It is evident from the critical literature, that there are only very few Heldentenors near Melchior's class or surpassing him in certain isolated aspects. The singers challenging Melchior I know are:
The first group includes singers which are older then Melchior. The second group was active roughly in the same time. The singers of last group had their greatest successes after Melchior.
Polish tenor Jean de Reszke, 1850-1925, was the king of tenors in the time
before Caruso: 1885-1902. The great Wagner rôles belonged to his
repertory, too. De Reske's career was similar to Melchior's. He also began
as a baritone and restudied to become a tenor. We must regret that we have
no verifiable records of him. Only some quite unauditable fragments on
Mapleson cylinders were recorded live on the stage of the Met during the
first years of the century. Here is one of these snippets from O
Paradis from Meyerbeer's Africaine (recorded 1901). Here is
yet another noise-reduced version. I dare not
to decide, which one sounds better!
Dutch tenor Jacques Urlus, 1867-1935, made his debut at Amsterdam in 1894.
From 1900 he was the first tenor of the Leipzig opera house. At Bayreuth
he sang great Wagner rôles from 1910 until 1914. In 1912 he was called
to the Met and made a great international career as a heroic tenor. He
was considered to be one of the best Wagner singers of his time. Yet with
65 years he sang Tristan. Urlus made many acoustic recordings, which prove
his great vocal art. Hear Urlus with Ein Schwert verhieß
from Wagner's Walküre, acoustically recorded 1924.
The Bavarian tenor Heinrich Knote, 1870-1953, made his debut as a tenor buffo in 1892 at Munich. He soon developed to be a Wagner Heldentenor. From 1904 to 1908 he was a member of the Metropolitan opera. Here he was a great rival of Caruso. Later re returned to Europe. The rest of his career took place at Munich, were he sang until 1931. Knote was considered to be one of the very best German Heldentenors, especially in rôles like Tannhäuser or Siegfried. Knote recorded Wagner arias acoustically in the first decade and electrically in 1929. These recordings seem to be quite unknown, but are very convincing. Hear Am stillen Herd from Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, recorded 1929.
Walter Widdop (1892-1949) was one of the best british tenors in the years between the wars. After short studies with Dinh Gilly his debut took place as Radames in 1923 at the British National Opera. 1928 he came to Covent Garden. Now he became the best english Wagner tenor of his time. Widdop made guest appearances for example in Lissabon and gave concerts in North America. He was also a very successful oratorio singer, namely in roles of G.F. Handel. Widdop's fine, steady voice always showed a lyrical style, also in his Wagner's roles. He made many recordings for HMV. Hear him with Siegmund's love song Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond from Wagner's Walküre, recorded 1928 in London.
The German tenor Rudolf Laubenthal was born 1886 in Düsseldorf and died 1973. He has his debut 1913 at Berlin. From 1919 to 1923 he sang in Munich.In 1922 he was successful as guest in Covent Garden. From 1923 he was engaged to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he stayed until the end of his career in 1933. He was very successfull singing the great heroic roles in Wagner's operas, notably Siegfried, Tristan and Walther. For HMV Laubenthal made made many 78rpm records with excerpts form Wagner operas. While this period he also made guest appearances at Berlin, Vienna, London, Chicago and San Francisco. Here is an excerpt: Ihr listigen Frauen from Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, recorded around 1927.
German tenor Franz Völker was born 1899 and died 1965. After short
studies he made his debut 1926 as Florestan at the opera of Frankfurt/Main,
where he stayed until 1931. Later on he sang at the Vienna State Opera
and at the Berlin State Opera. To his rôles belonged lyrical Wagner
parts as well as Mozart and italian opera. After World War II he sang at
Munich until 1952. Franz Völker's voice had a noble, well-focused
quality, highly musical control and an exemplary cultivated legato. His
greatest successes were at the Bayreuth festivals from 1933 until 1942,
where Völker sang Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund and Erik. Franz Völker
was considered to be the best lyrical Heldentenor in his best time. His
performance of Lohengrin was world-famous. His vocal art is preserved as
an opera singer and song recitalist, his recordings of light music can
hardly be counted. Especially his Wagner records are on the highest level
we can think of. Hear him with Lohengrin's grail narration In
fernem Land from Wagner's Lohengrin, recorded in 1927.
Admirers of the singer have organized in the
Franz-Völker-Kreis of his birth place Neu-Isenburg near
German tenor Max Lorenz, 1901-1973, made his debut at Dresden in 1926.
