NATZKA [born NATZKE], Franz Oscar
A new biography of Natzke, Franz Oscar appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Natzka, a blacksmith who became one of the world's most renowned operatic bassos, was born at Wharepuhunga on 15 June 1912, the son of August Natzke, of Brizen, Germany, who had emigrated to New Zealand and taken up land in the Otorohanga county. From early boyhood he worked on his father's farm. His education was disrupted, but his mother, formerly Emma Carter, of Christchurch, a singer of some consequence, coached and encouraged her son to use a voice in which she recognised unusual qualities. When Natzke lost his farm in the recession of the 1920s, the family moved to Waiheke Island where Oscar continued his primary education and sang as a boy soprano at concerts. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Freemans Bay, Auckland, where he worked for three and a half years at 10s. a week; later, for a little more, for a phosphate company. When his voice broke, Oscar Natzka became a basso profundo of such astonishing sonority and power that Auckland musicians began to predict a brilliant future, and before long he was well-known on the concert platform. Mrs Natzke, naturally ambitious for her son, sought the advice of distinguished visitors, one of them Homer Samuels, husband of Galli-Curci, who recognised that here were the voice, physique, and appearance for grand opera, qualities as yet unpolished. He advised an immediate course of study in Europe, but lack of funds temporarily closed that door. John Brownlee, the Australian baritone, gave him free lessons during a visit to Auckland, and also urged him to go abroad.
It was Anderson Tyrer, the first conductor of the New Zealand National Orchestra, who unlocked the door for Oscar Natzka during a visit to Auckland as an examiner in 1934. He was so enraptured by the “finest voice ever heard” that he cabled Trinity College, London, asking for the grant of a scholarship. This gave Natzka free tuition in everything, including languages. In March 1935 he reached London to study under Albert Garcia. Three years later a meeting with Vladimir Rosing, producer for the Royal Covent Garden Opera, gave Natzka a contract to sing in a new opera The Serf, and, also at Covent Garden, in Faust, Rigoletto, and Die Meistersinger. His début was praised lavishly by critics of long experience. When he appeared later as Sarastos in The Magic Flute, his interpretation was greeted as the finest for 150 years. From then on he was an acknowledged star in the operatic world. Oscar Natzka toured New Zealand in 1940, 1946, and 1949. In 1948 he made his début with the New York City Opera Company at the Metropolitan, returning there to fulfil contracts after his last New Zealand tour. On 26 October 1951, while singing the role of Pogner in Die Meistersinger, he collapsed on stage with a cerebral haemorrhage and died a fortnight later, on 4 November. At the time of his death he was recognised as one of the world's great bass singers. The strength, beauty, and range of his voice were wedded to height (he was more than six feet tall), handsome features, and splendid physique. Years of success gave him an assurance which never degenerated into arrogance. He married Winifred Clements, of Auckland.
by Oliver Arthur Gillespie, M.B.E., M.M. (1895–1960), Author.
- New Zealand Radio Record, 24 Jun 1938
- theGramophone, May 1940.