Ernst Haefliger was one of the better known and more versatile tenors of his day. He was impressive both on the operatic stage and as a recitalist, and in each of these realms his repertory was broad, from Baroque era (J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion) to the contemporary (Boris Blacher's Zwischenfälle bei einer Notlandung). Haefliger received high praise for his Schubert lieder, particularly for Winterreise and Die schöne Müllerin. His 1949 Salzburg Festival debut as Tiresias in Orff's Antigonae received critical acclaim. Haefliger was probably best known for his Mozart (Pamina, Ferrando, Don Ottavio, and others), and for his portrayals of the Evangelist in the Bach Passions. He was one of the first tenors to record Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in stereo (Bruno Walter, conducting; 1960). The tone of Haefliger's voice, while appealing, was generally regarded as not particularly outstanding; yet, because of his precision in articulation and deft sense for phrasing, he achieved a vocal style quite unforgettable, quite distinct from other tenors of his generation. Though most of his recordings are decades old, many remain available on Philips (the largest source), Decca, Sony, DG, Naxos, Orfeo, Berlin Classics, Preiser Records, Testament, and other labels.
Ernst Haefliger was born in Davos, Switzerland, on July 6, 1919. He studied at the Zurich Conservatory and at the Geneva Conservatory, where his most important teacher was Fernando Capri; he later took vocal lessons in Vienna from iconic tenor Julius Patzak. Haefliger debuted in 1942 in Geneva singing the Evangelist in the St. John Passion. The following year he joined the Zurich Opera, remaining there until 1952.
From 1952-1974 he was a member of the Deutsche Oper, but frequently appeared at other major operatic venues and in recitals and orchestral concerts. Many important debuts took place during this 22-year run, including at Glyndebourne (1956) singing Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, Chicago's Lyric Opera (1966), in the same role, and Moscow (1968) as the Evangelist.
Haefliger remained active well past his 1972 retirement from the Deutsche Oper. In fact, he was singing Schubert's Winterreise in recital as late as 1995 (London's Wigmore Hall), when he was 76! Even after he finally retired from singing, Haefliger made concert appearances in speaking roles, as in the 2002 performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms (in London), where he was narrator. Haefliger died in Davos on March 17, 2007.