Michael Heltau or „prima la musica"
Heltau and Music - this was not at all a surprising turn in a classical actor's career. The truth is - music was there from the beginning. It was the reason to choose Vienna for studying and later on for his professional career. As a young actor at the Theater in der Josefstadt, he took singing lessons from the well-known Elisabeth Radó. Heltau is a musical actor, you only have to listen to his interpretations of poems from Goethe to Rilke, and from Gottfried Benn to Bertolt Brecht. He knows about rhythm and melody, he knows about the importance of pauses, he knows a diminuendo or accelerando, a piano or a rubato. He has played roles in operettas (with Marika Rökk at the Vienna Raimundtheater) and in musical comedies, he has presented the "Couplets" in Nestroy comedies and the "Songs" of Brecht and Weill in their own style.
So the move towards entertainment and show business was logical. These small musical forms, the Chanson, the Viennese Lied, the Song - Heltau calls it "Welttheater within three minutes" - he takes very seriously and respectfully. "I don't want to sing something I couldn't speak. The music is so often mistreated as a vehicle for nonsense!" Of course: In this the chansonnier takes the profit of a lifelong occupation with literature and his ambition is to change from spoken to sung word without any threshold. Naturally, there have ever been singing actors and Heltau accords all of the great names in this imaginary gallery of ancestors with the greatest of respect. He belongs to this tradition and yet he has invented his own style. When he played Mozart in Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus" at the Burgtheater in 1981, the maestro Alexander Steinbrecher was responsible for all the musical arrangements. He once asked: "Would you like me to write something for you?" Heltau's answer: "Like?! But Professor, this would be the greatest honour for me!". "Very well, I've already a title: Orpheus from Vienna." One of the first solo recitals of Michael Heltau was entitled "Instead of singing"; there he recited texts from several centuries and several genres. As an epilogue, he took these lines from Shakespeare:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.