Do you know the story of the admirably accomplished Hofrat Dr. Alois Obrist? As a teenager in the 1880s, he studied at the conservatory in Weimar, where he fell under the spell of the Liszt circle, especially the composer Eduard Lassen. The serious Swiss excelled in many areas of music. He continued his composition lessons with Albert Becker in Berlin while completing a doctorate with a dissertation on Melchior Franck. Then he embarked on a career as a music director, working his way up through the smaller theaters at Rostock, Brünn, and Augsburg. Ultimately he succeeded Hermann Zumpe at the Stuttgart Hofoper. He resigned in 1905 in order to spend more time on other projects, whereupon his scholarly expertise was enlisted to catalogue a valuable collection of old instruments in Thüringen. He was also made custos of the Liszt museum in Weimar, and was an active participant in the Allgemeine Deutsche Musikverein. The Grand Duke of Weimar conferred the title of Hofrat in 1909.
But this brilliant career came to an end at age forty-three, when he killed himself and the love of his life, the opera singer Anna Sutter.1There is an entry for her in Karl-Josef Kutsch, Leo Riemens, and Hansjörg Rost, eds. Großes Sängerlexikon (4th ed.; München: K. G. Saur Verlag, 2003); In RILM Encyclopedias.See also Adrian Zeller, “Anna Sutter: Eine talentierte Wilerin, die tragisch endete,” http://www.hallowil.ch 30.6.2019
It is the old story: a rational man became too dry and desiccated to bend, so when he was exposed to spontaneous, natural vitality, he could only break. He had to kill the thing he loved.
Sensational details of tragic love affair!
This story is better known as the tragedy of Anna Sutter; as such it has been the subject various artistic tributes.2See Georg Günther, Carmen – Letzter Akt (Veröffentlichungen und Ausstellungskatalog des Württembergischen Staatsarchivs Ludwigsburg, 2001); Nino Claudio Sulzer, Annas Maske (Zürich, 2002). The two met when Obrist arrived as a conductor at Stuttgart; she had been engaged by the opera a couple years earlier. Sutter was also a Swiss, the daughter of an organist. However, her exuberant personality and unconventional lifestyle made it an attraction of opposites. Obrist was separated from his wife and had no children. In contrast, Sutter’s many affairs were public knowledge. Kapellmeister Richard L’ Arronge had to leave Stuttgart in 1896 because of his relationship with her. In 1900 she had a daughter and in 1902 a son, but married neither of her children’s fathers.
Sutter specialized in soubrette and operetta roles: in 1907 she was Hanna Glawari in Lehárs Lustige Witwe, and the last role she played, the night before she died, was Mamzelle Nitouche. But she also took on more tragic parts, and won acclaim as Salome in 1906 and again in 1908 with a production under the new director Max Schillings.3Die Musik 8, no. 5 (December 1908): 306. Sutter had first played Carmen under the musical direction of Dr. Obrist in 1899; it was a brilliant success.4She also played the part in guest appearances in Mainz (1904), Frankfurt (1904), and Magdeburg (1905). As far as the critic in the Neue Musik-Zeitung was concerned: “The psychological interpretation of the tragic case is simple and clear with Anna Sutter: she played in real life the role that she counted among her best, she had to play it up to the end: Carmen.“5O.K., “Eine Künstlerträgodie in Stuttgart,” Neue Musik-Zeitung 31 (1910): 419-20.
This obituary presents Sutter’s life as determined by fate, like Carmen’s. For example, on her portrayal of Salome: “She was a natural, full of unmediated, effervescent temperament; she lived the roles she played.6Emphases are mine. The intuitive rather than the intellectual is what made its mark on her acting. I have seen numerous Salomes, and she was the best; indeed, not for her voice (sometimes her voice let her down), but in the performance of Strauss’s music through her body.7The critic notes that Sutter was one of the first and the few to dance the Seven Veils herself. And this best Salome, who sang the part more than twenty times, told me after Akté’s guest performance: ‘Yesterday I saw Salome for the first time, what a terrible work!’ –Such incredible, unconscious naivete.” In other words, she had no conscious understanding. Her genius was in her intuition and in her body.
In contrast, the article continues, “the problem of Aloys Obrist is more difficult to interpret. He, the socially correct, rich, respected man, got divorced so that he could marry Anna Sutter. He wanted to adopt her children, he wanted, and this is the most important point, to ‘rehabilitate’ the beloved; he wanted to raise her up, ‘redeem’! An artist close to the case has called the case of Obrist a tragedy of idealism, which is not wrong.”
According to the Neue Musik-Zeitung, Sutter had been clear that there was no hope of any ties. But a kind of demonic power pulled him repeatedly into her proximity. He hoped to get a position in Stuttgart again, but when that seemed hopeless, he took a post as an opera critic in a Stuttgart newspaper. His reviews of her were anything but objective, they showed how enthusiastic he was up to the very end. He disputed every negative comment about her in the daily papers in strongly worded letters. Then some external circumstances hastened the catastrophe. The artist had him banned from the theater. In the morning he went to her apartment with two Browning revolvers. Her new lover was hiding in a closet as he shot her twice; then, with the other revolver he emptied five bullets into his own head.
An unknown admirer laid roses on her grave every day until the 1960s.8It is thought to have been the lover hiding in the closet. See the German Wikipedia article. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Sutter The Stuttgart artist Karl Donndorf made sketches for a fountain in her memory, which now stands outside the Stuttgart opera house.