Friedrich Karl Otto Wunderlich was born in Kusel, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, on September 26, 1930 to a musical family; his father was a conductor and his mother was a violinist. He directed his own dance band to earn money to support his vocal studies at the Freiburg Musikhochschule. He appeared in a student production of "Die Zauberflöte" by Mozart in the leading role of Tamino in 1954 and was hired by the Stuttgart Opera in 1955. He sang some smaller parts, then as his first leading part again sang Tamino. He remained with Stuttgart until he was hired by the Frankfurt Opera company, staying there from 1958 to 1960. He first appeared in the Salzburg Festival in 1959, where he sang the part of Henry in Richard Strauss's "Die schweigsame Frau." He became a member of the Munich Opera in 1960, and from 1962 also was a regular at the Vienna State Opera.