1931 he came to Berlin state opera. For several years he was a guest at
the Met. From 1941 he was a member of the Vienna state opera, where he
sang until his retirement in 1962. Lorenz successfully sang at Bayreuth
festival from 1931 until 1954. He was the most prominent German Heldentenor
for the heavy Wagner rôles from 1930 until the beginning of the fifties.
After early acoustic recordings Lorenz made many recordings including complete
Wagner operas like Meistersingers, Tristan and Götterdämmerung.
Hear Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab from
Rienzi, recorded by Max Lorenz in 1930.
Set Svanholm, 1904-1964, made his debut as a baritone in 1930 at Stockholm.
He sang for six years as a baritone, then changed to the tenor level, becoming
a Heldentenor. After successes at the Salzburg festival 1938 he was invited
to Bayreuth in 1942, where he sang Siegfried. After the war he became member
of the Met 1946, where he successively inherited the great rôles
of Lauritz Melchior. Set Svanholm was considered as one of the most important
Wagner singers of his time. He was active until the beginning of the sixties.
Svanholm made several 78rpm recordings, and recordings of integral operas
such as a Rheingold, Götterdämmerung and Siegfried. Hear him
with Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond from
Wagner's Walküre, recorded live in 1941.
German Ludwig Suthaus, 1906-1971, made his debut 1928 as tenor in Aachen.
From 1931 until 1941 he sang at the Stuttgart state opera. Later on he
was a member of the operas at Berlin and Vienna. He sang at Bayreuth festival
between 1943 and 1957. He appeared as guest at the most famous opera houses
in Europe. Suthaus was one of the best Wagner Heldentenors of his time
and a singer esteemed especially by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.
He belonged to the cast of Furtwänglers Tristan (1952) and his Ring
recording (1953), as well of his Walküre (1954). Hear him with Immer
ist Undank Loges Lohn from Rheingold by Richard Wagner, recorded
Ramon Vinay was born 1912 in Chile. After studies as a baritone he made his debut at Mexico City 1938. He sang for six years as bariton. After additional studies he became a Heldentenor in 1944. In 1945 he came to New York, 1947 to Europe, specializing mainly as Verdi's Otello. From 1946 he was member of the Met. In Europe he sang at the Salzburg Festival and at Bayreuth Festival from 1952 until 1957. Besides Otello Ramon Vinay was a famous Tristan, Tannhäuser, and Siegmund. He made several recordings of his great rôles, the most famous being Toscanini's Otello. After his tenor career he sang again baritone rôles, for example Telramund in Lohengrin (Bayreuth 1962!). We can hear him as Tannhäuser 1954 with Dir töne Lob.
Windgassen, 1914-1974, was the son of the Heldentenor Fritz Windgassen.
Having made his debut in 1939, he became the successor of his father at
the Stuttgart State Opera in 1945. Here he remained until his death. Windgassen
sang at all important opera houses throughout the world as a guest. He
was member of the Bayreuth festival from 1951 until 1970, were he sang
all great Wagner rôles from Eric to Parsifal. Windgassen is considered
by the critics as the most important Wagner tenor after World War II. He
made a large number of recordings which include all Wagner operas as complete
sets, often in multiple recordings. Hear him with Brünnhilde,
heilige Braut from Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung,
recorded live in 1957.
Born in Nürnberg the German tenor Hans Hopf (1916-1993) studied with Paul Bender. He made his debut 1936 and sang lyric roles at smaller Bavarian theaters. From 1942 he was engaged in Dresden and from 1946-1949 in Berlin. Since 1949 he was member of the Munich State Opera and also of the Vienna State Opera. From this time on he specialized on heroic tenor roles of Wagner, Weber and Strauss. Hopf was a member of the Bayreuth festival from 1951 until the late sixties. Here he sang e.g. Walter, Tannhäuser, and both Siegfrieds, from 1960 to 1964. Hopf appeared as guest in Salzburg, Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Mailand. He arrived at the Metropolitan Opera in 1952 and stayed there for many years. Hopf was estimated to be one the most important Wagner tenors of the fifties besides Wolfgang Windgassen. He made many integral recordings of operas. Hear him with a part of Tannhäusers narrative: Inbrunst im Herzen from Wagner's Tannhäuser, recorded 1960.
in 1926, the Canadian Jon Vickers made his opera debut at the Covent Garden
opera house in 1956. He first sang at Bayreuth 1958 and was a member of
the Met since 1960. Vickers was a quite universal Heldentenor singing the
Italian rôles as well as French and many of the German and Wagner
parts. He was most famous as Otello, Siegmund and Tristan. Jon Vickers
made a lot of recordings of complete operas under famous conductors. His
recordings are still well known and wide-spread today. So we don't need
an additional sound clip.