Lebendige Vergangenheit - Leo Slezak

Artist Leo Slezak
Title Lebendige Vergangenheit - Leo Slezak
Release Date Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Genre Classical > Choro
Composers Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, Jacques Fromental Halevy, Daniel - François Auber, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Carl Maria von Weber, Rubin Goldmark, Gioacchino Rossini, Charles Gounod
Songwriters Leo Slezak, Leo Slezak / Leopold Demuth, Leo Slezak / Elsa Bland, Leo Slezak / Wilhelm Hesch
Copyright © Preiser Records

Promotion Text

Lebendige Vergangenheit

Leo Slezak was born on August 18, 1873 in Mährisch-Schönberg into extremely modest circumstances. He grew up in Brno and was notorious at school and in the town for his pranks. His first jobs were as a gardener's apprentice in Gmunden, then as a mechanic in Brno. With the help of a chorus singer he was able to participate as an extra in opera performances, during which he sang along with the ensemble. lt so happened that the famous baritone Adolf Robinson guested as Tonio in "Pagliacci" and singled out Slezak's voice from the chorus. He invited him for an audition and his sophisticated ear immediately detected a potential Heldentenor. He accepted the young man as his student and took care of him with almost parental benevolence. Slezak was further able so help himself and finance his studies with the help o{ patrons and small jobs as a legal scribe and salesman. When he finally auditioned at the municipal theater in Brno with the aria from "Pagliacci", he was engaged but not given any roles. A performance of "Lohengrin" was announced as a benefit for the leading bass, who demanded that Slezak be allowed to sing the title role. In spite of the dire forecasts it proved to be an enormous success for the twentyone year old singer. Two years later he was engaged by the director of the Berlin Hofoper. Here too his talent was not really recognized and Slezak transferred to the theater in Breslau, wliere he was able to gain experience under the guidance of the well-known director Löwe. In 1901 he appeared as a guest at the Vienna Hofoper in the role of Arnold in "Wilhelm Tell", followed by Walther von Stolzing in "Meistersinger" and Radames in "Aida". He conquered the Vienna public by the verve with which he launched the high c-sharps into the auditoriurn and he was immediately engaged by Gustav Mahler. He became a member of the ensemble on September 15, 1901 - the realization of a long-cherished goal. With his friend and competitor Erik Schmedes he vied for the affection of the Vienna audience. It is perhaps the right moment to describe Slezak's voice, in as much as an acoustical phenomenon can be put into words. At his peak his tenor was considered by one critic to be an instrument of mamouth proportions with the following characteristics: it gleamed with incredible strength and beauty, retained its sonority and consistency throughout its compass and ascended like a rocket to the highest notes. His greatest secret, however, was his mezza voce, a voix mixte of seductive mellowness which allowed him to shade to the finest pianissimo. In spite of his permanent stage fright and worry about indispositions which might affect his sensitive organ (regardless of his robust constitution), he was able to consolidate his natural talents and employ effectively. He was also clever enough not to prematurely abuse his gifts. Of great importance were the years under the directorship of Gustav Mahler and the careful guidance of Bruno Walter, Franz Schalk and Ferdinand Foll. He sang his way through the entire tenor repertory: Mozart's Taomino and Beimonte, Wagner's Erik, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Stolzing, Verdi's Ernani, Manrico, Riccardo, Duca, Radames and Otello. Predestined by the power and fullness of his voice, together with the beauty of his mezza voce to perform the most demanding roles in grand opera, he achieved a special success in the strenuous role of Assad in Goldmark's "Queen of Sheba" Slezak, who was weil aware that there is no end to learning, studied these roles with the famous tenor Jean de Reszke, who gave them the final polish. So he became a shattering Don lose, a strong Masa:niello in "La Muette di Portici" as well as Faust. Scarcely another singer reached the heights he was able to in the demanding roles in Meyerbeer's operas "Robert le Diable", "Le Prophete" and "Les Hugenots", not to forget his singular achievement as Eleazar in Halevy's "La Juive". When Mahler left the Hofoper in 1907, Slezak was not able to come to agreement with his successor, Felix von Weingartner regarding leave. The dollar and a contract with the Metropolitan Opera beckoned. Slezak left Vienna in 1908 and sang in New York with the same spectacular success. He remained there until 1913, after which he preferred to perform as guest artist throughout the western hemisphere and to give recitals. America's entrance into the World War I put an end to his performing in the United States. After an adventurous journey through Sweden, he returned to Vienna, where he was welcomed with open arms as a lost son. In the 20s he began a second career, which led him via operetta to film engagements. In the 1933 - 34 season Leo Slezak sang several times at the Vienna Staatsoper, appearing for the last time as Canio. No one realized that it was to be his last performance. Franz Völker was already engaged as his successor. At the age of 60 the time come for Slezak to bid farewell to the stage.