On my last visit to London I managed to locate the grave of the famous tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) and thought I should write a short post about his collaboration with AW. Despite his self-confessed musical range of ‘two and a half notes’ Anton’s career involved a considerable amount of musical performances, from operetta films through to concerts, stage musicals and even an appearance at Glyndebourne. In 1932 he co-starred with Tauber in Melodie der Liebe – also known as Right to Happiness.

Tauber was born in Linz to theatrical parents, and began performing professionally in his early twenties. After the end of World War One his career really took off, with a contract to the Vienna State Opera, the first of over 700 recordings, and hugely successful excursions into the popular genre of operetta. His first film appearances were during the silent era, but with the advent of sound there was clear potential for adapting his operetta performances for the screen.

Many of these films were, to be frank, of no great merit, having little other purpose was to provide a vehicle for Tauber’s singing. Despite his popularity, Die grosse Attraktion (Max Reichmann, 1931) failed badly at the box office,
leading to the collapse of the Richard Tauber Sound-Film Company. As would happen again during his career, he recouped the financial losses with a lucrative concert tour of Britain and America. When he returned to Germany in 1932, it was clear that a different approach would be necessary if he was going to be attempt another film.

Thankfully the script for Melodie der Liebe (Georg Jacoby, 1932) was much stronger than previous screenplays and provided cinema audiences with a decent story to follow between the musical sequences. Tauber played Richard Hoffman, an eminent singer who has lost his wife and is travelling in the company of his brother in law Bernhard (Szoke Szakall) and young daughter Gloria (Petra Unkel), prior to his departure for a tour in America. After a chance meeting in a pub, he falls for a young woman named Lilli (Alice Treff), unaware of her real intention: she is already engaged to Erwin Richter (AW), an ambitious conductor who sees Hoffmann as a means of furthering his own career.  While this pair devise a plan to exploit Hoffman’s infatuation, and Lilli’s hard-up parents do their best to secure a match, the singer’s daughter has met charming young artist Escha (Lien Deyers), who sees right through Lilli’s pretence. Things come to a head as Hoffman prepares for his farewell performance of Tosca: will he find true love before he sails for New York in the morning?

Looking pensive: AW as Erwin Richter
One strength of the storyline is that it allowed Tauber to perform songs and arias that were integral to the plot, rather than being contrived interruptions of it. Audiences particularly enjoyed little Petra Unkel’s performance as Gloria, and Szakall’s antics as her hapless Uncle Bernhard. The film premiered in Berlin on 26 April 1932 and was well received, later being released in Britain and America as The Right to Happiness. 

AW in a characteristic pose. Only one more film and his elegance would be perfected with the appearance of his trademark moustache
Very few could claim their right to happiness in Nazi Germany, however, and several of the film’s cast were forced to leave soon after the film was released. Deyers and Szakall both went to Hollywood, the latter finding fame in Casablanca. Tauber’s grandfather was Jewish but he was raised as a Catholic after his father converted. Nazi papers began attacking him nonetheless, drawing attention to his ancestry as well as criticising the amount of money he was making. He left Germany for his native Austria in 1933, later moving to Britain where he achieved some success with more films as well as concert and opera performances. In 1936 he married English actress Diana Napier (1905-82) and remained in Britain throughout the war, dying in London of cancer on 8 January 1948.

Tauber’s grave in Brompton cemetery

Ten years later the BBC Home Service presented an hour long programme, ‘The Richard Tauber Story’ to mark the anniversary of his death. The radio programme was broadcast at 8 pm on Wednesday 8 January 1958, narrated by Evelyn Laye (AW’s co-star in the 1954 musical Wedding in Paris) with contributions from Walbrook, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Percy Kahn, Jane Baxter and Tauber’s widow Diana Napier.