Author : Jos Hermans
It is a shameful disgrace how Max Lorenz is treated on the current record market. If you want to know how Lorenz sounded, you have to rely, for example, on Furtwängler's Scala Ring, where you can experience him in 1950, being not in top form but still towering high above all the Siegfrieds of today. Almost all the discs with arias and scenes seem to have been deleted. The only bright spot is a complete Tristan from 1943, available from Preiser. Not available are the Tannhäuser scenes from 1942 and the Act III of the Götterdämmerung from 1944. It can be assumed that a syndicate of today's Wagner tenors is behind this, because they all would not stand up to this comparison. In the line of the greatest Wagner tenors of all time, which can be counted on one hand - Lauritz Melchior, Ludwig Suthaus, Ramon Vinay (with limitations) and Jon Vickers - Max Lorenz (among them the only true tenor without a baritonal base color) takes his rightful place.
(Jens Malte Fischer, Wagnerspectrum, Issue 2, 2009)
When I wrote recently that there is no biography of Max Lorenz I had overlooked this monograph by Einhard Luther. Luther was friends with Max Lorenz from 1950 until his death on January 11, 1975. The testimonies that form the backbone of his biographical sketch are first-hand accounts. Funny detail : he estimates his age to be 5 years older than what appears on Lorenz's gravestone in Vienna (1901).
Max Lorenz did not come from an artistic family. Father Sülzenfuss was a master butcher in Düsseldorf. It was his mother who encouraged him toward the arts. He owes his first theater visits to her: "I probably would never have had the idea of becoming a singer if my mother had not taken me to see Lohengrin one day, with the magnificent Jacques Sorreze in the title role. I had just survived the change of voice and now I wanted desperately to become a Heldentenor." Lorenz is 16 years old at the time and he torments his mother so much until she buys him a piano and sends him off to singing lessons.
From 1922 Lorenz takes lessons with the renowned pedagogue Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin, with whom Lauritz Melchior has also just begun his studies. In 1925, the gifted student catches the eye of Siegfried Wagner, who came to visit Grenzebach to assess the progress of his two heroes Melchior and Clewing. With Karl Kittel he is allowed to rehearse Froh and Kurt Vogelgesang in Bayreuth. After two weeks he is so overworked that he is dismissed from the first role.
One event of that time Lorenz will never forget. On his departure from Bayreuth in 1925, an enigmatic guest of the Wahnfried house implores him not to give up: he would surely make it! After his Bayreuth debut in 1933, he receives a surprise visit in his dressing room: the Führer revealed himself as the "moral support" of old. Despite all the difficulties Lorenz will experience with the regime later on - being homosexual and being married to a Jewish wife - he will speak with admiration about Hitler's memory years later.
Looking back, Lorenz believed that two things had stood in the way of his career at the beginning: his name - and his distinctive nose. After a nose correction, he says goodbye to his father's name, settles for both his first names and henceforth calls himself Max Lorenz. The metamorphosis marks his debut at the Dresden opera on September 5, 1925 at the invitation of Fritz Busch.
Father Sülzenfuss is so proud that he announces in his butcher's paper that his son had been engaged as a heroic tenor at the Dresden State Opera. Fritz Busch promptly summones the debutant saying that he is not interested in what Mr. Sülzenfuss publishes in his sausage paper; Mr. Lorenz, in any case, is still a small sausage! But by the end of his first season, Lorenz has already made his breakthrough : "Menelas (Die Ägyptische Helena) was something like a stepping stone for me but I had a very hard time with it. Actually, I never really liked the part - Strauss may forgive me. By the way, I don't know any tenor who would have liked to sing Menelas." Strauss was so convinced by Lorenz that he invited him to Berlin for an entire series of performances.
His surprisingly spectacular guest performance successes made Lorenz increasingly interesting for Dresden as well. On February 23, 1929, he is able to show his performing skills in a character role for the first time, as Hermann in Pique Dame. His immediate stage presence not only astonishes his discoverer and mentor Fritz Busch but also surprises his colleagues.
