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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obituary: Peter Hofmann, 1944-2010

German heroic tenor Peter Hofmann died Tuesday in Bavaria. He was 66.
Peter Hofmann as Siegmund in Die Walküre.
The rugged, blond singer became a star in the 1970s and '80s, singing mainly the major roles in Wagner operas.

Peter Hofmann was born in Marienbad in 1944. He joined the German army and began singing rock music before taking voice lessons and learning he could sing opera. He made his operatic debut in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, singing the role of Tamino. Four years later, he sang Siegmund in the Patrice Chereau production of Die Walküre at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

His leonine mane of blond hair, imposing stage presence and powerful tenor voice made him a Bayreuth regular. In addition to Siegmund and Tristan, he sang the title roles in Lohengrin and Parsifal, starring in a controversial 1983 production designed by Götz Friedrich. He also sang Lohengrin at the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1986, Mr. Hofmann sang Siegmund in the Metropolitan Opera in the company's new production of the Ring Cycle, a part he would reprise at the Met for the next three years. However, Mr. Hofmann never tackled the demanding role of Siegfried, long considered the toughest role in the Wagner repertory. When it came time to film and record the cycle, the role of Siegmund was sung by Gary Lakes.

After a disastrous 1989 performance at Bayreuth, Mr. Hofmann moved away from the operatic stage and went back to his pop roots, even recording an album of country music. He also had a successful run of 300 performances in the title role of a German-language production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1994 and retired from the stage in 1999

His recorded legacy includes Die Walküre with Pierre Boulez, two recordings of Parsifal with James Levine and Herbert von Karajan conducting, and recordings of Lohengrin and Tristan. This last, which paired the singer with Hildegard Behrens as Isolde, was conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It is currently out of print.

Peter Hoffmann singing 'In Fernem Land' from Act III of Lohengrin
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.