José van Dam, the knight errant of lyric art
The Belgian opera singer Joseph Libert Alfred, Baron Van Damme (known as José van Dam), was born in Ixelles, in the suburbs of Brussels, on 25 August 1940.
"We are here to serve the music", said Van Dam, who is known for his humility. This cabinet-maker's son entered the Royal Conservatory of Brussels in 1957, where his first teacher was Frédéric Anspach. He won his first singing prizes the next year, followed by awards at competitions in Liège, Paris, Toulouse and Geneva. His bass-baritone voice soon attracted attention and, after making his debut in Liège, he was accepted into the Opera de Paris and the Opéra-Comique in 1961. In 1967, he entered the Opéra de Genève and then, two years later, became one of the leading singers at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. While there, his roles included Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni, a role that he made his own and that would follow him throughout his life. He began to gain international recognition in 1970. He sang in the biggest venues, including La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Covent Garden in London, the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, in Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky, Falstaff by Verdi, Wozzeck by Berg and The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.
Celebrated as one of the best bass-baritones of his time, José Van Dam was awarded a number of honours, including Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters; he was also honoured by King Albert II. The singer is best known for his roles in a number of operas, as well as his title role in Gérard Corbiau's film "Le Maître de Musique". At the time, he said, "It's a completely different job, we can re-shoot scenes, it's much less stressful and we have a lot of fun."
"Sancho, mon bon Sancho, nous allons nous quitter"; it is 4 May 2010 and his last role at the Monnaie, where he is playing Don Quixote in a production directed by the Frenchman Laurent Pelly and conducted by Marc Minkowski. Created one hundred years ago in 1910, this "heroic comedy" opera inspired by the book by Cervantes had not been performed for more than 50 years. It is one of the last works by the French composer Jules Massenet. To mark José van Dam's 75th birthday, Erato is releasing "Autograph", a new collection of box sets dedicated to major artists, whose 10 CDs include his major roles (Diables, Pères, and Don Quixotes), two centuries of opera (from Rameau to Landowski), melodies, Lieder, sacred music and finally an interview with the artist.
Many of José van Dam's performances are available on YouTube.