When Lorenz opens the traditional series of Easter Parsifal performances on Maundy Thursday, Max Hirzel, Dresden's public favorite in the youthful Wagner roles, also takes notice. It marks the beginning of Lorenz's real career as one of the first heroic tenors of the 20th century. "In 1929, I was indeed the ignorant, pure fool. I would have been lost if my fatherly friend and great role model Kurt Taucher had not taken care of me. He rehearsed the part for me, gave me practical advice, which was more valuable than all the singing-technical hints of my teacher, and was actually present the whole performance to encourage me. In the process, I was on the verge of becoming his competitor.”
Busch still did not know where the development of the beginner, who had been so helpless two years earlier, would go: whether he would develop into what was actually a very desirable Wagner tenor, or whether his talent was more suitable to the Italian repertoire. Richard in Ballo in Maschera, running in Dresden under the title of "Graf von Warwich", remained one of his favorite roles well into his Tristan career.
In January 1930 he sings Manrico for the first time and on March 9 he is the title character in the new staged Lohengrin. As a Wagner singer, he becomes so well known that his portrait as the Swan Knight is published by a cigarette company in an "Album of Stage Stars”.
"When I was on stage, I suddenly heard my mother's voice: 'Come home, I'm going to die,' she said. I got a little nervous, but thought it was just my imagination, and then I heard the voice for the second time with the same words. Now I couldn't sing anymore and the artistic director advised me to go to my mother immediately. I knew she was sick, but I didn't think it was bad, so I immediately drove to Düsseldorf, and there my mother received me, beaming with joy. The sisters hid from me how bad she was and that she had only left her bed because of me. I stayed for three days and then had to return to Dresden. When we had already gone some distance by car, I asked the driver to turn back. Mother met me on the stairs and said, "I knew you would come back. I said goodbye for the second time and we drove through the night. As I entered my apartment, the phone rang. My sister told me that my mother had just died".
Since the Dresden Lohengrin, Lorenz was considered the coming Wagner tenor. After his first Siegmund on May 4, 1930, Busch commissions him to study the young Siegfried. That Lorenz would sing the part in New York for the first time and not in Dresden was less dear to the maestro. This rapid development of his new hero came as somewhat of a surprise to him.
On June 16, 1930, Lorenz experiences a particular high point in his career: at the Berliner Kunstwoche, he sings the tenor part in the Ninth Symphony - his first encounter with Wilhelm Furtwängler, who will become one of his most important teachers and patrons. The year before, he had met Lotte Appel who had since become his private agent. Lotte works feverishly on his progress. She trusts in his talent as a Wagner tenor and she has set Bayreuth as her logical final goal.
The Zopotter Waldoper seems to her a suitable preliminary stage to achieve that goal. For the Max debut of her Max on October 23, 1929, she invites Waldoper director Hermann Merz to Dresden. Since his desired Max, Gotthelf Pistor, has to sing Siegmund in Bayreuth on July 27, 1930, the opening premiere of the Waldoper scheduled for the same day goes to Lorenz. For the first time Lorenz alternates with one of the great heroic tenors of the time. It brings him to the attention of a not necessarily famous, but particularly important conductor: Arthur Bodanzky, since 1915 musical director of the German repertoire and singer-scout of the New York Metropolitan Opera, is an annual guest of the Zoppot Wagner Festival. He appreciates the Waldoper director for his intuitive sense for new voices. After the opening concert on July 25, 1930, in which Lorenz sings the bridal chamber scene (Lohengrin) and the Schmiedelieder (Siegfried), Bodanzky attends the Freischütz premiere, which had to be canceled due to rain, and is interested enough to stay and hear the finale with the surprisingly strong-voiced Max the following day as well. For Max Lorenz it signifies the first step into his world career.
Lotte brings Bodanzky to the celebration of the Freischütz premiere and invites him to Dresden for the new production of Die Meistersinger. Bodanzky is so impressed by Lorenz's debut as Stolzing that he engages him at the Met and invites him to study at his Black Forest summer residence the next summer. Meanwhile, Lorenz is also discovered by radio.
