HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
Andreas Dippel, operatic tenor and impressario
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Andreas Dippel, a once famous tenor in German opera at New York’s Metropolitan Opera house, was distinguished for his progressive and far-reaching vision. Dippel was born in Kassel, Germany on November 30, 1866. His family was not musical and he was destined for a business career. At 16 he worked for a bank and remained there for five years. At the same time he was developing his voice with singing groups and under the coaching of Mme. Zottmayer of the Royal Court Theatre of Kassel.
In 1887 he left home and tried his hand at being an opera singer. In the fall of that year he made his debut in the Stadttheatre of Bremen as Lionel in Flotow’s opera Martha, beginning an engagement that lasted, with one important interruption, until 1892. He sang several smaller roles in Bayreuth in 1889, and become a member of the Vienna State Opera in 1893. He sang there until 1898 in 27 roles, including Marcello in the Vienna premiere of Leoncavallo’s La bohème. During that period he also sang in London’s Royal Opera House.
He made his first American appearance at the Metropolitan on November 26, 1890, in Alberto Franchetti’s Asrael. Except for a concert tour, he did not sing in the United States after that season until 1898, when he became a permanent member of the Metropolitan Company, then managed by Maurice Grau.
For twelve years Dippel was one of the important figures in opera in New York, first as a tenor of exceptional versatility, able to jump into a part at a half hour’s notice, possessing a repertoire of 150 roles; then, from 1908 to 1910, as administrative manager of the company in association with the newly arrived Giulio Gatti-Casazza as general manager. When Dr. Lee De Forest approached the management of the Metropolitan management for permission to attempt the radio broadcast of opera, Dippel enthusiastically consented, even allowing Caruso himself to sing into the microphone.
Early in this regime it was apparent that all was not harmonious in the executive offices. The outcome of whatever disagreements existed was a superficially happy one. Dippel resigned in April 1910, to assume the management of the Chicago Opera Company, which he guided for three years through the difficult period of its beginning and early development. Again rumors of internal discord arose and he left the organization after receiving a year’s salary, $25,000, and other rewards for his promise not to re-enter opera in Philadelphia or Chicago for three years. Thereafter he tried various operatic ventures, none winning more than a temporary success.
In 1914 he formed the Dippel Opera Comique Company which produced the Broadway premiere of Lilac Domino at the 44th Street Theatre on October 28, 1914. It ran for 109 performances and then toured the United States. Rather less successful was Dippel’s next Broadway production, The Love Mill, which opened at the 48th Street Theatre on February 17, 1918 and closed five weeks later after 52 performances. Dippel had his own opera school at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music in the 1920s.
In 1920 he was reported to be gaining a livelihood by selling life insurance in Chicago. In May, 1921, a large testimonial concert was given for Dippel at the Metropolitan, following a similar benefit in Chicago. Two years later, along with Hugo Riesenfeld, Dippel once again became an advisor to De Forest when he introduced on Broadway, the Phonofilm, or talking pictures. This scheme to give opera in motion picture houses in combination with “jazz” and a fashion show failed, as did his United States Grand Opera Company.
In 1924 he divorced his wife, the Countess Anita Dippel of Vienna, whom he married in 1890, on the ground of desertion. Once again with De Forest, in 1925 they recorded in the Century Theatre the notable Wagnerian score of the German film Siegfried, arranged by Riesenfeld – the first serious attempt anywhere to utilize the then new sound-on-film for so significant a departure. From then on, Dippel always insisted that the sound-picture would eventually become the medium for the masses of grand opera.
Dippel was brought to Hollywood in 1928 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and worked in the studio synchronization department. The following year he was injured by a street car and spent six months in the hospital. While there he was taken from the studio payroll and was left without finances, yet he toiled indefatigably on his own on the different problems of multi-lingual films.
During the last few months of his life, unknown to most of his friends from whom he had gradually withdrawn, he had become destitute. On May 15, 1932, Dippel’s body was found in his room at the Hollywood Hotel; the cause of death was heart disease. Because he was penniless, his funeral was placed under the direction of the Motion Picture Relief Fund and plans were made to bury him at Valhalla Cemetery where they normally placed indigent actors. However, several friends donated money to buy him a crypt at Hollywood Cemetery next to that of actress Renee Adoree.
Dippel’s funeral was conducted at Pierce Brothers Mortuary on Washington Boulevard and was attended by several score of intimate friends and associates, including Joseph Zoellner, Sr., Andres de Segurola and Mme. Sophie Traubman, who sang with Dippel in the Metropolitan; Charles Dalmores, formerly of the Chicago Grand Opera and Dr. Lee De Forest. His crypt marker was paid for by a friend and former student.