Slezak, Leo , famous Austrian tenor; b. Mährisch-Schönberg, Moravia, Aug. 18, 1873; d. Egem am Tegernsee, Bavaria, June 1, 1946. He studied with Adolf Robinson; as a youth, sang in the chorus of the Brünn Opera, making his operatic debut there as Lohengrin (March 17, 1896), one of his finest roles. He appeared with the Berlin Royal Opera (1898–99); in 1901 he became a member of the Vienna Opera, where he was active until 1926; also performed frequently in Prague, Milan, and Munich. He made his London debut with marked acclaim as Lohengrin, May 18, 1900, at Covent Garden; not satisfied with his vocal training, he went to Paris, where he studied with Jean de Reszke in 1907. He appeared in America for the first time as Otello with the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. (Nov. 17, 1909); remained with the company until 1913. He returned to the Vienna Opera as a guest artist, making his farewell appearance in Pagliacci on Sept. 26, 1933. Slezak also toured widely as a recitalist of impeccable taste; also made some appearances in films. He was a man of great general culture, and possessed an exceptionally sharp literary wit, which he displayed in his reminiscences, Meine sämtlichen Werke (1922) and Der Wortbruch (1927); both were later combined in a single vol. (1935; Eng. tr. as Songs of Motley: Being the Reminiscences of a Hungry Tenor, London, 1938); he also publ. Der Rückfall (1940). A final book of memoirs, Mein Lebensmärchen, was publ, posthumously (1948). His son, the film actor Walter Slezak, publ. Slezak’s letters, Mein lieber Bub. Briefe eines besorgten Vaters (Munich, 1966), and What Time’s the Next Swan? (N.Y., 1962), alluding to the possibly apocryphal story of the swan failing to arrive in time during one of his father’s performances as Lohengrin, thus prompting the non-Wagnerian query from the hapless hero.
L. Kleinenberger, L. S.(Munich, 1910).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire