), and he was a preening Toreador in Bizets Carmen.
Alongside his gifts in opera, Hotter was an admirable interpreter of Lieder. He was one of the first to investigate the lesser-known songs of Schubert, an ideal exponent of Loewes ballads, and one of the few singers to match up to the demands of the towering songs which Hugo Wolf wrote for the bass-baritone voice, particularly the setting of Goethes Prometheus.
But he was best known for his readings of Schuberts Winterreise cycle, which he recorded no fewer than five times, and in which he caught to perfection the dejected mans thoughts as he tramps through the winter countryside. In oratorio he sang with fluency and accomplishment in Bachs cantatas and Haydns choral works.
A naturalised Austrian of German parentage, Hans Hotter was born at Offenbach-am-Main, Germany, on January 19 1909. His father was interested in folk singing, and Hans became a chorister in Munich, also learning the organ. He studied singing, piano and musical theory at the Munich Academy and led a small choir.
At 19 he studied with Matthaus Roemer, to whom he always said he owed everything. Roemer persuaded him to embark on a vocal career and remained his coach for 20 years. He taught Hotter the cardinal rule of Wagnerian singing: Never sing with more than 85 per cent of your voice. Mostly not with more than 65 per cent. Always leave some elbow room.
Hotter made his debut at Troppau when he was only 21 in 1930. During the 1930s, he graduated from Breslau to Berlin, Prague and Hamburg before settling in at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he sang his first Wotan in 1937 and appeared regularly for the next 25 years.
He also began to sing with reasonable regularity at the Vienna State Opera, with which he first came to Covent Garden in 1947 as Giovanni and Almaviva. He once said that he was amazed to read a headline in the Evening Standard proclaiming Hotter in London. Only later did it dawn on him that it was a weather report.
He was at once engaged to appear with the fledgling Covent Garden ensemble, and in the next two seasons, he sang the roles of Wotan and Hans Sachs - in English. David Webster, Covent Gardens administrator in the immediate post-war years, took a cautious view of the publics readiness to hear opera in the language of its late enemy.
When Hotter questioned his decision, Webster informed him that Kirsten Flagstad had already learned her roles in English: If I tell her its going to be in German, he told Hotter, she will give me hell.
Hotter later appeared as Sachs - in German - under Beecham (1951) and thereafter was the houses regular Wotan throughout the 1950s. In 1961 he added Pizarro in Klemperers famous Fidelio production.
From 1961 to 1964 he staged his own production of the Ring at Covent Garden, a compromise between tradition and experiment. He frequently appeared in Lieder recitals, for the last time in 1972.
Meanwhile, Hotter had begun his auspicious career at the Wagner festivals at Bayreuth, where he gave some of his greatest performances. He also appeared often at the Salzburg Festival, in other European houses and at the Metropolitan, New York.
He gave his last public performance at the age of 85 at the 1994 Proms, as the Speaker (confusingly a singing role) in Schoenbergs Gurrelieder, a part he described as the Wotan of my old age.
Latterly Hotter became a teacher, both privately and in master-classes, and he was a respected adjudicator at singing competitions. There he passed on his deep knowledge of his art. He will always be remembered as a noble, eloquent singer and as a consummate actor. No one who heard him sing Wotans moving farewell to his errant daughter Brunnhilde, or Sachss two reflective monologues, is likely to forget the experience.
Hans Hotter and his wife, Helga, were ardent Anglophiles who once considered emigrating to Britain. Both spoke good English; both had astute minds and a genial wit. They lived quietly in a leafy suburb of Munich.
Hans Hotter died on December 6.
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