Kurt Baum, one of the world's leading dramatic tenors of the recent past who came to opera from the sports world nearly 50 years ago, has died in a New York City hospital.
The Associated Press reported Friday that he had died Wednesday near the comfortable apartment on Central Park South where he had lived in relative seclusion since retiring in 1966.
Famed nearly as much for his feuds with the late soprano Zinka Milanov and his paternal encouragement of a young Rise Stevens as for his voice, Baum was reported to be 81 when he died but in a 1987 interview with The Times he said he would have been 90 this year.
He also said he had been born in Cologne to a well-off Jewish family and was a member of Max Schmeling's Sports Club there. But other sources say he was born in Prague and moved to Cologne.
Whatever the locale, he was a boxer, (amateur heavyweight champion of Czechoslovakia), swimmer and high diver who left Germany for Prague shortly after the advent of Nazism.
Originally Baum had planned to be a doctor but left medical school for music after friends encouraged him to do so. His powerful voice was almost baritonal at bottom but climbed to a powerful top range consistently secure at High C.
He was particularly known for the High Cs he sang as Manrico in "Il Trovatore."
It was as Manrico that he became famous at the Zurich State Opera after making his debut there in 1933.
He made his debut there as Radames in "Aida," a favored role over the years and it was as Radames in the Triumphal Scene from "Aida" that he retired on April 16, 1966.
His roles included the Italian Singer in "Der Rosenkavalier," Don Alvaro in "La Forza del Destino" and Don Jose in "Carmen" opposite Rise Stevens, with whom he performed many times.
But Milanov, who was known for her stormy relationships with fellow singers, was a different story. The Baum-Milanov feud was the talk of the opera world through the 1940s. She once accused him publicly of appropriating a dressing room supposedly promised to her. In retaliation her fans booed his curtain calls when the two of them sang together.
He also remembered well the moment in "Trovatore" when he was preparing to sing the difficult "Ah, si ben mio" and she whispered in his ear: "You'll never make it, Baum."