Martti Talvela

4.02.1935 - 22.07.1989


Martti Talvela (February 4, 1935 – July 22, 1989) was a Finnish operatic bass.

Born in Hiitola, Finland (now in the Republic of Karelia), he studied in Lahti and Stockholm, and made his operatic debut in Helsinki in 1960 as Sparafucile. At 6 ft 8 in (203 cm), he was the tallest singer of his century. He trained as a boxer in his youth and developed the stamina necessary for the biggest roles. He was especially acclaimed as the title character in Boris Godunov and as Pimen from the same work, as Paavo Ruotsalainen in The Last Temptations, as a Wagner singer (King Marke, Hunding, Fasolt, Fafner, Hagen (one critic described his Hagen as an "elemental force") and Titurel), as Sarastro, Dosefei, and Prince Gremin, as King Phillip II, the Grand Inquisitor and, in the later part of his career, the title character in Glinka's Ivan Sushanin. As his final record he left, terribly thinned out by illness, a warm and heartfelt version of Schubert's Winterreise. He also left at least two recorded performances of Mussorsky's Songs and Dances of Death– one with full orchestra and one with piano accompaniment.

He had one of the most remarkable bass voices in opera history: the combination of depth, dark timbre, and sheer size made him stand out in every part he sang, and his bass seemed to extend effortlessly without the "break" that most basses have to resort to hit their low notes, and without losing richness on high notes. He was a fine vocal actor who always brought a certain air of lugubrious dignity to his roles, even to pure-evil roles like Hagen, Hunding, Sparafucile, Osmin, and the Grand Inquisitor.

He can be seen performing as Boris Godunov, as Sarastro, and as Don Fernando.

Talvela died while dancing with his daughter at her wedding in Juva, Finland, at the age of 54. 

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