There were still personal encounters with Richard Strauss. Otmar Suitner gratefully recalled the Munich premiere of “Capriccio” in 1942 or how the composer insisted in the “Arabella” dress rehearsal in Salzburg that same year that the fourth horn was too loud.
Suitner’s teacher Clemens Krauss stood at the podium here and there, conducting with economical signs and teaching how small movements can have great effects. However, Suitner’s success did not fall into his lap.
After the end of the war, it looked as if he would embark on a career as a pianist, when at the Innsbruck State Theater, where he earned his first spurs, there were only jobs for him as a répétiteur and accompanist. But then Krauss proved to be a good advisor, warning of the excessive competition and recommending that his protégé orientate himself to Germany as a music director.
Just as Suitner established the reputation of the Staatskapelle Dresden as a record orchestra in the stereo age with complete opera recordings that ranked on international bestseller lists, his 100th birthday on May 16th would have offered a good occasion for a comprehensive edition of his discographic legacy. But apparently no label felt called upon to do so. The posthumous fame of the conductor, whose successor Daniel Barenboim can look back on an even longer, more successful era, may have already faded. In addition, a career in the GDR regime seemed ungrateful even during Suitner’s lifetime, as can be read in Dirk Stöve’s biography “My Wonderful Chapel”. In the East, the native Tyrolean had to grapple with tough contractual negotiations and cultural-political constraints, while the West discredited the conductor, who as an Austrian enjoyed all the freedoms, with false insinuations as a supposedly privileged person who made an alliance with a dictatorial regime.
Suitner successfully resisted political appropriation: he donated the money for the national prize, which the GDR awarded him twice, to the Catholic Church. At the Berlin State Opera he put through the first scenic performances of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal” and Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” as well as works by Alban Berg and Arnold Schönberg, which were considered “bourgeois decadent” in the GDR, and much acclaimed world premieres of Paul Dessau’s music dramas “Puntila”, “Einstein” and “Leonce and Lena”. Otmar Suitner’s last great attention was in 2007 with the very personal film “After the Music”. His son Igor Heitzmann gives very intimate insights into the artist’s family life with two women in divided Berlin.
With his wife Marita and in the State Opera, the conductor spent his everyday life in the east of the city until the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the weekends he visited his girlfriend Renate Heitzmann and her son. Late love began in Bayreuth, where she worked in the festival office and he made his debut in 1964 with “Tannhäuser”. In an interview given by father and son on the occasion of the theatrical premiere, there were other interesting details to be learned: That Suitner considered filmmaking to be an even more unprofitable art than music. He was almost disappointed that his son, who plays the piano so well, didn’t want to take up the profession of pianist, which he himself once put second to that of conductor. And the son left no doubt that, in his view, his talent would not have been sufficient for the profession of a professional musician.
The film is also the focus of a musically framed homage on May 23 (7 p.m. in the Apollosaal), with which the Berlin State Opera commemorates the former general music director on the occasion of his 100th birthday on May 16. Suitner’s departure from the Berlin Staatskapelle coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which he watched on television in Tokyo, albeit less for political reasons than as a result of his Parkinson’s disease. Suitner spoke highly of his successor Barenboim as a “great talent with a strong personality”. Otmar Suitner returned to the rostrum of the Berlin Staatskapelle one last time in 2007 for the film, with Johann Strauss’ “Libelle” so that his son could see him conduct. It should be the last time. He died in Berlin on January 8, 2010 at the age of 88.