Hans Hotter, 94; Operatic Career Spanned 6 Decades

Times Staff Writer

Hans Hotter, a leading bass-baritone perhaps best known for his Wagnerian roles whom former Los Angeles Times music critic Martin Bernheimer called “the greatest, noblest Wotan of them all,” has died. He was 94.

Hotter died Dec. 6, the Vienna State Opera announced. His funeral was attended only by close family members, according to the opera house, which released no other details on his death or family.

A naturalized Austrian, Hotter was born in Offenbach am Main, Germany, in 1909. He planned to become a conductor, but while studying in Munich, he realized he needed to learn more about singing. His voice teacher, Matthaus Roemer, urged him to pursue a vocal career. Roemer remained his coach for 20 years, and was always credited by Hotter as being the major influence in his career.

Hotter started his operatic career in 1930, singing in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Hamburg, and at the Munich Opera, where he became a principal in 1937. He sang with the company until 1982. He also sang with the Vienna State Opera from 1939 until 1970.

Although his voice at times could be unsteady and unfocused, his vocal splendor, musical intelligence and dramatic intensity -- as well as his towering physique (he was 6 feet 4) -- made him an ideal Wagnerian bass-baritone. He became renowned for his portrayals of Hans Sachs (in “The Mastersingers”) and Amfortas (in “Parsifal”) in addition to Wotan of the Solti “Ring” cycle and other roles.


But he resisted typecasting. He sang Puccini’s Scarpia, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s Amonasro.

In his younger days, when his voice was lighter in color, he also sang Escamillo in Bizet’s “Carmen,” Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Count Almaviva in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” As his voice darkened and deepened, he turned to Boris Godunov, King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor (480 performances) in Verdi’s “Don Carlos,” and Wagnerian roles such as Gurnemanz in “Parsifal” and King Marke in “Tristan and Isolde.”

Hotter also had a flair for comedy. He sang Basilio in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and the title roles in Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicci.” He also was an admirable lieder singer.

He created three roles written by Richard Strauss, who greatly admired his singing: the Kommandant in “Friedenstag” (Munich, 1938), Olivier in “Capriccio” (Munich, 1942) and Jupiter in “Die Liebe der Nanae” (Salzburg, 1944). After the war, he became a principal singer at the Bayreuth Festival from 1952 to 1964.

He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1950, singing the title role in Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman.” Differences of opinion regarding repertory with then general manager Rudolf Bing, however, limited his Met career to 35 performances over four years. Bing felt Hotter was best suited for small character roles. Most of his American career unfolded in San Francisco and Chicago.

Los Angeles first saw him with the San Francisco Opera as Wagner’s Dutchman at the Shrine Auditorium in 1954. Later that season here, he sang Don Pizarro in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and, in a run out to Pasadena, Count Almaviva.

Two years later, he repeated the Dutchman in Los Angeles as well as singing the villainous Rangoni in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” and Wotan in “Die Walkure.” Bernheimer called him “definitive” in the role.

Thirty-four years later, when he was 79, he came out of retirement to offer what Bernheimer described as “object lessons in dramatic point and communicative urgency” in the wrenching Sprechgesang “Summer Wind” coda of Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” with the Pacific Symphony led by Keith Clark at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

His few regrets, he told The Times in 1987, were that he never got to sing Baron Ochs in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and never collaborated with Maria Callas or Arturo Toscanini or sang much Italian repertory in Italian.

Hotter taught at the Vienna Hochschule fur Musik and also became a stage director, directing the “Ring” at London’s Covent Garden from 1962-64. His last production was of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” in Chicago in 1981.

His recorded legacy includes the “Ring” cycle, Orff’s “Die Kluge” and “Der Mond,” Wagner’s “Parsifal,” “Tristan” and “Flying Dutchman,” Wilhelm Furtwangler’s recording of Berlioz’s “Damnation of Faust” and five versions of Schubert’s “Winterreise,” among others.

The Bavarian State Opera, where Hotter performed for about 50 years, has announced it is dedicating a performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to Hotter’s memory.