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Heinrich Schlusnus (1888 – 1952) – A blessed voice

by Luca
One of the leading German baritones during the interwar period, Heinrich Schlusnus possessed a handsome, beautifully schooled instrument with an unusually free top register. If he lacked great imagination in interpreting his roles and was somewhat compromised by a weak lower register, he nevertheless was a sufficiently polished technician to make important points by vocal means alone. In accordance with his vocal endowment, he specialized in Verdi roles in addition to the more lyric end of the German spectrum and sang with scarcely diminished means to the time of his death in his early sixties. Aside from opera, he was a distinguished, if less than probing, recitalist.
Schlusnus originally pursued training as a postal officer, but in Frankfurt studied music as well. He made his opera debut in Hamburg in 1915, singing the Herald in Lohengrin, a role which has offered first exposure to many a budding baritone. He was engaged by Nuremberg’s Stadttheater from 1915 to 1917, thereafter joining the Berlin Staatsoper with a 1917 Wolfram in Tannhäuser. He remained with the Berlin company for nearly three decades, leaving only in 1945. During his many years there, he concentrated on the Italian repertory, Verdi in particular. When Les vêpres siciliennes was presented in Berlin for the first time in 1932, Schlusnus was assigned the role of Guy de Montfort. During his Berlin years, he sang elsewhere, though not extensively. He appeared in Amsterdam in 1919 and Barcelona in 1922. He joined the German contingent at the Chicago Opera in 1927, singing Wolfram in a Tannhäuser whose remaining cast, except for Alexander Kipnis, was not quite stellar. Schlusnus, however, was well-received. With both Giacomo Rimini and Richard Bonelli present, there was no call for Schlusnus’ participation in an Italian production. A general malaise was reported hanging over the entire Chicago season as artists, administrators, and audience members anticipated a move to the new Civic Opera House two years hence.
In 1932, Schlusnus made his only appearance at Bayreuth in Parsifal, singing his bel canto Amfortas. Once again, his performance was regarded as thoroughly accomplished without reaching either the heights or depths managed by Herbert Janssen, another baritone who sang Italian roles, but whose Wagner was unapproachable. After leaving the Berlin Staatsoper in 1945, Schlusnus continued in opera, performing as a guest in a number of venues, concluding his stage career only in 1951 with a performance in Coblenz of the elder Germont in La traviata. His voice at the time remained largely unimpaired.
Early in his career, Schlusnus undertook further voice studies with Louis Blacher and in 1918 began singing Lieder recitals, eventually gaining as much renown for this segment of his art as for his theater work. As a singer of songs, he achieved his dramatic points almost entirely by vocal means. By singing the music with great accuracy and unfailingly focused tone, he was able to find a great deal of the truth within, especially in the songs of Schubert. Verbal emphasis and coloring of tone, however, were not given great emphasis, and works of advanced psychological complexity were not as fully explored as by certain other singers. Here, too, his lack of presence in the lower register sometimes compromised his work. Still, the forward brilliance of his vocal production and the unfailingly smooth and handsome timbre of his instrument assured him a place among the most prominent male singers of his time.
(by Erik Eriksson)