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Lauritz Melchior (20 March 1890 – 19 March 1973) was a Danish-American opera singer. He was the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and has since come to be considered the quintessence of his voice type. Late in his career, Melchior appeared in movie musicals and on radio and television. He also made numerous recordings. Hugh Walpole dedicated the novel The Young Enchanted to Melchior, and also paid his singing lessons with Victor Beigel.
Born Lauritz Lebrecht Hommel Melchior in Copenhagen, Denmark, the young Melchior was a boy soprano and amateur singer before starting his first operatic vocal studies under Paul Bang at the Royal Opera School in Copenhagen at the age of 18 in 1908.
His sister, Agnes Melchior (1883-1945), was a blind Danish Esperantist.
In 1913, Melchior made his debut in the baritone role of Silvio in Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci at the Royal Theatre (Det Kongelige Teater) in Copenhagen. He sang mostly secondary baritone and bass roles for the Royal Danish Opera and provincial Scandianavian opera companies for the next few years.
In September 1920, when he was singing the Steersman's Song, from Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at a Prom Concert, he met the popular novelist and passionate Wagnerite Hugh Walpole and the two quickly became firm friends, travelling together and staying in each other's houses. On a visit to Walpole's cottage in Polperro Melchior "caused a sensation by singing at a concert in the village", and later on a visit to Helston he and Walpole both took part in the Floral Dance. In December 1921 on a visit with Walpole to his (Walpole's) parents in Edinburgh, Melchior gave a concert in the Usher Hall. Walpole provided the fledgling Heldentenor with financial aid in February 1922, paying in advance two-thirds of the fees for his studies under Victor Beigel. In 1923, Walpole gave Melchior a further £800, enabling him to continue his studies with Ernst Grenzebach and the legendary dramatic soprano of the Vienna Court Opera, Anna Bahr von Mildenburg.
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When Melchior decided to marry, Walpole was crushed and wrote: "In the morning D. (Walpole called Melchior David, hence the abbreviation D.) came to see me, and in the garden at the bottom of this house there was the most desperate struggle of our friendship. It ended in his victory and my resolve to pull myself round and adopt the young woman."
On May 14, 1924 Lauritz Melchior made his debut, as Siegmund, at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London. The result was a smashing success. Some weeks later Melchior made his debut on the stage of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in the roles of Siegmund and Parsifal. In July 1925 Adolf Hitler attended a performance of Parsifal in Bayreuth as a guest of Winifred Wagner. According to Walpole, who was sitting in Wagner's box next to Hitler, as Melchior sang, "the tears poured down Hitler's cheeks".
An American citizen since 1947, Melchior died in Santa Monica, California in 1973. He was put to rest in the Assistens Kirkegaard cemetery in Copenhagen. He was survived by his son, Danish-American novelist and filmmaker Ib Melchior, who wrote a biography of his father and for years fought a legal battle to reclaim the Melchior family estate Chossewitz in Germany, which was confiscated by East Germany.
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