The sepulchral German bass, a go-to for Kleiber and Karajan, has passed away aged 78.

The great German bass, Kurt Moll, has died at the age of 78. One of the most respected Wagnerian singers of his generation, his dark tone, notable bottom register and insightful interpretations ensured he was a favourite of conductors from Karajan to Kleiber. He leaves a fine discography documenting a broad repertoire that ranged from Mozart to Strauss.

Moll was born in 1938 in Buir, near Cologne and his first musical ambitions were as a cellist, but he was encouraged to focus on his singing by the conductor of his school choir, leading him to undertake vocal studies at the Köln Hochschule für Musik with Emmy Müller. Starting out as a jobbing house singer, his first position, aged only 20, was with the Cologne Opera where he stayed for three years. In 1961, he moved to Mainz for three years followed by five years in Wuppertal. His breakthrough came in 1969 after he joined the Hamburg State Opera, which led to engagements with most of the major opera houses of Europe.

Often described as an infra-bass (a singer with a range lower than basso profondo), his sepulchral, chocolaty tone was warmed by a slight vibrato. Notable roles included Daland, Osmin, Mozart’s Bartolo, Pogner and Sarastro. But perhaps his most famous roles were King Mark and Baron Ochs – both of which he sang for Carlos Kleiber – and Gurnemanz, a role preserved on Karajan’s legendary Deutsche Grammophon Parsifal. The voice was never stentorian, however, and he resisted the temptation to sing Wotan or even Hagen. He was also a noted Lieder and choral singer, mostly in the German repertoire – Schubert, Haydn, Beethoven etc.

Moll’s Metropolitan Opera debut occurred in 1977 as Landgraf Hermann in Tannhäuser, followed in the same season by appearances as Rocco in Fidelio and Sparafucile in Rigoletto. His many recordings saw him win a Grammy in 1990 for James Levine’s recording of Das Rheingold – Moll sang Fasolt (and Hunding in the subsequent Walküre). His Fafner is preserved on Sawallisch’s EMI Ring, while he can be heard as Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier in seven complete recordings (with conductors including Karajan, Kleiber and Andrew Davis). His six recorded Sarastros in Die Zauberflöte include Colin Davis and Sawallisch, and his six King Marks in Tristan und Isolde include Kleiber and Mehta.

Moll’s final performances were as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni and the Nightwatchman in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, both of which were for the Bavarian State Opera, after which he retired from the stage. He continued to give master classes, most recently at Carnegie Hall in 2011. Moll died in Cologne where he had continued to live with his family throughout his career.