An artist of consistently high standards, Otto Edelmann sang the important bass and bass-baritone roles in the Wagner, Strauss, and Mozart repertories during the 1950s and 1960s. If he lacked the truly handsome tone quality of predecessors such as Schorr, Bocklemann, and Nissen, he nonetheless offered a voice that was cleanly formed and devoid of woolliness. Although he had already made a positive impression in Vienna from 1947 onward, the engagement that focused the spotlight on his art came in the 1951 reopening of the Bayreuth Festival when he sang the bass part in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony under Furtwängler (to initiate the event) and then performed a younger-than-customary Hans Sachs under Herbert von Karajan. Both performances were recorded and have remained cornerstones of the recording catalog ever since.
Born near Vienna, Edelmann pursued his musical studies at the Vienna Academy with, among others, Norwegian dramatic tenor Gunnar Graarud, a favorite artist at Berlin and Bayreuth. For his stage debut in 1937, Edelmann was engaged by the company at Gera to sing Mozart's Figaro. From 1938 to 1940, he was a member of the company at Nuremberg, but found his career essentially put on hold during WWII. Shortly after beginning again at the war's end, he became a member of the Vienna Staatsoper and quickly established himself as a singer of considerable promise. His Bayreuth Festival appearances in 1951 placed him in the front rank of post-war singers and led to other important engagements. Under Knappertsbusch, he sang live performances of Hans Sachs and recorded Meistersinger, this time as Pogner. At the Edinburgh Festival in 1952, he was heard again as Sachs, performing the role with the visiting Hamburg Opera. In 1953, he was chosen by Furtwängler to record Pizarro in Fidelio. His Leporello accompanied Cesare Siepi's Don Giovanni for several years at Salzburg — a thoughtful characterization, if somewhat lacking in Italianate flair.
For his Metropolitan Opera debut on November 11, 1954, Edelmann presented his Hans Sachs, pleasing critics with his solid, reliable singing. In 1955, Edelmann made his San Francisco debut as Baron Ochs, appearing several weeks later as Heinrich in Lohengrin. As Ochs, his mastery of Viennese style and dialect was noted and appreciated.
The following year, he and his Marschallin, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, committed their interpretations to disc for EMI in a recording that has not left the catalog since. Edelmann went on to perform Ochs in numerous venues, notably at Salzburg where Rosenkavalier initiated performances in the new Grosses Festspielhaus in 1960. From these performances Paul Czinner fashioned his now legendary film of the opera. When Decca sought to record Kirsten Flagstad's Brünnhilde in 1957, the singer felt herself unable to cope adequately with Act II's opening war cry and opted to perform Act III only. With Solti conducting, Edelmann was the Wotan of choice for the project.
Edelmann was once involved in a Metropolitan Opera misadventure with Wotan. After beginning a performance of the Walküre Wotan, he announced at the conclusion of Act II that he could not continue. Another singer was brought in, but discovered his voice failing midway through Act III and signaled for the curtain to be brought down. No other singer being available, Edelmann — now somewhat recovered — was persuaded to resume at the beginning of scene 3 and finish the bedeviled performance.