Hermann Prey
Dorothy DeLay Sviatoslav Richter Leonie Rysanek

As Figaro in San Diego Opera's Barber of Seville, shown here with Susanne Mentzer as Rosina (Photo Credit: Ken Jacques, courtesy of SD Opera)

Signing autographs after his last US performance, a recital in San Diego, last December 1997

It was with deep sadness that the musical world received the news of the death of Hermann Prey. The renowned German baritone died following a heart attack at his home outside Munich (Germany) on Wednesday night, July 22, 1998.

Hermann Prey was well known as a fine comic actor who delighted audiences with his portrayals of the baritone roles in various Mozart, Gluck, and Rossini operas as well as the lighter works of Wagner and Strauss. He first stirred worldwide interest with his interpretation of Beckmesser, the Meistersinger, at the Bayreuth Festival.

But he was perhaps best known as a master of the German art song (Lieder). Among his many recordings (with Angel, Sony, London, Philips, DGG, etc) is a landmark 27-volume anthology of German song which traces the development of the German art song from medieval times to the contemporary age. In particular, he was a devotee of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth, he initiated and served as the musical director of a Schubertiade, a 10-year festival celebrating Schubert's music held at the 92nd Street "Y" in New York City, and which culminated with a recital of late Schubert Lieder by Hermann Prey with conductor James Levine at the piano.

Born in Berlin (July 11, 1929) and educated at the Berlin Music Academy, he was of course well-loved in his native Germany. But he was beloved in America as well where he debuted in November 1952 as a guest of the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy conducting - part of his prize for winning the 3rd Annual Meistersinger Contest sponsored by the US Armed Forces Assistance Program for German youth. He had a loyal following particularly in New York where he performed quite often. There he made his recital debut in 1956 and his operatic debut at the MET in 1960 as Wolfram in Wagner's Tannhauser. Later he would sing the roles of the Count in Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro, Figaro in Rossini's Il Barbieri di Siviglia , Eisenstein in J. Strauss' Die Fledermaus, Beckmesser in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the Music Master in R. Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, and one of his favorites - Papageno - in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte; he also performed in numerous recitals and concerts at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other venues.

1996 and 1997 were busy years for the German baritone. In addition to the Schubertiade, he honored many global commitments - recitals, concerts and operatic performances in, among many cities: New York, Washington, Tanglewood, Ravinia, Prague, Zurich, Madrid, Mexico City, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Bayreuth, Berlin, Hamburg, Mannheim, Munich and Vienna. San Diego audiences were among the lucky ones - on December 20, 1997 he returned to the city where in 1987 he performed Figaro in The Barber of Seville, this time in a recital of his beloved Schubert's song cycle of doomed love, Die schöne Müllerin. Age had reclaimed some of the robustness of his baritone voice, but it did not matter - he gave a compelling delivery of the exultation of young love, the pangs of jealousy, and the desolation of lost love - with the musical intelligence, the mastery, the thoughtful phrasing, and the serene but colorful expressivity of his younger years. It turned out to be the last US performance of the Meistersinger, the culmination of one of the musical world's longest and triumphant careers in song. - FanFaire 1998


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