Günther Treptow (1907-1981) was a German Heldentenor who enjoyed a lengthy career in major opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Berlin, Treptow’s initial vocal studies were as a baritone (a common thing among Heldentenors, it seems) at what is now the Berlin University of the Arts. After extensive work with bass Giovanni Scarneo (1845-19??), Treptow made the transition from baritone to tenor and began auditioning for singing roles. However, his career almost failed to materialize. Although he was a proud member of the Nazi party, he neglected to inform party leaders that his mother was Jewish. When this bit of information came to light, Treptow was banned from performing in Germany for over a year. However, he found an advocate in Joseph Goebbels, who granted the tenor an exemption. With this special permission in place, Treptow was finally able to make his debut in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier at the Deutches Opernhaus Berlin on May 20, 1936. The role was an unlikely one for a tenor who had just moved up from the baritone range…The Italian Singer…but Treptow was successful in negotiating the treacherously high lying part. In the fall of that same year, Treptow essayed his first Wagnerian part, the Steersman in Der Fliegende Holländer and soon began to develop an impressive repertoire.
Despite heavy competition from Germany’s strong roster of Heldentenors, Treptow began to carve out a respectable career for himself. In addition to his appearances in Berlin, he garnered acclaim in Munich, Vienna and Zoppot in such roles as Max in Der Freischütz, Pedro in Tiefland and the title role in Tannhäuser. Just as he was gaining momentum, however, the Second World War erupted, hampering his progress. Although Treptow’s appearances were limited to the German speaking world until 1945, he managed to maintain his career and continued to build his repertoire. It wasn’t until the war’s end that the tenor truly began the international phase of his career. By the end of the 1940s, Treptow was appearing throughout Europe…Zurich, Brussels, Paris, London, Milan, Florence, Barcelona, Moscow…and also found his way across the Atlantic for a series of performances in Buenos Aires.
1951 saw Treptow’s debut at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, as Siegmund in Die Walküre. Of his initial performance on February 1, Olin Downes of The New York Times wrote, “He has a voice of warm and dramatic character, though his vocalization does not consistently release and focus the tone to the best advantage,” adding, “Nor would we claim that Mr. Treptow is an original and distinguished actor.” Perhaps if Treptow had managed to gain a foothold in New York, he might have been given the chance to prove himself. It was not to be, however. Treptow had what proved to be one of the shortest careers for a leading tenor in the history of the Met…six performances of three roles (Florestan, Siegmund and Tristan). Forty-two days after his debut, the tenor was on his way back to Berlin.
That same year, Wagner’s grandsons invited Treptow to the reopened Bayreuth Festival, where he shared duties with fellow tenors Wolfgang Windgassen and Bernd Aldenhoff. In 1955 he was engaged by the newly rebuilt Staatsoper Berlin, where spent the next six seasons. After the wall was built, Treptow returned to Berlin’s Deutches Opernhaus, the place of his early triumphs, and remained there until his retirement in 1973. Günther Treptow passed away in Berlin on March 28, 1981 at the age of 67.
Although Günther Treptow is primarily remembered as a Wagner specialist, his repertoire encompassed a great many roles besides Siegfried, Tannhäuser, Rienzi and Parsifal. He was also a much heralded Florestan, Don José, Canio and Otello. His recordings reveal a ringing tone, robust and focused, with a forceful top. His recorded legacy is impressive, with studio recordings from the outset of his career for The Gramophone Company and the Imperial label as well as a myriad of live recordings captured during performances in the 1940s and ‘50s. In this recording, Treptow sings "No! Pagliaccio non son!" (or "Nein, bin Bajazzo nicht mehr" in its German translation) from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. This was recorded for the Imperial label in 1942.