Fritz Wunderlich: Life and Legend

by | Jan 9, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Fritz Wunderlich: Life and Legend

Director: Thomas Shaehler;  Narrator: Hans-Peter Boegel
Studio: DGG DVD B0007476-09 (Distrib. Universal)
Video: 4:3, Color and Black&White
Audio: PCM Stereo, German
Subtitles: English
Length: 58 minutes; Bonus: 49 minutes
Rating: ****

Tenor Fritz Underlet (1930-1966) still “lives on in music and in the hearts of humanity.” These thoughtful words from the video barely capture the musical spontaneity and sheer joy of singing that was Wunderlich’s. About to make his New York Metropolitan Opera debut as Tamino in The Magic Flute in October 1966 (for five performances, and we see the signed contract), Fritz Wunderlich suffered a fatal fall in his home, re-enacted for us through staging by Thomas Voigt, with the cooperation of Eva, Barbara, and Wolfgang Wunderlich. The first complete documentary dedicated to Wunderlich, the combination video & sound portrait includes home movies, archival documents, and selected interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, to present a warm, even heart-breaking souvenir of an immensely gifted, dedicated artist.

In the course of the reminiscences, the word “natural” appears so often in reference to Wunderlich’s art, that we come to see how the eternal freshness of his voice could make even unfamiliar music seem familiar. Rolando Villazon calls him “Not merely a German tenor, but a tenor, a universal instrument.” Home movies of baritone Hermann Prey with Wunderlich catch the mutual friendship and adulation that lit up their time together. Soprano Ruth-Margret Puetz calls Wunderlich simply the ideal tenor with whom to work. Testimonials from Anneliese Rothenberger, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Thomas Hampson confirm the “attention, heart, and love” Wunderlich brought to Mozart, Strauss, Rossini, Tchaikovsky (his Lenski aria became identified with him world-wide), popular song, and lieder. We have clips from Munich, Salzburg, Stuttgart, and various recitals. We see early footage of Wunderlich’s youth and schooling; there is a lovely shot of him accompanying himself on the accordion. When Wunderlich belts out “Granada,” we recall that his jazzband version outshone his “classical” studio renditions. Accompanists Rolf Reinhardt and Hubert Giesen, along with critic Joachim Kaiser, add their recollections, while widow Eva Wunderlich provides biographical context. The home movies of Fritz with his new-born daughter, taking her and Eva home from the hospital, later putting his son on a horsecart, are deeply touching.

The footage captures the highlights of Wunderlich’s career, especially his appearance with Heger in Pfitzner’s Palestrina, the Munich Magic Flute, the Barber of Seville, his appearance on German television. The invitation to perform in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan is played up, especially the social gatherings, of which Karajan was a past master. The performance of Pergolesi’s The Music Master brings forth a comic side of Wunderlich, as well as the utter tensile strength of his high notes. Contrast the bustle of urban music-making with what Eva Wunderlich calls the “idyll” of their country estate. Firz having a beer, mugging for the camera, planting in his garden, hanging out in jeans and tee shirt. A dear, close friend weeps when he recalls the accident, attributed to an untied shoelace. Some innovative cinematography puts several simultaneous images of Wunderlich forward, revealing the multi-faceted essence of a musician who had only just emerged in renown and artistic maturity, and to whom the future seemed limitless. Whom the gods love, they kill.

— Gary Lemco

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