Kurt Ollmann


Born: January 9, 1957
Lyric baritone Kurt Ollmann benefited greatly from an artistic association with Leonard Bernstein. After thorough schooling and a fruitful beginning with Milwaukee's adventuresome Skylight Opera, he appeared in several prestigious world venues before being given a place among Bernstein's favored singers. Clear enunciation that could sound either international or comfortably American afforded him immediate access to both operatic and musical comedy roles and even more so for those works, such as Bernstein's Candide and West Side Story, that hover somewhere in between.

With a pliant voice of attractive quality, Ollmann made the most of studying with Marlena Malas and Yolanda Marculescu, but undoubtedly found in French baritone Gérard Souzay a true vocal and interpretive model. With an instrument similar in weight and flexibility to Souzay's and with something of his teacher's wide-ranging interest in recital and concert repertory, Ollmann artistically developed along similar lines. He was a member of the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee from 1979 to 1982, just as the company was making itself known for its small-scale but creative productions. Dramatic viability counted there as much as vocal accomplishment and Ollmann's tall, lithe frame afforded him an effective stage presence. Appearances followed in several American venues such as the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe, the Seattle Opera Company, and the growing company in Washington, D.C. He was also welcomed in Brussels and at La Scala, where he was heard as Pelléas in 1986 with Claudio Abbado conducting. His Mélisande in that production was Frederica von Stade. The same year, he took part in the first Vienna performance of Bernstein's A Quiet Place. Ollmann thereafter often worked with Bernstein, recording several of his stage works and appearing as the soloist in the orchestral work written by Bernstein for the re-opening of Carnegie Hall. His Don Giovanni in Peter Sellers' 1987 production for New York's Summerfare seemed an interesting dramatic sidebar. With a voice that was from the beginning highly phonogenic, Ollmann recorded often. Bernstein's mentoring resulted in the singer's recording both West Side Story and Candide with him. The musical, an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story, revealed Ollmann's comfort with English that had to be precise, but not formal. When Bernstein got around to recording what he regarded as the definitive version of his oft-revised Candide, Ollmann participated in both the live performance schedule in the flu-wracked London of December 1989, and the recording that followed. As Maximilian and the Captain, Ollmann fit deftly into an all-star cast including June Anderson, Jerry Hadley, Nicolai Gedda, and Christa Ludwig. Even after Bernstein's death in 1990, Ollmann continued to be identified with his work; he was featured in a 1992 recording of On the Town with Michael Tilson Thomas. Ollmann's Mercutio is preserved on disc in a recording of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Several recordings attest to the baritone's advocacy of the song literature. Songs by Paul Bowles figure in two discs and Ollmann's participation in the AIDS Quilt Songbook project is memorable.

As Ollmann entered his mid-forties, his voice darkened and he seemed to be losing some of his former ease. His Jesus in a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in the spring 2002, however, was firmly and eloquently sung.