1959 THE PRESS ON THE VOCAL COMPETITION
Leo Hanekroot readily acknowledged that the International Vocal Competition (IVC) Den Bosch was a happening with a decided fun factor, although he continued to take his task dead earnest: his review of the semi finals started with the notion that it was all rather ‘mediocre.’ Still, he did have a favorite for the First Prize among sopranos in the German candidate Manya Breier:
‘That she made one glitch in a coloratura should not be judged to harshly. That would be silly, and it would rob the competition of it’s most promising candidate.’ (Leo Hanekroot, De Tijd, September 1959)
Johan van Dongen also though hers the most beautiful voice in the field, and he followed Hanekroot in his hope that her glitch would not be the end of her, since:
‘… Her daring ‘Zigeuner romance’ of Hermann Reuter, a modern song and her aria from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor were outstanding.’ (Johan van Dongen, Brabants Dagblad, September 1959)
For the rest he spotted at best Second Prize sopranos. Van Dongen was more balanced in his lengthy review. He thought last year’s Second Prize winner Doris Sutton excellent in her Händel aria, although her rendition of Elsa’s dream from Lohengrin was less fine. Belgian soprano Lia Rottier from Gent excelled in an aria from Massenet’s Manon, and her Chausson song was beautiful. One of the soprano stars in Den Bosch proved Giuseppina Schettino from Naples, who excelled in her Fauré song, while her coloraturas in Vivaldi were immaculate. Another star was the Hungarian soprano Judith Heller, who made a great impression with her arias from Verdi’s Otello and Debussy’s L’enfent prodigue. Van Dongen’s favorite for the First Prize was Zofia Janukowicz from Gdansk, Poland, who combined a voluminous voice with sheer musicality in a Mussorgsky song, and arias from Madama Butterfly, and Mendelssohn’s Paulus. Good in song but lacking in opera and oratorio was Giovanna Pizzi Revenssi from Florence, while Hannelotte Schnappauf from Neu-Isenburg, Germany, had a since operetta voice, which was not the right weapon to take to war in Den Bosch, said Van Dongen.
Among Dutch participants, Van Dongen though Marie-Cécile Moerdijk from Amsterdam to have excelled in the coloratura section in a Donizetti aria, although her aria from Mendelssohn’s Elias was still a bit formal. If she picked up on Van Dongen’s words o if she achieved her progress otherwise, but Moerdijk eventually became the Dutch national muse of light music, and a phenomenal radio host for the span of the next thirty years or so. She became a great promoter also for Dutch and other art song up to traditional and less traditional folk song by means of her long running radio show Singing with Cécilia.
Her Dutch compatriot Tiny de Bree from Nederhorst den Berg also made a distinct impression, although the critic recommended both to pay more attention to their stage presence. The least impression of the three Dutch vocalists made Wilhelmina Driessen, whose voice was not yet mature, although Van Dongen did noticed the great musical gifts and the charming stage presence that would eventually make her the most successful of the Dutch soprano trio in terms of opera. Driessen was also the soprano that Hanekroot hinted at when he referred to an unidentified Dutch candidate that he thought to be a ‘born soprano:
‘… With innate musicality, very intelligent, lively and cleverly juggling with her limited volume. A great artist in the germ, or to remain in the metaphor: in the heart of her voice, in that very small center which makes her entire instrument. What will the Jury do with her? Perhaps it is only a problem for us, but not so much for the Jury, since they just count the scores and get an outcome. Do the points accumulate to a plus, the candidate passes, if not, it is over. That is a very different approach from those among the audiences, who count with their hearts, and then such a singer can become an endearing charm, that one can’t easily part with.’ (Leo Hanekroot, De Tijd, September 1959)
Speaking of arriving to Den Bosch to soon in one’s development, Driessen was in good company, given Van Dongens opinion on a certain… Helga Dernesch:
‘The first soprano in the semi finals was Helga Dernesch from Vienna, who seems to have arrived a little too early here. In fact, I wonder how she even made it to these semi finals: voice and musicality were completely insufficient.’ (Johan van Dongen, Brabants Dagblad, September 1959)
None of the other critics even took notice of Dernesch and she seems a fine example of a singer who used competitions early on merely to gain experience. We all know how that worked out for her, since she became one of the most celebrated sopranos of the late 1960’s, the 1970’s and ‘80’s, excelling in the lyric-dramatic Wagner parts (Senta, Isolde) and Richard Strauss’ Salomé. She recorded among others Isolde and the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung Brünnhildes under Herbert von Karajan in his legendary DGG Ring production. both of which she recorded under Herbert von Karajan.
