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1998 Birthday Tribute to Helmut Krebs in "Opern-Welt"


Performance history
history of early-music recording
standard bio

born: 08 OCTOBER 1913 died: 30 AUGUST 2007 This was: Helmut Krebs, "the 85th Birthday Conversation"

By Gerhart Asche, for “OPERN-WELT”, Nov. 1998

If one Singer for fifty years on a firm platform stood: Krebs has successfully bounced to-and- fro, from the Italian-lyric, to the buffo [ in the character-repertoire]; and simultaneously he is acknowledged as one of the prominent Oratorio exponenents of his time [in so much that he is spoken-of as justifiably and rightfully unparrelled], then Helmut Krebs means all of that!

Unforgetable through these long decades, Krebs was ensemble-associated at-first (with the Städtischen, then the Deutsche Opera Berlin); and in October his 85th birthday was celebrated. And for this reason, has he looked-back with us (in a conversation at his house in Berlin-Dahlem), on his long career, full of understandable pride as well as modesty [combining his own michievous humor]... now and then fighting with memory-gaps...yet amongst this, sudden flashings - [the transient past into the Present]- recalling all, so clearly, as if it all just had occurred....

Helmut Krebs is, what one is not allowed to be, obviously well acquainted and knowledgable, as one eminently musicological singer could ever be. The Calling (of the 1913 Dortmund-born student, while still attending Berlin music-high-school), went firstly into the direction of the Chapel-masters; and in this function described himself as "Accompaniest" in the vocal-classes of Professor Paul Lühmann. There Krebs, with him, became “Korrepetitor of the voice”. (Participants must attend or the absent singer would be placed into another ensemble; and that position, under inormous pressure, he did so obviously well, that Lühmann persuaded him into further major studies: "Your voice is so well seated, there hardly anything I must correct" the professor stated. And so, in 1937, Krebs beautifully debuted (amongst the young singers) as Monosotos, in the Volksoper at the Kantstrasse (which changed in 1938 to the Staedtische Oper in Charlottenburg).

The Ensembles of these Houses kept Krebs; and he there remained [apart from a term of war service in Düsseldorf] living faithfully - first and foremost - until 1947 (at the Interims-Spielstaette of the old Volksoper).

Then, in 1951, in the newly built House of the Deutschen Oper an der Bismarckstrasse, he made his first lyric Mozart role as Fernando in "Cosi fan tutte" (with Herbert Bräuer and Irma ßeilkt as partners) and sang, at the nearby Spieloper, as Fenton[“Merry Wives of Windsor”], Chateauneuf and many Italien subjects like Almaviva, and Ernesto) : «This formed my vocal behavior here"; and, here one also hears, why in his opinion, was the reason why he was engaged to be part-of the Salzburger festivals .

Helmut Krebs sang, in 1952, amidst prominent Italian-Austrian ensembles there. Beside Hilde Gueden, Sesto Bruscantini and Karl Dönch, he (as Ernesto) sang in «Don Pasquale» under Mario Rossi (and the direction of Oscar Fritz Schuh). In the following year, Krebs triumphed in another international festival-experience at Glyndebourne with the Mozart-parts of Belmonte and Idamante.

In 1950, Helmut Krebs was named the First Lyric Tenor of the Staedischen Oper Berlin. Soon he sang, beside Elisabeth Grümer [Pamina], as Tamino in a Leo Blech production of "Die Zauberflöte ". Here, we notoriously read, in correspondances among singers, that the directing of Krebs' interpretation was to be 'fostered': This facilitated Krebs' cancellation (proving to be extraordinarily merciful)!

Above all else however, this time brought-in Krebs' intensive-cooperation with Ferenc Fricsay, [who was (for some years) the Chief Director of the Staedische Oper] to a height that Helmut Krebs has estimated exceptional; [as he [Fricsay] being a Tietjens], led him into a new production of «Entfahrung», beside Sari Barabas and Rita Streich. Before Belmonte was sung (in the radio perormance of 1949) he was enacting Pedrillo. With the same reigning women with him, Krebs sang as Alfred (in November 1949 at the Titania-Palast).

In «Die Fledermaus» [beside Peter Anders as Eisenstein and Rita Streich as Adele], the young-blooded Anny Schlemm had a famous temper-tantrum amid a fascinating refined Rosalinde. And, although (like Krebs himself remind us) the part was never previously rehearsed, it is a fact that Fricsay had intentionally concealed.

Away from Berlin, observe Fricsay's interpretation of «Öedipus Rex» at the Festwochen 1951 with Helmut Krebs in the title-role.... In the same year Krebs sang this work under Stravinsky [only singing the part of the shepherd for the recording].

Then, in September 1953, in the Berlin Jesus Christus Kirche and St. Hedwig Dom, took place the recording of the Verdi “Requiem”, that is still the reference work to this day! Fricsay conducted the work contrary to the cliche of «Verdi's best opera», severely passionate, completely conscience of its religious message. And with that, Krebs (singing in an unrelenting, severly holy, laid-back “Cantabile” manner) sang the "Ingemisco". For this singer, it is seen in retrospective : "the wonder/miracle is never possible for money; however, in the end, it was successful for my voice, [bordering infringement] ", in-which many compared him with the rendering of one of the biggest of his Italian colleagues. Confidently, one senses all the warmth, as Krebs remembers, in his contemplation of his musical-mentor, Fricsay ["one who inspires & is inspired"] ... naming him, in contrast (like a coolness that doesn't go-away) in reflection upon van Karajan [under whom he played in "Ariadne" and "Die Fledermaus"]. Karajan, he remembers as: one «non-polite person».

From that almost unbelievable exspance, [which then Helmut Krebs, being in his fiftieth year], (with his voice full of emotion)... if one can judge from the mighty-lessons of the Verdi-Requiem (which is within the broad realm of opera [ the entire Buffo-like lyric study]), he returned to his youthful/ dramatic/ unborderized genrè (as he confronted his other side): the eminent, peculiar style of his Bach, Händel and Monteverdi interpretations....

Wenzinger's «Orfeo» from the boiling fields of 1955, is again available, newly redigitalized. It put down and destroyed any performance on modern instruments. Here there were also indeed stars of great legend.

Premiers, from Schönberg's "Moses and Aaron», which ran from NDR's 1954 season, under Hans Rösbaud's direction, in the Ätherwuchtete, was in-fact Helmut Krebs' Sangbarkeit [international-debut], a mark which the rôle of Aaron clearly demonstrated.

Like Albert Herring (Berlin 1950), Krebs proved himself (like a Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt), as a Belcantist of the serene-style, with quaint singerly nuances as shown in Boris Blacher's "Rosemund Floris" (UA 1960) [which furnished, in his opinion, the same with critics] as Bruno, once «masterly, and well into a psychological case caricature-study». In «King Stag»["Koenig Hirsch"] (1956) and later in the "Jungen Lord" (1965), Krebs pressed his peculiar-stamp upon two Henze premiers.

A beloved part for Helmut Krebs has been David from "Die Meistersinger", by which he was beautifully tested in 1948, [already in the Staatsoper], (under Keilberth, with Jara Pro-haska, Tiana Lemnitz and Ludwig Suthaus); then awhile later, at the Staedtischen Oper.

There they were again, these 'border-walks', between Buffo- and lyric studies. "I have always with 'ruebergesungen' sought to conjure the lyrical David. Add-to it the playhouse component which was especially important for Helmut Krebs. Yes, David was indeed one of his best roles; and he therewith would like to be at Bayreuth again! Wieland [Wagner], thereupon spoke-up, pardoned...diplomatically... [with a sigh]: "You have afterall sung so much. Save yourself this!"