• 1910 — 1989
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One of the most important European lyric tenors of the post-WWII era, Anton Dermota was the ranking singer of Mozart tenor roles in that period between the prime of Julius Patzak and the emergence of Fritz Wunderlich. Although he was not a prepossessing actor, his attractive voice was guided by intuitive musicianship and a serious approach to his art. Dermota's legacy includes a substantial number of recordings, many of them for major labels, others preserving live performances from Salzburg and Vienna, all performed with the most esteemed conductors of his time. He also performed often in the concert repertory and in recital; many recordings were made of this music as well.
Dermota studied under Marie Radó in Vienna. After having made his stage debut in Cluj at the age of 24, he joined the Vienna Staatsoper at Bruno Walter's invitation, appearing there as the First Armed Man in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in 1936. Soon thereafter, he sang Alfredo in La traviata. That same year, he made his initial appearance at the Salzburg Festival as Zorn in Die Meistersinger. By 1938, his performances at Salzburg included two of the Mozart roles which would become most closely associated with his name: Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. His reputation was, therefore, well established before WWII in the two venues which would remain the twin centers of activity for the remainder of his career.
Dermota accompanied the Vienna Staatsoper to Covent Garden in 1947 where his fine voice and dignified manner made a positive impression, even measured against the great Richard Tauber who made his final opera appearances as a company guest. Dermota's performances in Vienna continued to endear him to the loyal audiences there and he proved central to that extraordinary group of Mozart specialists destined to dominate the performances of that composer's music throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and into the 1960s. His Don Ottavio and Tamino became world standard; both were recorded in both studio and live performance. In 1955, Dermota was awarded the honor of reopening the Vienna Staatsoper in its restored home theatre. The opera was Fidelio and Martha Mödl sang Leonore to his Florestan.
Not confining himself to Mozart and other Vienna-based composers, Dermota enjoyed success in such roles as Puccini's Pinkerton and Rodolfo, Massenet's Des Grieux, Jeník in Smetana's Bartered Bride, Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Offenbach's Hoffmann, Flamand in Strauss' Capriccio, Eisenstein in Johann Strauss II's Fledermaus, Lensky in Yevgeny Onegin and, especially, the title role in Pfitzner's Palestrina. In the last-named, he confronted memories of Julius Patzak's indelible interpretation, but came to find his own distinction in that opera, beloved of Central European audiences. Dermota even undertook the role of David in Die Meistersinger, another interpretation preserved on recording.
Dermota also made a reputation as a performer of concert music and as a recitalist. In the former category, he was particularly admired for his singing of the tenor parts in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. In recital, he concentrated on the music of the Austro-German composers and songs of his native Slovenia.
At its best, Dermota's strong lyric tenor had a singular timbre, at once slightly grainy, yet silvery in effect. It was a voice with ample spin, able to trace Mozartian lines with clarity and suppleness while displaying a thrilling thrust as it neared the top register.