12.1.1870 Rousínov by Rakovník – 25.9.1924 Senomaty, his mother country
In the world known as Carl (Karl) Burrian
A letter of 1909 addressed to the editor of “Smetana” magazine, Mr. A. Rektorys, on his request for Burian’s biographical data.
Most Revered Mr. Editor,
I introduce myself as a fabled rather than famous son of the Czech nation: Karel Burian, born on 12 January 1870 in Rousínov near Rakovník, which I presently possess and which I left to my grandfather, a man of 92 years of age, until the end of his days. If I do not put up a plague for myself on my natal house once, then let me assure you that I never understood publicity throughout my career. … I attended school in Rakovník, where one of my teachers was an outstanding musician, your ex-colleague Karel Hůlka, headmaster in Kněževes, as well as Z. Winter and Dom. Čipera.
I studied at the academic high school in Prague, and as a top pupil of every year I graduated in 1889. Afterwards, I enrolled at the Faculty of Law. But my heart was not happy there. But a poor student has no choice! The Křižovnický and Strahov cloisters were both interested in me, not only because I was a good student, but also because of my musical and singing abilities. After all, it is an achievement if the Father can sing “Oremus” beautifully and does not squeal as a pig.
Owing to the intercession of Mr. Zdenek Babor, a member of the National Theatre’s orchestra, I was admitted by Mr. Wallerstein who had just established himself in Prague and who accepted me as a soloist at the Majzl synagogue. I was paying for the classes with the old master, a genuine and selfless man, with the money I earned at the synagogue. Poor old man is dead now! Let us honor his memory! He could always arrange somehow that I earned more in the synagogue than I had to pay for his classes!
Of all the Czech teachers, nobody would take me on – they were all asking about money… But I was making progress and in 1891 I appeared as Jeník at the Brno Theatre, and then on September 28th and 29th as Dalibor. But then the Brno stage went bankrupt and I had no other option than to go abroad.
Reval, Aachen, Cologne, Hannover, the Royal Opera, Hamburg, Praha, Budapest, Dresden followed. A nice series – but it ran its course. The secret of my success! After Dresden, the world opened up for me. All the big theatres were seeking my guest-plays and I cannot tell whether there is a big theatre at all in which I have not performed. The big world followed soon after: Paris, Brussels, London and – America, where I sing three months every year. I played many important parts, most importantly: the premiere of Tristan in Budapest, Herodes in Salome in Dresden, New York and Paris.
For my performance I was appointed a French officer. Louis Schneider in Gil Blas wrote: “Burian’s Herodes is a painting by Goya.”
In Bayreuth I sang Parsifal, at the Prinzregententheathe in Munich I performed all great Wagnerian parts. Tristan, Tannhäuser, and Siegfried are the cornerstones of my repertoire and my career, but also pure lyrics and light French opera were fine roles of mine: Fra Diavolo!
Diavolo! I pride myself on having achieved eight orders and being a triple chamber singer. I performed fifteen times as a guest in Vienna a year ago, i.e. in 1908, and as Tristan and Othello I was simply superb! In Budapest I sing every year and ever since the “reconciliation” also in Prague yearly… Unlike Destinnová, I am the “improper,” that is not-honorable, member of the National Theatre – doch “ich grolle nicht”…
My repertoire, as far as my memory goes:
1. Czech opera:
Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Lukáš (The Kiss), Jeník (The Bartered Bride). Zdeněk Fibich: Ctirad (Šárka), Jaroměř (The Fall of Arkun). Antonín Dvořák: princ (Rusalka). Kovařovic: Kozina (Psohlavci). Karel Bendl: Vojtěch (The Old Bridegroom). Vilém Blodek: Vojtěch (In the Well)
2. Russian opera:
Život za cara (Glinka), Lenski (Evgenij Onegin).
3. German opera:
Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Erik (Der Fliegende Holländer), Loge (Das Rheingold), Siegmund, Siegfried, alter Siegfried (Götterdämmerung), Tristian, Stolzing (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Parsifal, Walter v. d. Vogelweide (Tanhäuser), Pylades (Iphigénie en Tauride), Belmonte (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Florestan (Fldelio), Abu Hassan (Weber), Max (Der Freischütz), Adolar (Euryanthe), Jessonda (Spohr), Ivanhoe (Der Templer und die Jüdin), Konrad (Hans Heiling), Gomez (Das Nachtlager in Granada), Stradella (Flotow), Mavoglio (Stradella), Lyonel (Marta), Fenton (Die lustigen Weiber von Winsdor), Assad (Die Königin von Saba), Eduard Plummeer (Das Heimchen am Herd), Folkunger (Kreutschmer), Barfüssele (Heuberger), Matthias Freudhofer (Evangelimann), Kienzl, Herodes (Salome).
4. Italian opera:
Radames (Aida), Otello (Verdi), Cassio (Otello), Alfred (La Traviata), der Herzog (Rigoletto), Richard (Un Ballo in Maschera), Manrico (Troubadour), Fenton (Falstaff); Arnold (Guillaume Tell), Almaviva (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Canio (Der Bajazzo), Turiddu (Cavalleria rusticana), des Grieux (Pucinni, Manon), Rodolfo (Bohema), Mario (Tosca), Ipanov (Fedora).
5. French opera:
Robert le ďiable, Raul (Les Hugenots), Le prophéte, Vasco de Gama (L'Africaine), José (Carmen), Vilhelm Meister (Mignon), Faust, Romeo (Gounod), Hoffmann (Les contes...), Fra Diavolo (Auber), Masaniello (La Muette de Portici) Le Domino noir (Auber), George Brown (La dame blanche), La damnation de Faust (Belioz), Eleazar (La Juive), Werther (Massenet), des Grieux (Manon Massenet).
If you consider that many of my roles were studied in two or three languages and that I probably omitted something given the huge amount of material, my repertoire goes well beyond a hundred!
Are you satisfied? Was lange währt wird gut.
Yours faithfully, Karel Burian
Literature: Burian K.: Paměti (Smetana, Praha, ročníky 1911 - 1912); Hradčanský J. V.: Komorní pěvec Karel Burian ve svých veršovaných dopisech (Graf. ústav L. Beneše, Český Brod, 193?); Hradčanský J. V.: Komorní pěvec Karel Burian ve svých veršovaných dopisech (Fr. A. Urbánek a synové, Praha, 1933); Burian E. F.: Karel Burian (Praha 1948); Novotný A.: Pěvecký portrét (Supraphon, Praha 1974); Wenig J.: Ema Destinová - Karel Burian (Supraphon, Praha, 1960); Nejedlý Z.: Dějiny opery Národního divadla I.-II. (Praha, 1949); Rektorys A.: Naši operní pěvci, (Praha 1958); Černý J.: Osmý den (Reflex, Praha, 6. 3. 2003)
Realisation: Boris Klepal, translation: Petra Mutlová