Victor (Conrad) Braun. Baritone, b Windsor, Ont, 4 Aug 1935, d Ulm, Germany, 6 Jan 2001. Victor Braun set aside geology studies at the University of Western Ontario to study voice 1954-7 with Lillian Wilson in London, Ont, and also 1956-8 at the Royal Conservatory of Music with George Lambert and Weldon Kilburn. After a year in the Canadian Opera Company chorus he made his solo debut in 1957 as Sciarrone in Tosca. For the next five years he sang secondary roles, but was admired particularly as Escamillo in Carmen (1961 and again in 1964) and as Monterone in Rigoletto (1962). These roles marked a new phase in his development. In May 1963 he was the Grand Prize winner at the Vienna International Mozart Competition. This brought him to the attention of Wieland Wagner, who invited him to audition for Bayreuth. Wagner felt Braun's voice was too young for Wagnerian roles, but recommended his engagement as leading baritone with the Frankfurt Opera. Braun debuted there as Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro and appeared in a variety of roles, including Ottone in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione de Poppea.
Despite a heavy schedule of performances in Germany, Braun returned to Canada several times in the 1960s, most often to sing with the Canadian Opera Company (Amonasro in Aida, 1963; Germont père in La Traviata, 1964; the Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, 1967), but he also was the baritone soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the Canadian premiere (1964) of Britten's War Requiem, and appeared in special Montreal Symphony Orchestra productions as Escamillo in Carmen (1964, with Shirley Verrett) and as Amonasro in Aida (1965, with Jon Vickers and Virginia Zeani). He sang Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in 1968 with the Toronto Symphony for CBC TV, and he gave a CBC Radio 'Celebrity Recital' in 1969.
Victor Braun was a regular guest with several European companies - Cologne 1965-6, Düsseldorf 1966-8, La Scala 1967 (as Wolfram in Tannhäuser), Stuttgart 1967-9. In 1967 he toured with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta as a soloist in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, and shared with soprano Gundula Janowitz the solos in Mahler's Das Knaben Wunderhorn at the Vienna Festival. Braun's Almaviva (1968) in The Marriage of Figaro at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich initiated a long tenure as leading baritone with that company.
At the same time, his career became increasingly international in scope. Based in Europe for most of his career, Braun divided his time among the opera houses and concert platforms of Europe, the US, and Canada. He made debuts with the San Francisco Opera in 1968 (as the Count di Luna and as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor) and at Covent Garden in 1969 (singing the title roles in Eugene Onegin under Solti and Humphrey Searle's Hamlet, in its English premiere). His repertoire had expanded to include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Rigoletto, the roles of Scarpia in Tosca, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, and Ford in Falstaff, and the main baritone roles in Wagner and Strauss.
He made his Paris Opera debut in 1974 in Il Trovatore. At the Cologne Opera he had an outstanding success as Mandryka in Arabella in 1976. After recovering from a heart attack that year, he resumed his career as a stronger, more technically secure, mature singer. Another success followed with the role of Jokanaan in Salome in 1977. That same year at Cologne he sang the General in Henze's We Come to the River. In 1979 at Lyons he created the title role in Jean Prodromides's Ulysses. In 1986 he opened the Apollo Auditorium in Nice as Hans Sachs and in 1988 opened the new opera house in Essen in the same role. In the USA he appeared with the Portland Opera (title role in the US premiere, 1975, of Krenek's Life of Orestes; and Ford in Falstaff, 1977), the Boston Opera (Russlan in Russlan and Ludmilla, 1977), the Metropolitan Opera (title role in Eugene Onegin, 1984, followed later by Wozzeck, Cosi fan tutte, and Billy Budd), the San Francisco Opera (La Roche in Richard Strauss' Capriccio, 1990), the Santa Fe Opera (the General in We Come to the River, 1983, Holofernes in the American premiere of Siegfried Matthus's Judith, 1990, and other roles). Braun did very little recital work although he appeared in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and undertook a national recital tour to benefit the Fraser Educational Foundation.
More Canadian Appearances
In Canada Braun continued to appear with the Canadian Opera Company (Eugene Onegin, 1972; Jokanaan, 1975; Rodrigo in Don Carlos, 1977; Dr. Schön in Lulu, 1980 and 1991), and sang with the Manitoba Opera (Germont père, 1973), the Opéra de Montréal (Pizzaro in Fidelio, 1983 and 1988), Festival Ottawa (Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, 1980), and the Edmonton Opera (Marcello in La Bohème, 1976; Jokanaan, 1977, title role in The Flying Dutchman, 1990). In 1978, with the Toronto Symphony under Mario Bernardi, he premiered Rudi van Dijk's The Shadowmaker, commissioned by Braun with a grant from the Canada Council. Braun also sang in Canadian Opera Company productions as varied as Aida, La Traviata, Salome, and Oedipus Rex. He also starred in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle in Toronto 1995. Braun's last appearance in Canada, also with the COC, was in Toronto, September 1997. The same year, Braun shared the stage at the Salzburg Festival with his son Russell, another baritone, in Pelléas et Mélisande. In the later years of his career, the elder Braun added roles such as Falstaff, King Lear, and Oreste to his repertoire. Opera Canada acknowledged Braun's versatility by saying,"Braun was equally at home in the classic, Romantic and 20th century repertoires, and was a champion of the works of contemporary composers, having appeared in numerous performances of works by Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio and Krzystof Penderecki."
A neurodegenerative disorder compelled Braun to announce his retirement in 2000, after appearing as Apollo in Offenbach's La Belle Hélène at the Salzburg Festival. Harvey Chusid described Braun's voice as 'a flexible lyric baritone, at once mellow and carrying. He has been praised equally for his musicianship, his sensitivity as an actor, and his competence in mastering roles in contemporary works as well as those of greater difficulty and less currency in the established repertoire' (Opera Canada, Spring 1991).
Braun's first wife was Eraine Schwing-Braun, of the Royal Conservatory of Music. A brother, Richard Braun, was also a baritone.