Despite having been born in Germany, bass-baritone Paul Schöffler became a favorite in Austria, both at the Vienna Staatsoper and at the Salzburg Festival. Aside from Friedrich Schorr, he was undoubtedly the finest, most complex interpreter of Hans Sachs in the recorded era. Although his voice could sound slightly dry and lacked the imperious sound for Wotan (which he did sing on occasion), it served him well through an unusually long career. His Sachs at the Metropolitan Opera in November 1964 was superbly sung, remarkable in its stamina, even though Schöffler was 67 at the time. A live recording of Strauss' Daphne made in Vienna that same year confirms the impression. The work of an aristocratic artist, Schöffler's interpretations of such roles as Scarpia, Don Giovanni, and Iago were always distinguished, even when not stylistically definitive. The years since his retirement from leading roles have not produced a remotely comparable artist.
Schöffler studied with Waldemar Stägemann in his native Dresden before traveling to Italy to work with baritone Mario Sammarco. His 1926 stage debut took place in Dresden in the role of the Herald in Lohengrin, beginning an association with that theater that continued until 1939. In 1939, Schöffler was engaged by the Vienna Staatsoper and remained there until 1970 when he was 73 years old. During his long career, he also sang in London, at Bayreuth, at the Salzburg Festival (1938 - 1965), in several Italian theaters and in America at the Metropolitan Opera, in San Francisco, and in Chicago.
Schöffler's London debut came as Donner in a 1934 Rheingold, conducted by Beecham. He was well-received by both the public and the critics, later confirming the positive first impression with his "excellent" singing of the title role in Weinberger's Schwanda, the Bagpiper. In 1936, he sang Scarpia and, with the visiting Dresden Opera, Figaro in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (sung in German as Die Hochzeit) and the title role in one performance of Don Giovanni. In the Mozart operas, he was praised for both fine singing and histrionic aptitude. He undertook such other roles in London as Jochanaan, Kurwenal, the Rheingold Wotan (described as "lightweight"), and, following WWII, Don Giovanni ("Germanic"), Don Alfonso, and Pizarro with the visiting Vienna Staatsoper company. With the Royal Opera House company, he repeated his Kurwenal and Rheingold Wotan and added Gunther and his genial Sachs.
At Salzburg, Schöffler created the title role in Gottfried von Einem's Dantons Tod in 1947, and, five years later, he premiered Jupiter in Strauss' Die Liebe der Danae.
Schöffler's first American stage appearances came well after WWII, when the singer was already in his early fifties. His Met debut was on January 26, 1950, as Jochanaan, a role he sang to the spectacular Salome of Ljuba Welitsch a few weeks later. Schöffler's performance was praised as that of a superior artist, delineating the character with intelligence and involvement. The bass-baritone faced off against Welitsch in two other productions, setting his Don Giovanni at odds with her Donna Anna and, as a "brutish "Scarpia, menacing her fiery Tosca. Over nine seasons, Schöffler sang a total of 91 performances. His 14 roles included Pizarro, Amfortas, Kurwenal, Oreste, and the Grand Inquisitor. San Francisco heard him, too briefly, in Wagner and Strauss, as did Chicago.
Although Schöffler's voice lacked a sensuous timbre, its warmth and firmness left a positive impression, while his musicianship and artistic integrity were unfailingly of the highest order.