Dietrich Fischer - Dieskau

He's not of my generation of singers -- he had retired from opera by the time I was conscious of him -- but he affected all the opera and lieder I ever heard. He coached the likes of Christina Schafer, whom I see and hear live as often as I can -- she's the perfect Cherubino, as well as the perfect Gretel or Sophie or Dona Anna, and much more. It's said that Fischer-Dieskau would interrupt her apparently perfect singing to make suggestions that improved her performance on the spot -- meaning, as humans, we cannot perceive perfection. There is always better, and it's up to those with stellar vision and clarity to help us along that pathway.  It was said he could turn a stage from a performance platform into the very setting to be evoked, simply by his vocal acting and tone.

For sure, Fischer-Dieskau experienced so many deprivations, growing up as he did between the two World Wars in Germany, with a frail and feeble brother who was forcibly institutionalized while he was made to fight in Russia at a very young age, his widowed mother's apartment was destroyed in a bombing, and he was captured in Italy upon the German surrender.  Perhaps the conditions and events of his life helped him transcend the horrors of life, to find beauty and calm in music and performance.

The first recording I heard by him became, to me, the definitive Count Almaviva; I can hear his voice enunciating Hai gia vinta la causa with anger, passion, and malice toward Figaro and Susanna -- wronged as he was, as wrong as he was. When I first heard Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" I had tears thinking of Fischer-Dieskau's published reflections about singing in the voice of the enemy, "I had nowhere to hide." Though I was too young to hear him live, that he pioneered works and was known for his technique and artistry affected many after him, which benefitted my place as a member of his devout audience.

Some might say he should have been culpable for war crimes, but he's been (rightly) excused due to his youth at the time, the desperation of the situation, and many other factors.  When Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was confronted with her membership in the Nazi party, she pointed out (finally) that it was like a union card -- join and work, or die of starvation. Fischer-Dieskau, upon hearing of the death of his challenged younger brother, said that the Nazis did to him what they do to all such people, "starve him to death as quickly as possible." He was a victim of his times, too, and has served as he must -- soldier, singer, teacher, musician, and a good human being.

And though I don't know for certain, I believe that Chickweed Lane's character Peter Kiesl is modeled on Fischer-Dieskau -- like Kiesl, the baritone was a prisoner of war, and sang at POW camps from the back of an army truck to entertain troops and prisoners.  I can easily see this, considering that author Brooke McEldowney is a trained violist, and would have certainly been aware of the war history of many of the musicians at the Metropolitan Opera and the NY Philharmonic.  When I was growing up, many musicians were German, just as a matter of course -- they were better, was the perception.  In Fischer-Dieskau's case, it was absolutely true.  It's one of my favorite story lines from that *****.

Today, Dietrick Fischer-Dieskau died at the age of 86. I'd like to think that the horses which died of starvation on the Russian front (for whom he was responsible as a young soldier) were restored to him, as well as his brother and parents. Most of all, his strength and voice are intact in heaven, and that maybe I can hear him in my mind more clearly now.
auroramaru auroramaru
46-50, F
4 Responses May 18, 2012

uncleleo, that's too scary to contemplate. as someone who grew up with people who had grandparents and other relatives with numbered tattoos on their forearms, i don't think i could stomach such a production! i'll stick with "don giovanni, a cenar teco ..."

I appreciate this point. Both my children, as well as my two nieces, have very direct connections to the camps. But, unfortunately, we are a long way from the point where we can say that we today are far too civilized for that to happen. That was what too many said in 1929.

never said we are too civilized -- "civilization" is a veneer to help us survive in an efficient way. mfk fisher pointed out that "a balanced meal" is what kills the least of us. ;) it's good to remember, but not good to flaunt. where that fulcrum is, that depends -- on time, personal thoughts, current events, etc. knee-jerk reactions are valid ways to assess such things, too.

Are you writing in code? (lol)

uncleleo, always possible. i'm learning a new language these days. ;) one's profession often leaches into one's ... other stuff.

1 More Response

Wow! You're right! What about a bi-lingual production in which the commandante/statue sings in German while the rest of the caste sings in Italian? And the commadore could be dressed in a gestappo uniform? I sense an emmy? (lol)

uncleleo, science doesn't violate or oppose spirituality, either conceptually or in practice. like religion, science is a human construct, and it's really a human's responsibility to reject or use those constructs, or to create new ones. being a hard-liner in one direction or another, while temporarily educational, doesn't tend to win friends of lasting virtue, or bring much real peace to one's own being (whether a soul or some odd sense of righteousness).<br />
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i think the commendatore scolding giovanni from the grave would be way scarier in german! though i like hearing as originally written (simply because those are the sounds the composer was optimizing when composing, and when the librettist was writing), i find nothing wrong in translating the works. like religion and science, there are good translations and really really bad ones!

The first recording of Don Giovanni I ever owned, on the old Nonesuch label, was of highlights sung in German by Fischer-Dieskau in the title role. His voice was very powerful, but the German lyrics lacked the melodiousness of the Italian. (And to this day, when the Statue enters I find myself expecting to hear: “Don Giovanni, ich bin becommen…”)<br />
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I knew nothing of the life of Fischer-Dieskau, and I think you wrote a very touching tribute to him. I especially like the idea of being somehow reunited with the animals (and humans) from the past. (But can you, as a scientist, accept the idea of an immortal soul?)