Why Do 4 European Countries Consider Modest Menzinsky to Be One of Their Famous Male Opera Singers?

One of the most famous male opera singers of the Wagner opera style of performance, at the beginning of the 20thC, was Modest Menzinsky (1875 – 1935). His opera tenor voice had the vocal range that was ideally suited for German opera. Menzinsky sang most of the famous operas written by his contemporaries – Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) and Franz Schreker (1878 – 1934).

As an opera singer, Modest Menzinsky performed across Europe, including the opera theatre in Lviv Ukraine. Among famous opera singers, Menzinsky was known as someone who was able to perform famous opera songs in a variety of languages.

Read to Discover Modest Menzinsky: A Great Among Famous Male Opera Singers

Listen to opera music online:

Modest Menzinsky sings Lohengrin’s aria, considered by some to be his best opera part, from the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). The audio clip is deposited in the S.Krushelnytska Museum Archives in, Lviv, Ukraine. (Please be aware that there is a 30 sec. orchestral introduction.)


Short Biography of One of the Famous Male Opera Singers

Famous Tenor M. Menzinsky
Famous Tenor M. Menzinsky

One of the famous male opera singers, Modest Menzinsky, was born on April 29, 1875 in the village of Novosilky, which at the time of his birth was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). Today, the village of Novosilky is on the territory of Ukraine.

Menzinsky was the only male of four children. Both his father, Omelan Menzinsky (1839 – 1905), and his grandfather, Atanasiy Menzinsky (1801 – 1865), were ordained priests within the Ukrainian Catholic Church. As a result, as a young man, Menzinsky followed family tradition and began his studies at the University of Lviv in the field of theology.

His music studies, Menzinsky began in secret. However, in 1899, with the consent of his parents, Modest Menzinsky began to study voice with Julius Stockhausen (1826 – 1906) in Frankfurt am Main.

  • April/September 18, 1901, operatic debut at the Frankfurt Opera in the role of Lionel in the opera Marta by Friedrich von Flotow (1812-1883)
  • 1904 – 1910, resident soloist at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, performing in the German, Italian and Swedish languages
  • 1908 – 1909 season, contract with the Lviv Opera House
  • 1910 – 1926, resident soloist at the Cologne (Köln) Opera
  • 1927, retired from the opera stage, continued as a singing teacher and professor of voice in Stockholm
  • April 29, 1934, appeared for the last time on his 59th birthday in Stockholm during a radio show.

During his tenure with the Cologne (Köln) Opera, Menzinsky was asked to recall how it was that he became a tenor singer on the way to becoming one of the famous male opera singers of his time:

“But it so happened, that even though my parents had chosen the path of theology for me, learning behind the thick walls of the Lviv monastery was not to my liking. My soul yearned for the arts and music and for me, this was the most difficult test. It was strictly forbidden for theology students to attend the theatre. Contrary to this, I found ways to circumvent the strict rules of the monastery and then my heart and ear filled with the music of “Lohengrin” and “Tannhäuser”. I also visited professor Valeriy Vysotsky of the Music Academy and had my first voice lessons with him. Of course, no one knew about this and these were “stolen lessons”, although very dear to me.”
from an article “How I Came to the Stage” by Modest Menzinsky, written for Kölner Tageblatt, 1910.

Modest Menzinsky married Clary Henrietta Dehn (1887-1975) in 1905 and had two sons: Iwan (Hans) Siegfried (1906-1987) and George (Georg) Modest (1907-1981).

On December 11, 1935 Modest Menzinsky passed away and was buried in Stockholm, Sweden.


Why Does Sweden Consider Modest Menzinsky to be One of Their Great Opera Singers?

From left to right: Yurko (Georg), Clari, Mother-in-law, me, Ivan (Hans)
From left to right: Yurko (Georg), Clari, Mother-in-law, me, Ivan (Hans)

Modest Menzinsky considered Sweden to be his second homeland. In his memoirs he wrote: “In Stockholm I married a Swedish girl and my wife gave me two sons. So, Stockholm became my second homeland.” Sweden was the land that first gave Modest Menzinsky the opportunity to become a famous male opera singer.

Modest Menzinsky:

  • became fluent in Swedish
  • substituted at the last minute for Arvid Ödmann (1850 – 1914) as Lohengrin,
  • spent 5 years as a soloist with the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm (1904-1908, 1909-1910)
  • sang major tenor roles in the Swedish language
  • received a Swedish Award of Merit from King Oswald II in 1906
  • was awarded the Royal Order of Vasa, a Swedish order of chivalry, by King Gustaf V in 1909
  • obtained Swedish citizenship in 1910
  • retired from the opera stage in 1927 and made Stockholm his permanent home
  • passed away in 1935 and as was his wish, is buried in Stockholm, Sweden.

Carl-Gunnar Ahlen (b.1938), a musicologist and contemporary music critic in Stockholm, Sweden has stated that “Modest Menzinsky was capable of singing in a variety of styles, which is quite unique for an opera singer”. In short, an amazing singer!


Why Does Germany Consider Modest Menzinsky to be One of Their Classical Opera Singers?

