The old adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know" could not find a better example than Max Lorenz, the famous Wagnerian Heldentenor who personified Bayreuth during the Nazi regime. As Max Lorenz: Wagner's Mastersinger - Hitler's Siegfried makes clear, had Lorenz not had the protection of Winifred Wagner, his career most certainly would have perished at the very hands of the movement for which he became a symbol. Lorenz, as was actually more or less known at the time, was gay, though as so many notable gay people did, he entered a marriage of convenience to a Jewish woman (his manager Lotte Appel). Both his sexual orientation and his wife's religion could have spelled certain death under different personal circumstances, but Lorenz' celebrity and connections to the Nazi "in crowd" instead catapulted him to the heights of German stardom during its most notorious era.
Lorenz was born Max Sülzenfuß in 1901 in Dusseldorf and by his 20s was attracting enough attention that he was invited to audition at Bayreuth, the home of the Wagners and the annual Ring Festival. Richard Wagner's son Siegfried, as is mentioned in this piece, wasn't immune to the charms of young men, and Max's affable manner and impressive voice impressed the musical heir. Unfortunately, Lorenz' voice wasn't able to withstand the rigors of a weeklong audition and he quickly realized he didn't yet have the strength to master Wagner's heroic roles. That, however, was just a momentary bump in the road, which soon saw Lorenz gaining national accolades in Germany which led to celebrated performances in New York and London.
By the time he returned to Bayreuth in 1933, he was there to stay for the next several years, becoming his generation's most acclaimed interpreter of such Wagner challenges as Tristan and Siegfried. Lorenz clear Nordic tone and commanding stage presence made him an opera star of the first magnitude, one whose achievements ripple down to today's stars.
While some biographical pieces are to be faulted for having too much point of view, the opposite malady hampers Wagner's Mastersinger. What we get is a 55 minute or so recounting of Lorenz' life and artistic achievements, with very little analysis or insight into what any of it meant. This is especially incredible when you take into account what an iconoclast Lorenz was during the Nazi era. In fact, this piece never really fully discloses the outcome and consequences of Lorenz' trial after being discovered with a young boy at Bayreuth, other than to comment that Hitler himself told Winifred Wagner that Lorenz would be permitted to continue performing after Wagner told Hitler she'd have to close up Valkyrie shop without her most famous tenor. And Lorenz' staunch protection of his wife and Jewish mother-in-law is similarly mentioned only in passing, something which has insult added to injury when a letter from Appel's brother is quoted which seems to imply that Lorenz actually harbored and saved several other Jews during the War years. Why isn't any of this delved into, at least a little?
The other peculiar choice in this documentary is the decision to have long segments of Lorenz singing, which is fine in and of itself. But instead of seeing archival images of the singer himself, we're instead shown long, lingering shots of such current stars as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sitting there, head cocked, as Lorenz' archivally preserved voice pours out of a speaker. While there is some cogent commentary from some of these learned participants (especially tenor Rene Kollo, who gets off a memorable zinger or two), why this particular method of watching them listen is used seems awfully strange.
What is here is a biography of a noted operatic star that is fine as far as it goes. But it's like a shorthand bulleted list found in a printed program that doesn't have enough space for a whole article. We get the highlights, all described quickly and efficiently, but nary an inkling of anything deeper than the surface. It's like a soaring, beautiful voice with no emotion supporting it.