Peter Anders (1908-1954) was a versatile German tenor who excelled in opera, operetta and Lieder. Born Emil Anders in Essen to a civil servant and his wife, he exhibited musical talent at an early age. The family moved to Berlin following the First World War and the future tenor took a keen interest in local operatic productions. By the time he was in his late teens, Anders had decided that he wanted to pursue a career as an opera singer. At age 20 he began studies with Ernst Grenzenbach (mentor to famed Heldentenor Max Lorenz) and eventually moved on to the opera program of the Berlin Academy of Music. He also studied with contralto Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, whose daughter eventually became his wife.
Anders was engaged as a character tenor by the Heidelberg Municipal Theater, where he made his debut in 1932. Among his early roles during his first season were Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Jacquino in Fidelio. The following year found Anders in Darmstadt, where he spent two seasons. Engagements in Cologne and Hannover followed during the next few seasons. By this time, Anders had graduated to leading roles, singing such parts as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and Lionel in Martha. In 1938, the tenor was invited to the Munich State Opera, where he sang in the world premiere of Richard Strauss’ opera Friedenstag. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who was in the audience, denounced the work’s anti-war sentiment. Anders, however, became a favorite of Hitler and the Nazis. This coveted status as a preferred artist of the Third Reich carried with it many advantages which the tenor exploited. Unfortunately, this status would adversely affect his reputation after the war’s end.
Anders was invited to the Berlin State Opera in 1940, where he remained until 1948. He also appeared as a guest artist at the Vienna State Opera, La Monnaie in Brussels, London’s Covent Garden, the San Carlo in Naples and the Glyndebourne Festival. Anders amassed a repertoire of over 30 roles in such operas and operettas as La Traviata, Rigoletto, La Bohème, Tosca, The Bartered Bride, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Der Zigeunerbaron and Das Land des Lächelns. He was also a popular star on radio and his recordings were best sellers.
After leaving Berlin, Anders accepted a contract with the Hamburg State Opera. Here, he began exploring more and more dramatic repertoire, such as Radames in Aïda, Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino, Florestan in Fidelio, Canio in Pagliacci, Siegmund in Die Walküre and the title roles in Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Although many felt that Anders assumption of such heavy roles adversely affected the beauty and flexibility of his tone, his interpretation of title role in Verdi’s Otello, which he essayed in 1950, was met with great acclaim.
On September 4, 1954, Anders finished an engagement in Plettenberg and immediately set out for Hamburg. During a brief stop in Hannover, friends encouraged him to spend the night and get some much needed rest. Although still quite exhausted from the performance, the tenor insisted on driving the final leg of the four-hour trip himself. Just south of Hamburg in the early morning hours of September 5, Anders lost control of his Mercedes while passing another vehicle, flipped over and crashed into a telephone pole. Although his passenger was relatively unhurt, Anders was grievously injured and was taken to the local trauma hospital. After lingering for five days, Peter Anders succumbed to his injuries on September 10. He was only 46 years old.
Peter Anders was bestowed with an uncommonly beautiful lirico-spinto voice and a wonderfully expressive musical instinct. Sadly, he is not as well remembered as he should be due to his untimely death. In addition, Anders never appeared in the U.S., possibly due to his wartime association with the Nazi Party. Politics aside, Peter Anders was a compelling vocal artist who deserves to have a lasting musical legacy.
Peter Anders made hundreds of recordings, mainly for Telefunken, from the mid-1930s until the time of his death. Here, Anders sings Belmonte's aria "Hier soll ich Dich denn sehen" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. This recording was made in Berlin for Telefunken in 1942.