Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Paul Frey

Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Paul Frey

Article excerpt

Even in a profession replete with idiosyncratic life histories, the story of heldentenor Paul Frey is among the most remarkable. Who would have guessed that a hockey-loving young man, at 16 already driving a truck and singing Elvis tunes to amuse himself in his hometown of Heidelberg, Ont, was destined to be a celebrated Lohengrin in Bayreuth, Germany? Frey sang the swan knight on that stage 37 times, a record yet to be broken.

Growing up in a strong Mennonite tradition, Frey was a member of the Glad Tidings Male Quartet and the Schneider Male Chorus. Paul Berg, the choirmaster, encouraged him to pursue a singing career and recommended lessons from Douglas Campbell and Victor Martens. It was a leap of faith when, at the age of 31, Frey sold his trucking business to attend the University of Toronto Opera School, studying with the late Louis Quilico. Without a solid foundation in theory, sight-reading and languages, Frey had to catch up quickly. "I fit the stereotype of the dumb tenor," he says with a smile.

However, good opportunities soon started to come his way. He sang Rodolfo and Alfredo for the Canadian Opera Company on tour, and performed in Werther opposite Maureen Forrester. Aware that European experience was essential, he moved to Switzerland with his wife, Linda, and their young son after landing a contract with Theater Basel. He stayed for seven seasons, building a repertoire in German, French and Italian operas. The renowned conductor Armin Jordan took the young tenor under his wing, and voice teacher Rudolf Bautz helped transform him into a Wagnerian.

Frey would have remained in relative obscurity as a journeyman tenor if he hadn't had a sudden call to replace an ailing Peter Hofmann as Lohengrin in Mannheim. The press hailed Frey as a star, saying his appearance even surpassed the glamorous Hofmann. Wolfgang Wagner heard Frey and offered him a contract without the customary audition on the Bayreuth stage, one of only seven singers to have accomplished that-feat. Soon all the doors opened: Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna, Munich, La Scala, Paris, the Bolshoi, San Francisco and others, in roles that included Siegmund, Siegfried, Loge, Erik, Walther, Parsifal, Bacchus, Kaiser, Florestan, Enee, Max and Peter Grimes. …

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