Metternich, Josef

German baritone, b. 1915

As Renato in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”

Biographical notes:

Josef Metternich was born near Cologne. He became a member of the choirs at the opera houses of Cologne and Bonn. It was the Dutch tenor Henk Noort (Toscanini’s Stolzing at the Salzburgh Festival, 1937), who recommended the young singer in 1939 to Wilhelm Rode (a former well-known baritone), who was opera director of the “Städtische Oper Berlin.” Metternich received a 2 years, but had to sing mainly smaller roles. After a short stay at the opera of Wiesbaden (all German theatres were closed at the end of the war), he was re-engaged at the “Berlin Städtische Oper” (the company had to sing in the Theatre of the West), where opera director and bass-baritone Michael Bohnen gave him the opportunity to appear in roles such as Jago, Alfio, Simone, Pizarro, Escamillo, Figaro (Rossini), Conte di Luna and Amonasro, all of them within the same year! From 1946 onwards he became a highly esteemed singer in East-Germany and Italy. Heinz Tjeten, who succeeded Michael Bohnen as opera director, engaged Ferenc Fricsay and Leo Blech to Berlin. Metternich was full of praise for the elder conductor. The baritone made his debut at Covent Garden in 1951, as Flying Dutchman. From 1952 until 1959 he was a member of the Vienna State Opera and appeared at La Scala, the Grand Opéra of Paris, the Edinburgh Festival (1952) and at several German opera houses. From 1953 until 1956 he joined the Met, where he debuted as Don Carlos in La Forza del Destino. His roles at the Met included 22 performances (Tonio, Renato, Amonasro, Wolfram and Kurwenal). From 1954 he was a member at the opera houses of Munich, Berlin and Hamburg. His singing career lasted until 1971! Not to be neglected are his activities in concerts and oratorios, and, above all, his working as a highly sought-after singing coach at the Musikhochschule Köln. A number of promising singers benefited and still benefit from his knowledge and experience (to name but a few: Ruthild Engert, Mechthild Gessendorf, Cornelia Kallisch, Stella Kleindienst, Michael Volle and Eike Wilm Schulte).


Recordings: (selection)

Josef Metternich sings arias by Rossini, Mozart, Marschner, Meyerbeer, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Ponchielli, Giordano and Puccini


Bizet - Carmen (Schüchter 1950s/excerpts in German/Wagner, Schock, Schlemm)


Bizet - Carmen (Friczay 1959/Dominguez, Simandy, Stader, Steffek)


Donizetti - Lucia di Lammermoor (Schüchter 1957/excerpts in German/Köth, Frick, Schock)


Humperdinck - Hänsel und Gretel (von Karajan 1953/Grümmer, Schwarzkopf, Schürhoff, von Ilosvay, Felbermayer)


Leoncavallo - I Pagliacci (Stein 1950s/excerpts in German/Muszely, Schmidt, Cordes, Müller)


Mascagni/Cavalleria rusticana + Leoncavallo/Pagliacci (Schüchter 1950s/excerpts in German/Rysanek, Schock, Traxel, Rothenberger, Prey)


Offenbach - Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Schüchter 1950s/excerpts in German/Schock, Streich, Cordes)


Strauss - Arabella (von Matacic 1950s/excerpts in German/Schwarzkopf, Gedda, Felbermayer, Berry)


Strauss - Die Frau ohne Schatten (Kempe 1954 live/Rysanek, Hopf, Köth, Schech, Böhme)

Voce di Luna

Verdi - Aida (Schüchter 1950s/excerpts in German/Rysanek, Rudolf Schock)


Verdi - Macbeth (Keilberth 1950 live/in German/Mödl, Hülgert, Herrmann)


Verdi - Macbeth (Kraus 1954 live/in German/Varnay, Weber, Geisler)


Verdi - Rigoletto (Schüchter 1950s/excerpts in German/Köth, Schock, Cordes, Frick)


Verdi - La Traviata (Galliera 1950s/excerpts in German/Muszely, Schock, Schwarzkopf, Panerai)


Verdi - Il Trovatore (Schüchter 1959/excerpts in German/Muszely, Schock, Wagner)


Wagner - Der fliegende Holländer (Fricsay 1953/Kupper, Greindl, Wagner, Windgassen, Häfliger)


Wagner - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Keilberth 1963 live/Wiener, Hotter, Thaw, Hoppe, Kusche, Klarwein, Ostertag)


Wagner - Das Rheingold (Kempe 1959/Frantz, Schock, Muszely, Otto, Wagner, Kusche)

Berlin Classics

Heroes - Rudolf Schock (duets)




English and German critics described him as “a singer with a certain lack of subtility” and as “a powerful if not always very imaginative singer.” Opinions that do not justice to him.

Metternich’s voice production and dramatic instincts cannot be compared to the more lyrical and “beautiful-toned” German baritones like Karl Schmitt-Walter, Heinrich Schlusnus, Fischer-Dieskau or Gerhard Hüsch. Metternich was a singer with a vibrant voice of outgoing directness (in this respect he reminds me of Ramón Vinay). He managed to sing Verdi’s high tessitura with ease, his metallic top register was almost that of a tenor.

Hear him in Arabella as Mandryka (opposite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf), a role that could have been composed for him. His broom-maker in Karajan’s famous recording of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, with the fabulous Elisabeth Grümmer as Hänsel, is a perfect characterization of the role.

I do not want to leave unmentioned the invaluable opera excerpts (released by EMI and sung in German), produced by Fritz Gauss during the 1950s, and featuring some excellent singers: Josef Metternich, of course,  as well as Erika Köth in her prime (Lucia!), Marcel Cordes, Rita Streich, Elisabeth Grümmer (Octavian!), Melitta Muszely, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and the young Rudolf Schock.

One of the most superbly sung versions of Dapertutto’s aria “Scintille, diamant!” is performed by Josef Metternich.

  Allez! Pour te livrer combat - Scintille, diamant! in German (Dapertutto in Les Contes d’Hoffmann / Offenbach / EMI 1954)


Martha Mödl and Josef Metternich in a performance of Verdi’s “Macbeth”, Berlin 1950


Michael Bohnen (private photograph, 1963)

The celebrated German bass-baritone and “singing-actor” recorded more than 150 titles (!). He helped Josef Metternich decisively in his career.