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Bass-baritone Theo Adam, Vienna State Opera's beloved Wilma Lipp.

Obituaries Theo Adam lg 419
Adam as Hans Sachs at San Francisco Opera, 1971
© Ken Howard


ONE OF POST-WORLD WAR II Europe’s most important bass-baritones, Theo Adam was an intelligent, expressive singing actor who served as an imposing exponent of Wagner roles for more than four decades. 

Adam’s singing was unfailing honest and musicianly—attributes that made him a favorite of the leading conductors of his era. A native of Dresden, he began his singing career at ten, as a member of the Dresdner Kreuzchor, and made his U.S. debut with that group on its 1938 tour of North America. After service in the German army during World War II, Adam worked as a schoolteacher by day and studied voice in the evenings. At the invitation of conductor Joseph Keilberth, Adam made his adult professional debut with the Staatsoper Dresden on December 25, 1949, stepping in at the last minute as substitute for Gottlob Frick, one of the company’s most admired stars, as the Hermit in Der Freischütz. In a 1969 interview with Erika Davidson in OPERA NEWS, Adam recalled that debut as “the best Christmas present I ever had!”

Adam made his Bayreuth debut in 1952, as Ortel in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch. Adam, who told OPERA NEWShe considered himself “a high bass—just what Wagner wanted for his heroes and gods,” returned to Bayreuth many times; his long list of roles for the festival during the next thirty years included King Heinrich, Titurel, Fasolt, Wotan, the Dutchman, Amfortas, Hans Sachs, Pogner and Gurnemanz. Also a longtime ensemble member of Berlin State Opera, beginning in 1952, Adam remained associated with that company as singer, stage director and teacher for more than fifty years. 

Adam’s personal repertory totaled more than eighty-five roles by the time he reached his early forties. He made his Covent Garden debut in 1967, as Wotan, and arrived at the Salzburg Festival as Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier in 1969. His other Salzburg appearances included the title role in Wozzeck (1972), Baal in the world premiere of Friedrich Cerha’s Baal (1981) and Prospero in the world premiere of Luciano Berio’s Re in Ascolto (1984). At Vienna State Opera, where he made his debut in 1954, Adam gave more than 250 performances of twenty-nine different roles.

Like many artists who were based in what was then known as East Germany, Adam made relatively infrequent appearances in the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s, which were the peak years of his European career. At the Met, Adam sang just seventeen performances of three roles in four seasons. He made his Met debut in February 1969, as Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and within the following month sang Wotan in both Das Rheingold and Die Walküre for the company, with Herbert von Karajan conducting. Adam’s last Met appearance was as the Walküre Wotan in 1988, paced by James Levine. Adam made his San Francisco Opera debut as Hans Sachs in 1971 and returned to SFO in 1975, as the Dutchman, which was the Wagner role he sang most often. Adam’s only appearances at Lyric Opera of Chicago were as the Wanderer in a new staging of Siegfried in 1973.


ONE OF THE Vienna State Opera’s most beloved stars, Wilma Lipp dominated the coloratura soprano repertory in her native city during the 1950s before gradually assuming more lyric roles in mid career. Lipp made her Vienna State Opera debut in 1945, as Kate Pinkerton, while the company was appearing at the Volksoper. In 1948, Lipp sang her first Vienna performance of what would become her signature role, Mozart’s Queen of the Night, under the baton of Josef Krips, when the State Opera was in residence at Theater an der Wien. In 1953, Lipp became the youngest artist ever named a Kammersänger in Vienna. During her thirty-six years as a member of the ensemble in Vienna, Lipp sang 1,140 performances of fifty-one roles with the company; her most frequent assignments in Vienna included the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, which she recorded with both Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan; Pamina, Konstanze, Donna Elvira, Olympia and Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Lipp’s last performance with the company was as Marianne in Der Rosenkavalier, in 1981; the following year, she was named an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera. spacer

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