Fifty years ago, the finest lyric tenor this world has ever known passed away following a tragic accident. He was just 35, and left behind a grieving widow, small children, and thousands of grieving fans. In the fifty years since his death other tenors have emerged, but not one of these has matched the magic of Wunderlich.
His career lasted barely ten years, yet in these ten years he managed to leave us with a recorded legacy second to none. Few if any opera singers have covered so much ground in so few years, and for this we are grateful.
Montserrat Caballé wept when we spoke about him. Very early on, they worked together, though Wunderlich's great problem, if it can be deemed thus, was that he disliked singing in foreign languages. There are comparatively few arias and popular songs that he did not record in German...some in Italian, a couple in French, and so far as is known only one in English.
Maria Callas once said that her biggest ambition was to appear on stage with Wunderlich, but that neither would offer compromise: she refused to even consider singing in German, and though he would have been willing to sing in Italian, he found the thought of doing so too daunting to try.
It's rather ironic that the anniversaries of their deaths are but hours apart. Maria died during the afternoon of September 16th, Wunderlich during the early hours of the 17th.