M. Menzynskyj as Wagner’s Tristan
M. Menzynskyj as Wagner’s Tristan

Modest Menzinsky (sometimes referred to as “Menzynskyj” in German) was considered one of the greatest Wagner tenors of his time.

Of the 13 operas that Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) completed, Modest Menzinsky counted 10 in his repertoire:

  • Lohengrin, opera Lohengrin
  • Tannhäuser, opera Tannhäuser
  • Erik, opera Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)
  • Siegmund, opera Die Walküre from Der Ring des Nibelungen “First Day”
  • Siegfried (young), opera Siegfried from Der Ring des Nibelungen “Second Day”
  • Siegfried (old), opera Gotterdämmerung from Der Ring des Nibelungen “Last Day”
  • Walter von Stolzing, opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  • Tristan, opera Tristan und Isolde
  • Parsifal, opera Parsifal
  • Cola Rienzi, opera Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen

Being able to perform such a wide variety of opera roles in the Wagnerian German opera repertoire is considered an incredible accomplishment. It is unequaled by many famous male opera singers.

From 1910 to 1926, Modest Menzinsky was employed as a soloist at the Cologne Opera, which at the time was known as the Opera der Stadt Köln.

In March 1909, Modest Menzinsky was engaged as guest artist to perform the tenor lead parts in Tannhäuser and Siegfried by R.Wagner and Pagliacci by R.Leoncavallo (which he sang in German). Following his success, Menzinsky was engaged as a soloist for the 1910 – 1915 opera seasons. In January 1914, his contract was extended for another 6 years and then, once again, until the end of the 1925 – 1926 Cologne Opera season.

On June 19, 1926, the Rheinische Müsik und Theater Zeitung published an article entitled “A Great Artist Leaves the Cologne Opera”.

With the end of this season a great artist is departing the Cologne Opera where he has performed for the past sixteen years with great artistic inspiration and a deep artistic comprehension… During a farewell evening of song, Modest Menzinsky once again showed that the City of Cologne is losing a great master… The dedicated audience, which is well-versed in the arts, applauded the departing artist whole-heartedly…
from Rheinische Müsik und Theater Zeitung, June 19, 1926


Why Does Austria Consider Modest Menzinsky to be One of Their Famous Opera Singers?

Modest Menzinsky in F. Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten
Modest Menzinsky in F. Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten

Modest Menzinsky was personally acquainted with the Austrian composer Franz Schreker (1878 – 1934).

Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized) premiered in Cologne on October 16, 1920, conducted by Hermann Hans Wetzeler (1870 – 1943) with Modest Menzinsky in the role of Alvigno Salvago. In a letter to his cousin, the ethnomusicologist Filaret Kolessa (1871 – 1947) dated January 16, 1921, Menzinsky states: “Two months ago, I had great success in a new incredibly difficult opera, “Die Gezeichneten”. You know, it was slated to be performed 5 times, and it is anyone’s guess what its fate will be.”

On September 27, 1921, the opera Der Schatzgräber (The Treasure Digger) premiered at the Cologne Opera, conducted by Otto Klemperer (1885 – 1973) with Modest Menzinsky performing.

And, on March 27, 1924, the world premiere of Franz Schreker’s opera Irrelohe was staged at the Cologne Opera with Otto Klemperer conducting and Modest Menzinsky performing.

In the early 1920s, the Vienna Court Opera tried to entice the famous opera singer Menzinsky to join them. However, because the Cologne Opera had, at the time, extended his contract one more time, Menzinsky did not accept the offer.


Why Does Ukraine Consider Modest Menzinsky to be One of Their Classical Opera Singers?

Concert Dedicated to Famous Opera Singer Modest Menzinsky
Concert Dedicated to Famous Opera Singer Modest Menzinsky

Modest Menzinsky was born on the territory of present-day Ukraine into a family of religious and cultural leaders. He grew up speaking, writing, reading and singing in Ukrainian. Like many of his compatriots, Menzinsky also became fluent in Polish and German, eventually adding Swedish to his linguistic repertoire.

Modest Menzinsky was the first singer to introduce the music of Mykola Lysenko (1842 – 1912), considered to be the father of Ukrainian classical music, to Western Europe. Menzinsky maintained a professional relationship with Lysenko and corresponded with him on a regular basis.

As a famous male opera singer, Modest Menzinsky sang concert tours in the Galicia (Halychyna) region of Ukraine in 1912, 1924, 1925, when he was a resident soloist with the Cologne ( Köln ) Opera. In 1928, after his retirement from the opera stage, he gave a final concert tour in Western Ukraine.

Today, after many years of a Soviet totalitarian regime, the people of Ukraine are rediscovering their cultural roots. This includes researching classical traditions that were denied for a long time and honouring famous opera singers of the past.

Among the old male singers, Modest Menzinsky was remembered in a concert to commemorate the 120th anniversary of his birth at the Lviv Opera House in Lviv, Ukraine. Family from Australia, Canada, Sweden and Ukraine gathered on May 5, 1995 to honour one of their own. The evening concert for the famous male opera singer Modest Menzinsky was under the musical direction of Maestro Myron Yusypovych.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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