Bass Kurt Böhme enjoyed an uncommonly long career. After years in leading roles of the German repertory, he assumed smaller parts, making occasional appearance until nearly the time of his death. A true bass, his once supple, even beautiful voice settled into a larger, less steady but powerful sound, well-suited to the Wagnerian anti-heroes and the Straussian gallery of comic and serious low-voiced characters. Best in its ample mid-range, Böhme's instrument was neither as comfortable in the top-most register nor as resonant in the lowest range as those of such slightly older colleagues as Alexander Kipnis, Ludwig Weber, and Ivar Andrésen. Nonetheless, he had an important career, recording frequently and putting his individual stamp on roles as diverse as Kaspar, Ochs, and Orest.
Following studies at the Dresden Conservatory, Böhme made his debut in 1929 at Bautzen as Kaspar in Weber's Der Freischütz. Although very young for such a dramatic role, the bass enjoyed a success. From 1930 to 1950, Böhme was engaged by the Dresden Staatsoper, appearing in the standard bass repertory and singing several important premieres. He created the role of Count Lamoral in Strauss' Arabella (1933) with Viorica Ursuleac in the title role. At the first performance of Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau (1935), he portrayed Vanuzzi, and for Swiss composer Heinrich Sutermeister's Romeo und Julia in 1940, he sang Capulet. For the latter composer's Die Zauberinsel in 1944, he was the first Prospero and was praised for his performance even though the Tempest-based opera had nothing like the success accorded Romeo und Julia.
Böhme appeared at Covent Garden for the first time in 1936, when the Dresden Staatsoper paid a visit to London. Singing Bartolo and the Commendatore in German-language performances of Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, the bass was scarcely mentioned save for being a part of a well-prepared ensemble. Böhme had to await his postwar return in 1957, this time with the Covent Garden company, to attract the critic's attention. Then, he was described as a "lugubrious" Fasolt, but a "magnificent Hagen." In the meantime, Böhme had sung frequently with his home company through the late '30s and the period of WWII. In 1950, he joined the Munich Staatsoper and remained associated with the theater throughout his remaining years. Böhme made his debut at Bayreuth in 1952 as Pogner in Die Meistersinger. Pogner served for his Metropolitan Opera debut on November 11, 1954; he remained there for just two seasons, singing roles confined to his Wagner repertory. During this same period, Böhme appeared at Salzburg. In 1954, he created the role of Ulysses in Rolf Liebermann's Penelope while singing Kaspar, this time with Furtwängler conducting such other eminent singers as Elisabeth Grümmer, Rita Streich, and Hans Hopf. Both productions have been made available on recordings taken from radio transcriptions.
In 1955, Böhme appeared at the Vienna Staatsoper in a production of Der Rosenkavalier under Hans Knappertsbusch. A recording of this production was released in 1999, capturing Böhme's Baron Ochs far more graphically than a Dresden recording under Karl Böhm several years later. Although less artfully sung than the Ochs of Ludwig Weber, Böhme's impudent, bad-boy Baron carries enormous conviction. Its irrepressible heartiness flavors the entire performance. Böhme participated in the Solti Ring recording begun in 1958. As Fafner in Siegfried, he cautioned the engineers that he wished to be "a beautiful dragon."