Photographs: Barbara Aumüller
"When countertenors commit themselves with such pleasure to contemporary opera, there's all those have something to do with their performance qualities. This is the case with Martin Wölfel (...): he not only shone in high heels in Cavalli’s "Giasone" in Frankfurt (...), but also embodied the role of Claire in the operatic version of Jean Genet’s "The Maids". (...) He was a stunning understudy on stage in Gavin Bryar’s Gutenberg-opera "G". He made impressive appearances in two literary operas by Detlef Glanert: (...) "First and foremost I loved playing the role of the devil in "Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung", not only because it's wonderful to be able to play the devil, but also because it is the leading role in the piece."
Martin Wölfel was born and educated in Potsdam, and studied singing at the Carl Maria von Weber College of Music in Dresden. At first he concentrated on becoming a tenor before he found his true calling as a countertenor after visiting a recital given by Axel Köhler. After changing course he studied with Margret Trappe-Wiel until 1999, finally as a master student. He furthered his studies by taking master classes with such distinguished musicians as Paul Esswood, Axel Köhler, Jessica Cash and Brigitte Fassbaender. At the same time he undertook a lively series of concert activities.
The young singer has been engaged by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Stuttgart Chamber Choir, the Virtuosi Saxoniae, the Berlin Lautten Compagney, the Dresden Chamber Choir, the Rheinische Philharmonie, the Gürzenich Orchestra, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Stockholm Drottningholms Baroque Ensemble, the Britten-Pears Orchestra and the "Rheinische Kantorei". In addition he has worked with other renowned orchestras and ensembles including the Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra, the Dresden Baroque Orchestra, the Berlin Oriol Ensemble, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, the Dresden "Kreuzchor", la Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy from Tourcoing, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Vienna "Klangforum", the chamber choir "les éléments", and the Jacques Moderne and Café Zimmermann ensembles.
Martin Wölfel is a popular guest singer at international festivals such as the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, the Settimana Musicale Senese, the MDR Music Summer and the "Festival van Vlaanderen Brugge". The list of prominent festivals can be continued with the Mosel “Festwochen”, the Stuttgart European Festival of Music, the Utrecht Festival of Early Music, the Dresden Music Festival and the "Septembre Musical - Festival de Musique Montreux-Vevey".
Now that serious baroque opera productions have become inconceivable without countertenors, and countertenors are also gaining importance in contemporary opera repertoires, Martin Wölfel has not only conquered the concert world but also the stage. In the 2001/2002 season he took on the role of Arsace in Händel’s "Berenice" at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe (Händel Festival) and of Claire in the German premiere of John Lunn’s " The Maids" at the Dresden Semper Opera. In 2002 he made his debut at the National Theater Mannheim as Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream“.
In summer 2003 Wölfel was engaged to sing the role of Pisandro in "Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria" on the stage of the German Opera on the Rhine in Düsseldorf and Duisburg, as part of the Monteverdi cycle. In autumn that year he was a guest at the Steirische Herbst Festival in Graz in Bernhard Lang’s "The Theatre of Repetitions" – a production with which he made a guest appearance at the Opéra National de Paris in 2006.
In 2004 he took on the challenging role of Ottone in Monteverdi’s "L’Incoronazione die Poppea" at the Opera of the Rhine; and the "Volkstheater Rostock" engaged him to play the male title role in the opera " Orpheus and Euridice" by Gluck. In addition he appeared in the German premiere of Philip Glass's opera "Galileo Galilei" at the Staatstheater Braunschweig (2004). In 2006 he sang the role of Helicon in the world premiere production of Detlef Glanert’s “Caligula”, a co-production by the opera houses in Frankfurt and Cologne. In 2007 he appeared as the midwife Delfa in Francesco Cavalli’s baroque carnival opera “Giasone” at the Frankfurt Opera House.
Wölfel has worked with such well-known conductors as Frieder Bernius, Helmut Müller-Brühl, Helmut Winschermann, Jörg-Peter Weigle, Andreas Spering, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Jane Glover, Ludwig Güttler, Ludger Rémy, Nicholas Kok, Sir Neville Marriner, Markus Stenz, Christopher Moulds, Joël Suhubiette, Johannes Kalitzke, Andrea Marcon, Sebastian Weigle and Michael Hofstetter. Amongst the directors who have had the pleasure of working with him as a singer and performer are David Mouchtar-Samourai, Christof Loy, Georges Delnon, Alexander Paeffgen, Anouk Nicklisch, Ullrich Peters, Vera Nemirowa, Andreas Baesler, Thilo Reinhardt, Arila Siegert and Christian Pade.
Accompanied by the lute player Wolfgang Katschner, Martin Wölfel presented a recital at the "Hohenloher Kultursommer", in the "Händelhaus" in Halle and the Festival of Music in Trier. He has also appeared as a soloist with the "Caputher Musiken" at Schloss Caputh, near Potsdam. He has taken part in countless radio and CD recordings. The MDR Kultur channel broadcast a portrait of him in its series "MDR Profile" – and nowadays his name is always mentioned when specialists are talking about the small group of prominent altos and countertenors. Since 2007 Martin Wölfel has also been a teacher at the Folkwang University in Essen and the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf. In addition he has set up his own “Kronenburg classes” (www.kronenburg-classes.de) a series of master classes for singers and singing students.
Wölfel earned huge praise from the critics for his projects in 2008. These included Tolomeo at the Handel festival in Karlsruhe in a production by Peer Boysen, conducted by Michael Hofstetter; and the role of Edgar in Aribert Reimann’s “Lear” at the Frankfurt Opera House, director Keith Warner, conductor Sebastian Weigle. In 2009 he repeated the role of Edgar in Reimann’s “Lear” at the Komische Oper Berlin, this time under the direction of Hans Neuenfels, conductor Carl St. Clair. In 2009 and 2010 he sang the role of Fjodor (“Boris Godunov”) on several occasions at the Semperoper Dresden (director Christian Pade, conductor Sebastian Weigle).
In the 2010/11 season Wölfel has been engaged for the role of the Sorceress (Henry Purcell, “Dido und Aeneas”) in Barrie Kosky’s production at the Frankfurt Opera, as well the dual role of Prince Orlofsky and Frosch in Christof Loy’s new production of “Die Fledermaus“ by Johann Strauss, also in Frankfurt.