“Do not scorn the masters …” is a quotation attributed to Richard Wagner and for Elisabeth Wilke it is “very closely linked with the voice of Theo Adam, with his vocal presence, and the exceptional intensity of his character portrayals, all of which permeated every syllable that he sang, both spiritually and emotionally: he was therefore a true ‘Mastersinger’!”
From his native city of Dresden Theo Adam travelled the world, in a career that began in 1937 as a choirboy with the Dresden Kreuzchor and led 12 years later, thanks to an engagement with Joseph Keilberth, to his becoming a member of the famous Semperoper, where Theo Adam was to achieve such fame as a virtuoso. In his 1996 book about “a singer’s life in encounters and transformations”, Theo Adam explains how important that fateful encounter with Keilberth was, explaining that “in the second year of my apprenticeship he gave me the part of Master Ortel in Die Meistersinger in Berlin; a small role but one whose first words almost became a leitmotif for the career I had just embarked upon.” He refers to Master Ortel’s dictum of “Immer am Ort!” (always in my place). Theo Adam almost became the character on stage, playing the role in Dresden for nearly six decades, and nearly three in Bayreuth. He travelled far and wide, from La Scala in Milan to the New York Met.
He ripened into a singer who felt equally at home on the opera stage and the concert platform, in oratorio and in lieder – “the singer's secret passion”, as Theo Adam has called it. While he created especially striking embodiments of characters like Hans Sachs and Elijah, it is Theo Adam's enormous breadth of vocal and acting ability on which his reputation is based and which in 1955 brought him the honour of becoming the youngest Kammersänger (a title awarded to singers of outstanding merit) in Germany; Austria and Bavaria later distinguished him similarly.
Happy Birthday, Theo Adam