Kieth Engen

Kieth Engen (5 April 1925 – 2 September 2004) was an American operatic bass who was a member of Munich's Bavarian State Opera for decades. Although his career was based in Munich, he appeared internationally as a guest singer at major opera houses and festivals and performed and recorded many of Bach's Passion oratorios and cantatas, primarily with the conductor Karl Richter. He was born Keith Sheldon Engen in Frazee, Minnesota, and died in Murnau am Staffelsee, Germany at the age of 79. He was given the title of Kammersänger in 1962 and was a recipient of the Bavarian Order of Merit. In the mid-1950s he also had a brief parallel career as a pop singer under the pseudonym Stan Oliver.

Kieth Engen
Keith Sheldon Engen

(1925-04-05)5 April 1925
Died2 September 2004(2004-09-02) (aged 79)
Other namesStan Oliver
OccupationOpera singer (bass)


Early life

Engen was born in Frazee, Minnesota. He came from a musical family and acquired his love for singing as a young boy. His grandfather had been a conductor and his mother was a singer and singing teacher. He graduated from Berkeley High School and then went to the University of California. He studied business administration there without much enthusiasm, but on the side studied singing with Amy McMurray who had trained in Germany under Lilli Lehmann. After leaving university, he studied German language and literature in Zürich on a two-year scholarship. When he returned to California he sang in local concerts and recitals and worked in a warehouse and as a chorus assistant to save enough money to train as an opera singer in Europe. Engen entered Vienna's Wiener Musikakademie in 1951 where he studied under Elisabeth Radó, Tino Pattiera, and the bass Pavel Ludikar, who also became his friend and role model.[1][2] His first name was originally "Keith", but after several years in Germany, he changed the spelling to "Kieth" to conform to German phonetics.[3]

Singing career

Engen made his operatic debut in 1952 at the Graz Opera as Monterone in Rigoletto and sang various roles with the company during that season, including Zaccaria in Nabucco. It was in Graz that he met his future wife, the actress Erika Berghöfer. They married in 1953. At the time, she was a member of the Burgtheater's company in Vienna. In order to remain near her, Engen spent the next two years in Vienna singing in the American musical revues produced by the United States Information Service and staged by Marcel Prawy under the slogan "So singt Amerika" (So sings America).[1][2][4]

His first appearance at the Bavarian State Opera came in 1954 as Bluebeard in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. In a March 2000 interview, Engen said that his height had got him the role. According to Engen, Hertha Töpper, who was singing Judith in the opera, was a tall woman, and the director insisted on an equally tall Bluebeard.[1] In 1955, he became a permanent member of company and went on to perform there until his retirement in 1996, appearing 2122 times in over 125 roles of the bass repertoire. His last appearance was as the Gemeindevorsteher in Reimann's opera Das Schloß. In recognition of his accomplishments he was given the title Kammersänger in 1962 and later the Bavarian Order of Merit.[5][6]

In the course of his career, Engen sang most of the leading bass roles. In addition to the title role in Bluebeard's Castle and Zaccaria in Nabucco, these included: the Mozart roles of Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, and the title role in Don Giovanni; Rocco and Don Fernando in Beethoven's Fidelio; Marke in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Hunding in his Die Walküre; Tommaso in D'Albert's Tiefland, La Roche in Richard Strauss's Capriccio and the Music Master in his Ariadne auf Naxos; the Sultan in Rossini's Il Turco in Italia; Enrico in Donizetti's Anna Bolena; Ramfis in Verdi's Aida; Mephisto in Gounod's Faust; and the Doctor in Alban Berg's Wozzeck.[2]

Although his career was primarily based in Munich, Engen also appeared as a guest singer in other German opera houses and internationally. He appeared at the Bayreuth Festival in 1958 as Heinrich in Wieland Wagner's production of Lohengrin and at the Salzburg Festival in 1962 as Achior in Mozart's Betulia liberata. He performed several times as a guest artist at the Vienna State Opera from 1955 to 1972 and made his US debut in 1961 as Raymond Bidebent in San Francisco Opera's production of Lucia di Lammermoor. During that season he also appeared there as Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Don Fernando in Fidelio, Fritz Kothner in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg , Varlaam in Boris Godunov, and Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Further international appearances included London's Royal Opera House (1956 and 1968), La Monnaie in Brussels (1963), the Paris Opera (1963 and 1989), and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1967). He also appeared at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Edinburgh Festival.[7][2][8]

Engen took part in several world premieres, singing Emperor Rudolf in Hindemith's Die Harmonie der Welt (1957), Alexandre Dumas in Norman Dello Joio's Blood Moon (1961), Oceanus in Carl Orff's Prometheus (1968), Senatspräsident in Volker David Kirchner's Belshazar (1986), and the Czar in Penderecki's Ubu Rex (1991).[2][9]

