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Singer Thomas Quasthoff talks retirement and his 'cripple bonus'

April 10, 2012 | 11:43 am

With Peter Dinklage proving there's no height requirement for leading men with his Emmy-winning turn as Tyrion in HBO's "Game of Thrones," German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff recently walked away from a odds-defying career of his own when the thalidomide-damaged singer announced his retirement at 52.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Quasthoff spoke frankly about his reasons for retirement -- a mix of grief at the death of his brother and a recent battle with laryngitis -- and his response to what a colleague once called his "cripple bonus," a sort of preferential treatment afforded him as a result of his physical deformities.

"I think I kept my cool and simply replied: 'Well, you had the chance to beat me, but it wasn't quite enough,'" Quasthoff said, who stands at just over 4 feet, 3 inches. "Today, I can say in all honesty that there was certainly a bonus for being disabled.

"But you only get it once. After you've appeared 10 times at the Hercules Hall in Munich, and perhaps thirty times at the Philharmonic in Munich and 20 times at Carnegie Hall in New York, people no longer come to hear you because you're disabled, but because they like to hear you," he said.

Quasthoff plans to focus on his teaching position at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin as well as explore readings and audiobooks. In discussing the emotional impact of his performances, Quasthoff acknowledged there was something in his voice that was perhaps tied to his physical condition.

"You reach your audience at the moment when you really have something to say -- that is, when you're not just delivering a performance," he said. "There are differences between the singers I call 'voice owners,' and the people who stand up there and do something that audiences are willing to buy as a performance."

The full interview is on the Der Spiegel website.


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Photo: German baritone Thomas Quasthoff performing at UCLA's Royce Hall in 2000. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.