Karel Burian

Picture of Karel Burian
I wish to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the picture.
Karel Burian sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
In RA format

Karel Burian sings Ten můj koleg Caruso (Gus Edwards)
American humoristic song "My cousin Caruso", Czech text ("My colleague Caruso") by Karel Burian.

Picture of Karel Burian

Picture of Karel Burian in Meistersinger
Karel Burian in Meistersinger

Picture of Karel Burian as Herod
Karel Burian as Herodes

Karel Burian was born on January 12th, 1870 in Rousínov. He studied voice with Morice Wallerstein and made his debut in 1891 at Brno (as Jeník). Burian toured Europe: Vienna, Budapest, Paris. He sang Parsifal in Bayreuth (1898), and Herodes (Salome) at the premiere in Dresden (1905). 1906–13, Burian sang at the Met. Abroad, he appeared as Carl Burrian. His best roles were in Wagner's operas: Tristan, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Siegfried. He also had success as Fra Diavolo, where he demonstrated a great technique and a bright upper register. Burian died on September 25th, 1924 at Senomaty. He recorded almost 90 sides from 1906 to 1912.

Karel Burian singsFra Diavolo: Voyez sur cette roche, in Czech
I wish to thank Vladimir Efimenko for the pictures, biographical notes and recording (Fra Diavolo).

Picture of Karel Burian in Dalibor
Karel Burian in Dalibor

" ... Sorry, but we cannot engage you into the choir, because in the higher register your face is getting all red ...."
(Audition at the Prague National Theatre, 1892)
from Karel Burian's book My memories, 1913

Karel Burian was born in Rousínov on January 12th, 1870, died in Senomaty, September 25th, 1924. After an unsuccessful audition at Prague National Theatre, 22 years old Burian (teacher Wallerstein) left Prague and was trying to get an engagement at other European theatres. Very soon he found an engagement in Tallinn (where he sang Manrico, Faust and Lohengrin), then Aachen and Cologne, Berlin, Cologne again (this time together with his brother, baritone Emil Burian), Hannover and Hamburg.

Despite success, Burian was still trying to get back to the Prague National Theatre to sing Smetana, Dvořák etc. After a struggle, he was finally engaged there in title role of Smetana's Dalibor and on July 28th, 1900 came his great performance under conductor Karel Kovařovic. But it was bitter-sweet victory. His usual fare was Tristan, Tannhäuser, Siegfried... and suddenly he was asked to sing the Prince in Dvořák's Rusalka, a role which didn't suit his voice. He said 'no' and the war was on again. Again, he left Prague and was engaged in Dresden, where he sang his beloved Wagner, and again he is Tristan, Parsifal, Siegfried...

In 1905, he sang 128 Wagner performances in that theatre, and he was regarded as the most famous Tristan of his day. For the next 20 years he sang Tristan, both Siegfrieds, Siegmund, Parsifal, Loge and Beethoven's Florestan in Fidelio. In Dresden's 1905/06 season, he sang Herodes in Richard Strauss' Salome (world premiere), and again in Paris with Emmy Destinn.

After Dresden, it was Berlin's turn, where he was Don José to Destinn's Carmen. Next came Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and on November 30th, 1906 he made his debut as Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera, under Arturo Toscanini. In 1908: Bayreuth for the first time, Burian sings Parsifal. Then he was again in London and Paris, but also in Brussels and Budapest. Subsequently he joined the Vienna Opera and made a brief appearance in Prague (but only at the German Theatre).

He was singing in Italian, German, Hungarian, French, but not in Czech. Nobody wanted him there. In November 1910, Burian left Dresden, and in 1911, he finally sang Tristan on the stage of the National Theatre in Prague. But it was for a very short time. The singer had a problem with his voice, and the doctor said no to further performances. And that was the end.

After World War I, he went back to singing in Budapest, Vienna and the Balkans. Once again before his death, he sang on the stage of the Prague National Theatre: in 1922, he had just one concert there. Two years later, he was dead. His records were made rather casually, they only partially confirm his reputation.

Lynn Samohel

Picture of Karel Burian as Tannhäuser
Karel Burian as Tannhäuser

Picture of Karel Burian as Parsifal
Karel Burian as Parsifal

Picture of Karel Burian
I wish to thank Lynn Samohel for the above pictures, and the longer biography.
There is a very good website on Burian in Czech, English and German, well worth visiting.

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