From 1956, Engen performed and recorded many of Bach's works with the Münchener Bach-Chor, conducted by Karl Richter;[6][10] He was the soloist in Richter's first recording of the Kreuzstab Cantata for bass solo in 1957,[11] among many cantatas, and he was the vox Christi (voice of Christ) in both the St. John Passion (1960 and 1964)[12] and the St. Matthew Passion (1958),[13] while singing the work's bass arias in a 1969 recording.[14]

In the mid-1950s Engen had a brief parallel career in Germany as a pop singer under the pseudonym "Stan Oliver". He made several recordings on the Polydor label which entered the German charts. These included "Ein Haus in Havanna" (A House in Havana) and '"Das Geisterschiff von Ohio" (The Ghost Ship from Ohio).[15] He also sang under that name in the light comedy films Das alte Försterhaus (1956)[16] and Der kühne Schwimmer (1957).[17]

Later years

In his retirement years, Engen taught singing and served on the juries of singing competitions.[4] He died at the age of 79 in Murnau am Staffelsee, where he and his wife had lived since 1972.[6] His obituary in Der Spiegel described him as inquisitive, secure in style and intelligent.[7][lower-alpha 1] Ronald Adler, former artistic director at the Bavarian State Opera and longtime friend of Engen, wrote that his personality was marked by unwavering benevolence, kindness, and serene wisdom with a focus that was always on the essential—love of music, life and people.[5][lower-alpha 2]


Engen's discography includes:


Oratorio and sacred music


  1. Original German quote: "neugierig, stilsicher und intelligent"
  2. Original German quote: "sein unerschütterliches Wohlmut, seine eigene Güte und seine gelassene Weisheit geprägt. In ihm wurde immer die Konzentration auf das Wesentliche, den Ausschluss des Trivialen, die Liebe zur Musik, zum Leben und zum Menschen erleben."


  1. Giessler, Ingeborg (30 March 2000). "Künstlergespräche: KS Kieth Engen". Interessenverein des Bayerischen Staatsopernpublikums. Retrieved 31 May 2019 (in German)
  2. Kutsch, K. J. and Riemens, Leo (2012). "Engen, Kieth". Großes Sängerlexikon, pp. 1336–1337. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783598440885 (in German)
  3. Gessler, Clifford (16 September 1961). "Opera Opens with Brilliant Flourish". Oakland Tribune, p. 9. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  4. Herpen, Heino (updated version, 3 May 2009). "Ein Leben voller Musik". Münchner Merkur. Retrieved 31 May 2019 (in German).
  5. Adler, Ronald H. (10 September 2004). "Kammersänger Kieth Engen im Alter von 79 Jahren gestorben", Bayerische Staatsoper. Retrieved 31 May 2019 (in German).
  6. s.n. (updated version, 14 April 2009). "Zum Tod von Opernsänger Kieth Engen". Münchner Merkur. Retrieved 31 May 2019 (in German).
  7. s.n. (13 September 2004). "Gestorben: Kieth Engen". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 31 May 2019 (in German).
  8. San Francisco Opera Performance Archives. "Kieth Engen". Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  9. Rich, Alan (20 September 1961). "Opera: 'Blood Moon' Sung". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  10. Martin, Johannes (ed.) (2013). Karl Richter in München (1951 - 1981), pp. 36–48. Conventus Musicus. ISBN 3000168648 (in German)
  11. Cantata BWV 56 / Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen / Discography - Part 2 Bach Cantatas Website
  12. Johannes-Passion BWV 245 / Discography - Part 3 Bach Cantatas Website
  13. Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 / Discography - Part 2 Bach Cantatas Website
  14. Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 / Discography - Part 3 Bach Cantatas Website
  15. Amtage, Jörg and Müller, Matthias (2003). Jörg Amtage und Matthias Müller präsentieren Alle Hits aus Deutschlands Charts 1954-2003, p. 445. Pro Business. ISBN 3937343202
  16. Harald Philipp (director) (1956). Das alte Försterhaus (film). Wega-Film.
  17. Karl Anton (director) (1957). Der kühne Schwimmer (film). Roxy Film.
  18. OCLC 15727891 DNB-IDN 353782017
  19. OCLC 32489723
  20. OCLC 1075709170 DNB-IDN 352079010
  21. OCLC 710023884
  22. OCLC 173199796
  23. OCLC 612820191 DNB-IDN 1163049786
  24. OCLC 1074814830
  25. OCLC 1040386395
  26. OCLC 982062675
  27. OCLC 5851061
  28. OCLC 918245241
  29. OCLC 54747727 DNB-IDN 1179983556
  30. OCLC 881503854 DNB-IDN 353226068
  31. OCLC 317622554
  32. OCLC 23452075 or OCLC 635112124

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