• Born 1940
Often appears with
Trained in Essen as a bassoonist, Siegfried Jerusalem studied to become a singer and quickly worked his way through lyric roles into dramatic and, eventually, heroic parts. He grew into the heaviest Wagner protagonist just as the situation was becoming desperate; the shortage of viable singers for these daunting roles was compromising the ability of the world's major opera houses to mount the works of the essential Wagner canon. Handsome, slender, youthful in appearance, and a highly credible actor, Jerusalem filled the need with a voice that was firm and true, if somewhat dry and lacking ultimate heldentenor thrust. So crucial was he to Wagner performances, nevertheless, that he was engaged not only for as many house performances as he could manage, but also for numerous recordings. If any singer was indispensable during the years of Jerusalem's prime, it was he.
After 17 years as a successful orchestral bassoonist, Jerusalem became convinced that he wished to retrain and become a professional singer. He studied singing at Stuttgart, initially as a baritone, before making his debut at Stuttgart in 1975 as the First Prisoner in Fidelio. After singing there in a number of small roles, he accepted an engagement in Aachen and then sang in Hamburg. His first Wagner role, Lohengrin, was heard in several German theaters, including Berlin. While still singing Mozart and other medium-weight roles, Jerusalem made his first appearance at Bayreuth in 1977, singing Froh in the second year of Patrice Chéreau's hotly debated Ring. He also sang the role of the young sailor in Tristan.
In 1978, Jerusalem joined the Berlin Deutsche Opera. The year following, he was back at Bayreuth for the title roles in Parsifal and Lohengrin and Walter in Die Meistersinger. His continuing involvement with the Bayreuth Festival found him advancing to Siegmund in 1983, to Siegfried in 1988, and to Tristan in 1993. He offered his wily, well-sung Loge there for the first time in 1994.
Meanwhile, the tenor's debut at the Metropolitan Opera took place on January 10, 1980, as Lohengrin. His career there remained somewhat quiescent until he returned as Loge in 1987. His Siegfried in the Metropolitan Ring during the 1990 and 1991 seasons was broadcast on television, but was not part of the Deutsche Grammophon recording under Levine as he was already taping the Ring with Haitink and, only slightly later, with Barenboim.
Covent Garden had beckoned in 1986 and Jerusalem made his debut there as Erik. Chicago engaged him for its Ring cycle in the mid-1990s. The tenor's celebrated Lohengrin was committed to disc in 1991 with Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic. In addition to such standard non-Wagnerian fare as Die Zauberflöte (Tamino), operas such as Korngold's Violanta and Die Königen von Saba were recorded with Jerusalem in the leading tenor roles. Operetta, too, was an attraction and Jerusalem was featured in Willi Boskovsky's recording of Lehár's Die Land des Lächelns (Land of Smiles).
Aside from his steadfast work in the opera house, Jerusalem has sung both recitals and numerous concert performances with orchestra. He has made highly accomplished recordings of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with both Barenboim and Levine, Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten with Marriner, Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Chailly, and Mozart's Requiem with Helmuth Rilling.