Born: July 11, 1929 - Berlin, Germany
Died: July 22, 1998 - Krailling, Bavaria, Germany
The German bass-baritone, Hermann Prey, grew up during the regime of the the National Socialist Party. He was scheduled to be drafted at the age of 15 when the end of the Second World War brought peace and a chance for him to study voice with Gunther Baum and Jaro Prohaska at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin. In 1952 he won a contest of Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt.
Hermann Prey sang his first Lieder recital in 1952 and the following year he made his operatic debut as Monuccio in Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland at Wiesbaden. Afterwards he joined the Hamburger Staatsoper (1953-1960). Since 1956, he appeared frequently at Berlin and Vienna. In 1959 he deubted at the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, as well as at the Salzburger Festspiele (as Barbier in Strauss's Die Schweigsame Frau, which was also Fritz Wunderlich's debut at Salzburg), where he often sang Guglielmo and Papageno in subsequent years. 1968 he was the protagonist in the Ponnelle/Claudio Abbado production of Rossini's Barbiere di Siviglia. Between 1960 and 1970, he performed numerous times at the New York Met, where he debuted as Wolfram. (In 1987, he again appeared at the Met as Musikmeister in Ariadne auf Naxos.) In 1965, he debuted at Bayreuth, again as Wolfram. In 1981, he returned to Bayreuth as Beckmesser. In 1973, he debuted at London as Rossini's Barbiere, and subsequently sang Guglielmo, Papageno, Eisenstein there. Although he had sung Verdi parts in his early years, he later concentrated on Mozart and Strauss: Olivier (Hamburg 1957), Harlekin (Munich 1960), Robert Storch (Munich 1960). In 1997, he sang Sprecher at the Salzburger Festspiele. He frequently appeared in the lighter genres of Spieloper and Operetta as well as on TV shows, which made him extraordinary popular in Germany.
For all of his fame as an opera star, to many musicians, Hermann Prey is best remembered for his recitals. He gave his first American recital in 1956 and was a regular visitor until the end of his career. He was also a great favorite in Japan. He was especially well known for his interpretations of the songs of Schubert, but he was equally at home with the requirements of many other German and Austrian composers. He was less successful in the few times he moved outside of the German repertoire. Many listeners compare Prey with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as a song interpreter, yet their approach to music making was quite different. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau gives each word and phrase an individual importance whereas Hermann Prey allows the whole composition to unfold as an entity. Both approaches are valid and have their adherents. On the concert stage, Prey was well known for his singing of the Bach Passions and more especially the Brahms Deutsches Requiem.
Hermann Prey's voice was a lyric baritone with great warmth and he had complete control of all dynamic variations. He was able to convey a sense of the comic elements of a song without losing the musical sense of the entire piece.
He recorded a multi-volume series for Philips to trace the history of German Lieder from the Minnesingers to songs by Reutter and Blacher. His uncountable recordings range from Lieder to opera and oratorio.
In 1982, he began teaching at the Musikhochschule Hamburg in order to pass along what he learned about music interpretation. In 1981, he wrote a autobiography "Premierenfieber" (which was later also issued in English as "First Night Fever"). In 1988, he directed a production of Le Nozze di Figaro at Salzburg.He was also one of the founders of a Schubert Festival in Austria. His son Florian has also made a career as a baritone singing some of the same roles for which his father was most famous. Hermann Prey will always be remembered for the fine musicianship and the beauty of his voice.