Herbert Alsen


Born: Hildesheim, Germany Died: October, 1978
A legendary heldenbass and chamber singer, Herbert Alsen initially wanted to become a violinist and studied that instrument at the local Hildesheim School of Humanistic Studies. During his Gymnasium years, he was the concertmaster in the episcopal orchestra and played at Sunday masses. It wasn't until his later music studies in Berlin that he discovered his voice. During the Haydn Jahr celebration of 1931-1932, Alsen toured as a member of the choir that performed that composer's Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) and Die Schöpfung (The Creation) throughout half of Germany. When the tour reached Hamburg, he was immediately contracted to sing as first bass in several roles at Hagen in Westfalen. His debut was in the role of Rocco in Beethoven's Fidelio, and that performance was followed with ten more parts during the first year of his engagement. After performances in Dessau and Wiesbaden, he received offers to sing in Hamburg and Vienna. In 1936, he gave his first performance at the Wiener Staatsoper. That same year, he sang the role of Komtur in Mozart's Don Giovanni with Bruno Walter conducting, and the role of Pogner in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Arturo Toscanini conducting. After two seasons with the Wiener Staatsoper he was engaged to appear at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. And afterward, he appeared on major opera stages, including La Scala, Covent Garden, Deutsche Staatsoper, and the Grand Opéra. He created more than 50 parts, the most popular of which were Gurnemanz in Wagner's Parsifal, Sarastro in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), and Osmin in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction From the Seraglio). In 1955, Alsen vacationed with his wife Gisela and daughter Marina in Mörbisch, a small town then right on the border of the Iron Curtain. He described the place as a "lovely, friendly little spot with peasant houses and dozens of wine cellars." Upon sighting the Mörbisch bay, he decided then and there to organize the Mörbischer Seefestspiele (Mörbisch Sea Festivals), which a mere two years later premiered with Johann Strauss' Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron). In 1959 Alsen converted the Forchtenstein castle moat into a stage. Until his passing in 1978, he carried on his singing career between the two country festivals.