For Lotte, this commitment by the Met is the great opportunity. He, on the other hand, still considers his appointment to the renowned opera house as premature. Stolzing is scheduled as his debut on November 12, 1931, followed after two days by Siegmund and Babinsky. In two months he sings 14 performances, including the young Siegfried for the first time on January 15, 1932. On January 24, 1932, he ends his first Met season with a concert in which he sing the bridal chamber scene from Lohengrin and a duet from Lehar's ‘Count of Luxembourg’ with Maria Jeritza.
As 'Fräulein Appel,' Lotte had secretly accompanied him across the ocean. They return to Dresden as Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz: they had married in New York on January 26, 1932. As skeptical as Lorenz was about his guest appearance in the USA: now he was also famous in Europe! Heinz Tietjen invites him to Berlin for the new production of Ariadne auf Naxos, and Munich engages him as Siegmund and Stolzing for the 1932 Opera Festival.
Julius Pölzer becomes his great role model: "As a singer-performer, Pölzer was superior to everyone. His tenor, unlimited in every direction, is unforgettable to me. His singing was expressive and moving, his diction exemplary. He was an incredibly dynamic Loge, a darkly tragic Siegmund, as Tristan of breathtaking persuasiveness, as Siegfried the incarnation of the fearless hero. Overwhelming were Siegfried's narration and death. How he could remain motionless during the entire Götterdämmerung finale in a position downright adventurous for a singer is still a mystery to me today."
Bayreuth was still in 'interregnum' after Siegfried Wagner's death and did not publish any casts. As the designated new festival director, however, Heinz Tietjen hurried to secure what he considered to be the most talented heroic tenor of the young generation before any other final contracts were signed. He and his Dresden colleague Reucker had agreed not to poach singers from each other. However, this did not apply to Bayreuth. As late as 1932, the press announced Lorenz as the future Siegfried, Parsifal and Stolzing of the Wagner Festival.
The Bayreuth-free summer of 1932 therefore was anything but a vacation for Lorenz. During his performances as Siegmund and Stolzing at the Munich Festival, he works with Knote and Burgstaller on his singing. He then studies both Siegfrieds in Bayreuth with Tietjen, the decisive mentor of his career, whom he owes 'simply everything' and through whom he will become a stage-mastering personality. Conversely, he is the congenial, ideal singer-performer for Tietjen, who trusts him blindly and follows his suggestions and advice unconditionally. The fact that even his most prominent peers recognize him as the undisputed number one of the hero guild is all Tietjen's doing.
Tietjen immediately engages him at the Berlin State Opera: in the new production of Rienzi, Lorenz becomes the future Heldentenor of the house. Tietjen also finds the time to study with him both Siegfrieds for Bayreuth. Lorenz had previously appeared only once in Siegfried and never before in Götterdämmerung. Bayreuth's and Berlin's new boss negotiates at the highest level that Dresden shall do without Lorenz in its new Ring planned for the spring and Met-director Gatti-Casazza gives him a year's leave of absence after having been promised a replacement.
In the summer of 1933, Toscanini cancels in Bayreuth. Karl Elmendorff replaces him to conduct the opening of the Festival with Die Meistersinger on July 21, in which Lorenz finally makes his festival debut. Well rested, Lorenz will take on his first Siegfried on July 26 and 28 in the first new Bayreuth Ring production since 1896. The Tietjen era marks the beginning of Lorenz's great career in 1933. After Meistersinger on July 21, Siegfried on July 26, Götterdämmerung on July 28, and Parsifal on July 31, he will be considered to be the leading Heldentenor of his time for a quarter of a century. Do you know any singer of today who could be singing four different heavy Wagner roles in a week and a half?
Götterdämmerung - “In Leid zu dem Wipfel” - Robert Heger (Berlin 1944)
Source : Einhard Luther, “Keiner wie er”, Pro Business, 2009