In RA Format
Josef Witt, born May 17th, 1901 or 1902 in Munich; died January 3rd, 1990 in Vienna. Studied voice in his home city, where
he also made his debut in 1920. Thereafter at the theatres of Stettin (now Szczecin/Poland), Breslau (now Wroclaw),
Karlsruhe, Dortmund, Köln and Braunschweig. At the Vienna Staatsoper from 1937 on, where he sang a wide repertory of both
leading and secondary roles, his most important success being the title role in Pfitzner's Palestrina. At the Salzburg
festival in 1942, 1947 (world premiere of Gottfried von Einem's "Dantons Tod") and 1948. From 1942 on, he had a
successful second job as a stage director at the Vienna Staatsoper. Later in life, he was a voice teacher in Vienna
(Walter Berry and Mimi Coertse being among his pupils). His recorded legacy is minimal, the posted selection already
being the most interesting testimony of his voice.
Willy Franter: I don't know much indeed about Willy Franter, and yet I was thrilled when I found his voice on this radio
recording - it's quite probably the only recording he ever made (otherwise, his voice is documented just by some snippets
from actual performances from the Vienna Staatsoper). From his German diction, it's obvious that Franter came from Eastern
Austria, most probably from Vienna, where he sang at the Staatsoper in the 1940s, both secondary and leading heroic parts
(such as Dalibor and Florestan). The reason why I've been familiar with his name long before I found this record is a minor
but very significant historical occurrence... on April 20th, 1940, the Vienna Staatsoper was celebrating the Führer's
birthday with a performance of Fidelio (yes, the spirit-of-freedom opera par excellence! - freedom, that's what average
Nazis fantasized Hitler had brought them). Anni Konetzni sang Leonore, Willy Franter was Florestan. After Austria's
liberation from the Nazi rule, the Staatsoper had to do with an alternative accomodation for ten years, it's theatre
having been bombed, and they performed at the Theater an der Wien until reconstruction was completed. The very first
Staatsoper performance at the Theater an der Wien took place on October 6th, 1945, and of course, it had to be Fidelio,
the spirit-of-freedom opera par excellence... but as if that was not ironical enough, Anni Konetzni sang Leonore,
and Willy Franter sang Florestan! For me, there is hardly a better illustration of how both the proudly "apolitical"
operatic world and the Republic of Austria used to deal with the Nazi past after WWII.
Of the two tenors in this selection, Franter is the one who sings the opening bars, and Witt responds with one single
line before the join into their duettino; or in other words, Franter is the one with the lighter, more forward voice
who is pushing, and Witt the one with the rasping voice and the wobble who sounds like Rosvaenge's younger brother
having catched cold.
I wish to thank Robert Schlesinger for the recording and notes.