German bass Theo Adam has died at the age of 92 in Dresden, the city where he was born. A distinguished Wagnerian and Strauss specialist, his more than four-decade international career saw him perform on the world’s greatest stages, but it was the Bayreuth Festival that he made his artistic home.
Born on August 1, 1926, Adam was a boy chorister in the Dresdner Kreuzchor from the age of 10 to 16. After serving with the German army, he returned to his hometown with the intention of becoming a teacher, all the while studying with voice teacher Rudolf Dietrich. His obvious talent soon put paid to his plans of entering the teaching profession. Instead, he made his stage debut with the Semperoper Dresden in 1949, appearing as The Hermit in Weber’s Der Freischütz.
In 1952, he made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Ortel in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, kicking off his famous association with the vaunted venue. His roles there included Fasolt, Wotan, Hans Sachs, Gurnemanz, Amfortas and the Dutchman, the last being his most performed Wagner role. He would be a fixture of the Festival well into the late 70s.
In 1967 Adam made his Covent Garden debut as Wotan, followed by his Salzburg debut in 1969 as Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier, one of his trademark roles. He also made his Metropolitan Opera debut that same year, first appearing as Hans Sachs and then as Wotan in the famous Ring Cycle led by Herbert von Karajan. He performed both roles again in 1972, only returning in 1988 after a 16-year absence to farewell the Met as Wotan in Die Walküre.
As well as Bayreuth, Adam also sustained a long association with the Vienna State Opera, racking up 253 performances encompassing 29 different roles over his career. Unsurprisingly, he was named a Kammersänger by the company in 1979, with his final performance taking place in 1997. Rather appropriately, it was in the role of the Music Master in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.
Over his career, Adam appeared in a number of world premieres, with three operas written for him. These were the title roles in Paul Dessau’s Einstein and Friedrich Cerha’s Baal, and the character Prospero in Berio’s Un re in ascolto.
Adam left behind a valuable and considerable discography, numbering over 100 operas. His Sachs in Karajan’s 1970 recording of Meistersinger is considered among the definitive portrayals, whilst his two Wotans, one captured live from Bayreuth in 1966 with Böhm conducting, and the other with Marek Janowski at the helm in 1980, are similarly prized. Adam recorded Beethoven’s Fidelio multiple times under conductors Böhm, Kurt Masur, Georg Solti, Lorin Maazel and Leonard Bernstein, twice. The bass was also a frequent performer and recorder of oratorio work, bringing the questing musical intelligence and command of text he displayed in opera to pieces like Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Haydn’s Die Schöpfung and the Mozart Requiem.