America knows only half my personality, said Fischer-Dieskau in an interview with Opera News in 1961. He was referring to his activity as an opera singer, and unfortunately his statement remained true until the end of his performing career and beyond. Whereas interested parties in the U.K. had at least a few opportunities to hear him live in opera-- as Mandryka and Falstaff at Covent Garden and as Count Almaviva in Edinburgh-- Fischer-Dieskau's opera singing in North America was confined to a few concert appearances, principally as Orfeo and as Doktor Faust, both at Carnegie Hall in the 1960's.
As a result, many people outside of continental Europe think of Fischer-Dieskau and opera only in terms of recordings, and even of those who are aware that he had a busy opera career in Germany, few had the opportunity to experience him live in that medium. In the past few years video representations of Fischer-Dieskau as Count Almaviva in Ponnelles film of Le Nozze di Figaro and as Orest in Goetz Friedrich's filmed Elektra have given a minimal notion of what he was like as an opera singer. Considering how well-documented Fischer-Dieskaus career is in every other way, the lack of filmed documentation of his opera performances is surprising. Consequently, private videos of Fischer-Dieskau in Don Giovanni, Falstaff, Arabella, Reimann's Lear, and as Marcel in Il Tabarro have made their tortuous from one opera fan to another.
Despite our unfamiliarity with it, Fischer-Dieskaus active opera performing career spanned from 1948 to 1983 and was centered mainly at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. He sang regularly at the summer festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg, had guest engagements in Vienna, London, and Hamburg, and appeared in opera with the Deutsche Oper Berlin on its early visits to Japan. For most of his career, Fischer-Dieskau divided his time fairly equally between opera and concerts, and he sang a great variety of opera roles on the stage. His opera career unfolded in a time when specialization was not the rule, and thus he sang Verdi and Puccini roles as readily as Mozart, Strauss, and Wagner, and sang in many contemporary operas, as well, including creating leading roles in Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers and Reimann's Lear. He recorded many of his stage roles and a variety of others that he never sang on the stage, such as Wagner's Dutchman and Telramund in Lohengrin. Fischer-Dieskau's efforts as an opera singer and a concert singer cannot be separated and compartmentalized. Each influenced and enriched the other and helped him to become the unique artist he is.
In the title role [Lear] Fischer-Dieskau crowned his many exemplary interpretations with an unforgettable portrayal of human misery and folly, rising to the pure essence of suffering humanity. He sang his role with untiring energy and poignancy, noble in style, forceful in projection, ravishingly phrased, with tones piercing one's heart as they cried out man's infinite sorrow. (Horst Koegler, Opera)
In the course of the long evening Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's interpretation of Hans Sachs gradually grew into an unforgettable experience, overshadowing everything else . . . .Fischer-Dieskau, with this interpretation of Sachs, has achieved both as singer and actor a perfection such as was previously only equalled by Rudolf Bockelmann. (H.H. Stuckenschmidt, Opera)
herausgegeben von: © Monika Wolf, 1999-2020
translations and compilations: © Celia A. Sgroi, January 2004