Anton Bruno Michael Balluff

Picture of  Anton Bruno Michael Balluff
Balluff was born on October 6th, 1846 in Oberkochen, as the son of a schoolteacher Konrad Balluff. When he was 12 years old, he started his training as a teacher in Ellwangen and took his test in 1862. However, instead of teaching, Balluff joined the army voluntarily and played in the army orchestra as a trombonist. The conductor of the orchestra, Ritter, made it possible for Balluff, at the army's expenses, to learn violin and cello. Ritter discovered his voice and introduced him to the organist of the cathedral ("Münster") of Ulm, Diefenbach, who accepted Balluff into the Münster chorus. Later the governor of Ulm, Graf Wilhelm von Urach, made it possible for Balluff to join the theater chorus. After six years, the singer left the army. In 1869, he could join the Stuttgart Hofoper chorus thanks to Heinrich Sondheim.

Not satisfied, Balluff took singing lessons with Josef Schütky, Franz Pischeck and later Padilla. However, he had to wait sixteen years before his time finally arrived. On October 8th, 1885, the theater was waiting for a guest (whose name is not known) to arrive, and like Godot never showed up. Balluff was asked if he would sing Manrico. The 39 years chorister did not hesitate, and two days before his 39th birthday became an heldentenor of the Hofoper.

His first Wagner part (Lohengrin, 23 October 1866) seems to have been an act of desperation on behalf of the director, as reported by Allgemeine Musikzeitung dated October 1866:

This experiment was very interesting, as Mr. Balluff almost 12 months ago was singing one of the Brabantian noble (besides singing in the chorus). When singing in-between parts such as Léopold and Lucentio, his good voice and hard work made his promotion to Lohengrin not seem far-fetched. After the performance, the non-believers had to agree that the performance went well, however in our opinion several physical, cerebral and vocal improvements must happen, before Mr. Balluff can completely cover this poetical Wagner role.
Balluff was well suited to parts that required good physical condition and voice, however in parts requiring more intellectual capacities, he was not so successful. He had no acting abilities. He avoided all this life to sing Tristan as the psychology of the part escaped him. Other parts like Loge and Tannhäuser were beyond his talents. Als Lohengrin and Stolzing, his singing made up for his poor characterization.

Balluff was never mentioned in the different publications on Wagner interpreters. Only the critic Rudolph Kraus wrote about him:

Balluff's steely and healthy voice allowed him to sing very difficult parts. That also was his weakness. Balluff's voice declined rather quickly, while he unsuccessfully tried to remedy the defects of his vocal studies. Another factor was that his loud vocal production pleased the public. A major problem were his ungainly body movements on stage. As an actor, he was at the limit of the average tenor, while his legs and arms were stiffly bent forwards. Balluff was a tenor with a powerful and roaring organ. What he lacked, he tried to remedy with hard work.
At the beginning of his career, Balluff undertook Rienzi, Erik, Tannhäuser, Siegmund, Tamino, Florestan, Max, Turiddu, Robert, Raoul, Radames and Éléazar. Despite his hard work, Balluff represents the level of the Stuttgart Opera at that time: the first heldentenor was a strong-voiced chorister without acting abilities. When he was a chorister, he was a respected concert and oratorio singer. This tells us that he had a better vocal schooling than Rudolph Kraus described.

On December 4th, 1887, Balluff sang in the Stuttgart premiere of Meistersinger. He was Stuttgart's first Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, on March 7th, 1889 in honor of the king's birthday. The press commented that it was not a very special event. It took five more years for Balluff to be Stuttgart first "young" Siegfried (January 9th, 1894). Five months later, on May 29th, 1894, Balluff celebrated his 25th stage anniversary with a performance of Il trovatore, where he was celebrated and rewarded with many honors at the end. Until 1895, he was the first and only heldentenor in Stuttgart. Balluff ended his career in 1904 singing Manrico, 35 years after his operatic debut as chorister and 19 years after his first solo appearance. 20 years later, on December 4th, 1924, he died at 78 years old in Stuttgart.

Picture source: Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main
Reference: Einhard Luther, So viel der Helden. Biographie eines Stimmfaches, Teil 3: Wagnertenöre der Kaiserzeit, (1871–1918), Berlin 2006

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