Theo Adam, a German opera singer whose varied career spanned the second half of the last century and who made a particularly strong impression internationally with his Wagnerian roles, died on Thursday in Dresden, Germany. He was 92.
The Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, where Mr. Adam sang many times, posted the news of his death. Dominique Meyer, the opera’s director, called him “undoubtedly one of the most important interpreters of the 20th century.”
Mr. Adam, a bass-baritone, was a regular at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany beginning in the early 1950s, and in February 1969 he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in one of his signature roles, Hans Sachs in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.”
At a time when, for many operagoers, the singing was the only thing that mattered, Mr. Adam brought an actor’s sensibility as well as a fine voice to the stage.
“Mr. Adam has developed the vocal and histrionic aspects of his art with equal care and success,” Allen Hughes wrote in The New York Times in reviewing Mr. Adam’s Met debut. “His voice is relatively light in weight and texture, and he sang here with a smoothness and flexibility that basses do not invariably possess.”
“Mr. Adam is not a tall man, he has not let himself get fat, and he moves lithely,” Mr. Hughes added. “Indeed his movements, so splendidly scaled and timed, made his acting a joy to follow.”
By the time he retired in 2006 he had appeared in operas and recitals all over the world. For his final performance, that November at the Semperoper in Dresden, he reprised the role of the hermit in Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz,” which he had first performed at the same house in 1949.
Theo Adam was born on Aug. 1, 1926, in Dresden. He sang in the Dresden Kreuzchor, a renowned boys choir, and was drafted into the German Army late in World War II. After the war, he studied singing before making his Semperoper debut in 1949.
Mr. Adam joined the rosters of both Bayreuth and the Berlin State Opera in 1952. He first performed the role of Wotan in the Wagner “Ring” operas in 1963, and in 1967 he took his Wotan to the Royal Opera House in London.
Metropolitan Opera audiences got to see him as Wotan in “Die Walküre” in 1969, just after his Met debut as Hans Sachs. He was back at the Met in 1972 in the same role, and, as was often the case, even critics who weren’t taken with a particular performance found something to like.
“He sang the role in a dry manner, and had to gasp out some of the low notes,” Harold C. Schonberg of The Times wrote of that 1972 appearance. “It was a performance that was, however, redeemed by intense musicality, dignity and a stately stage presence.”
Mr. Adam wrote several books about his life in music.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Adam was also known for numerous other roles, including the title character in Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck.” Philip Borg-Wheeler, reviewing a 1973 recording of that opera for Music Web International, said of Mr. Adam’s performance that “we have here arguably the most magnificent Wozzeck on record.”
That is one of many recordings on which Mr. Adam is heard, including not only operas but also Masses, oratorios and other types of music. In 1997, the Washington Post music critic Joseph McLellan reviewed a two-CD compilation of songs, by various composers, that Mr. Adam had recorded.
“This is a fine selection of the best lieder appropriate for a bass voice,” he wrote, “sung by the great Theo Adam with impressive style and deep emotional commitment.”