BORN IN DODGE CITY, Kansas, in May, 22, 1925, James King studied music in Lousiana State University , receiving later a master’s degree in music in 1952 in the Kansas City University. He began singing as a baritone and, during a performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1955, started to notice he was in the wrong Fach. He retrained himself into the tenor repertoire with Martial Singher and won the American Opera Auditions in Cincinnati in 1961. In this year, he debuted as a tenor as Don José at the San Francisco Opera next to Marilyn Horne and made his international début as ‘Cavaradossi’ in Puccini’s Tosca at the Teatro della Pergola, in Florence, in 1961. Joining the Berlin Deutsche Oper, he sang there French and Italian repertoire from 1962 to 1965. In his Salzburg début in 1962, he sang Achilles opposite to Christa Ludwig in Glück’s Iphigénie en Aulide, under Karl Böhm’s direction. Under Böhm’s direction at the Salzburg Festival, he sang Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio, the Emperor in R.Strauss’s Frau ohne Schatten and Bacchus in R.Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. King and Böhm later collaborated on recordings of many of these operas.
Bachus was again his début role at the Vienna State Opera in 1963, where he sang mainly Wagner and Strauss roles. From 1965 to 1975, he sang at the Bayreuth Festival, as Lohengrin, Siegmund and Parsifal.
Not until 1966 was his magnificent voice heard at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. His main roles there were Florestan and Lohengrin. He has also sang in the Paris Opera (Calaf, Marico,…), the Royal Opera House (Manrico, the Emperor,…) and the Teatro alla Scala, Milan as Siegmund, Florestan, the Emperor, Bacchus…
James King was awarded the title of Kammersänger for the cities of Berlin, Munich, and Vienna and stared four German film productions of opera, television and radio productions. His last recorded appearance was in the 25th anniversary of James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera, in 1996. He was a music and voice teacher in the Indiana University School of Music from 1984 to 2002.
At the age of 80, he died of natural causes on November 20th, 2005 in Naples, Florida.
James King’s biography “Nun sollt Ihr mich befragen” is published by Henschel Verlag, from Berlin.
James King had one of the most beautiful Heldentenor voices of the second half of this century is not enough. It would be an unforgivable fault not to mention his total dedication to the music he sings, his dramatic commitment, his passion for the work of both composer and librettist. Being born in the heart of the United States, he, more than any other singer, brought such intensity to the declamation of the German
language and such truth and beauty to the performance of the music of the great masters, that the nobility suggested in his name can be felt in each little inflexion and each gesture. Which other Florestan has these grateful and loving looks to his Leonore? Which other Lohengrin regrets so much the loss of his soulmate? Which other Parsifal is so convincing in his utterance of sharing Amfortas’s suffering?
During his career, he always showed seriousness, dedication, respect and invariably strove for the works he really believed in, being one of the advocates of works such as R.Strauss’s Frau ohne Schatten and collaborating with the greatest artists of his time, Karl Böhm, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Christa Ludwig, Gwyneth Jones, Gundula Janowitz, among others.