Semi finals | Altos
Among altos, Hanekroot spotted nothing interesting. Van Dongen agreed, although Caroline Foster from the United Kingdom had started promising if still a bit scholarly. Mariette Dierckx, who reappeared after having competed also last year was the better one, although Van Dongen thought her timbre a bit too ‘dark;’ a stunning comment given that that is precisely the quality one would be looking for in an alto, and we suspect it was also this quality that made Dierckx land a great Belgian career. Still summing up the disappointing alto contesters, he then praised also Djurdjevka Čakarević’s performances to the rafters:
‘More a mezzo-soprano than an alto, who sang a gorgeous Mussorksky song, with much temperament, if with a sharp edged timbre. She also sang a beautiful aria from Bach’s Johannes Passion. The Kodaly song should be mentioned because of her excellent diction.’ (Johan van Dongen, Brabants Dagblad, September 1959)
Čakarević also impressed critic F.V., starting with an impressive rendition of Mussorgsky’s ‘Goyah,’ then by her rounded interpretation of an aria from Monteverdi’s Arianna, although her reading of an excerpt from Bach’s ‘Magnificat’ was not on a par. FV then pondered on the success of Slavic voices in Den Bosch, which he retraced to the fact that almost only arrived to the IVC while already well into their careers at home, which gave them a decided advantage in stage experience.
Semi finals | tenors
Among tenors there was the lionesque Heldentenor Stefano Mata, still young and immature, but a future Parsifal or Siegfried. Unfortunately he did not appear to be very intelligent either in the general meaning of the word, nor in musical sense, said Hanekroot… Van Dongen noticed the tenor’s enormous volume, but he added that he lacked in terms of interpretation. He thought the same of German tenor Siegfried Autenrieth, although he had a nice timbre. According to Hanekroot, the Hungarian tenor from Budapest, a doctor in economics, had a surplus of intelligence and great musicality, but he sang in the wrong trade, since this tenor was a light baritone in disguise. Van Dongen thought that this wannabe heldentenor forced his voice, and thought he could have done much better. The Belgian tenor Kamiel Lampaert had modest means, but was well trained and had fine lyrical possibilities wrote Hanekroot, which was confimed in Van Dongen’s report:
‘He sang with a beautiful color and in a very musical way his aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and his Brahms song was equally fine.’ (Johan van Dongen, Brabants Dagblad, September 1959)
That left the baritones as the field where the competition was most forceful. Three out of six were of the highest caliber, among them Harold Gray, a black bass from the UK with a voice as a tuba; Hanekroot thought the light weight baritone from The Netherlands Max van Egmond a true virtuoso in all registers, with his greatest weakness being, an effeminate manner of performing, which made him miss out on moments where true emotions were required, Van Dongen thought Van Egmond’s Bach Cantate the most promising part of his semi finals appearance. The Swiss Spielbaritone Arthur Loosli had a voice as fine as the one of the famous Erich Kunz, while he nearly matched the famous example in expression, said Hanekroot. Van Dongen agreed:
‘He started his performance with Händel, sang with much panache an aria from Mozart, even though he exaggerated it a bit, and he finished with a sublime rendition of a Mussorgsky song. His is a very extensive instrument and a most beautiful vocal color.’ (Johan van Dongen, Brabants Dagblad, September 1959)
In short, Hanekroot proved ‘excited,’ especially since the Jury usually disappointed him. In this case however, most of his wished would be granted, since the Jury judged the following artists ripe for the finals: Mariette Dierckx, Djurdjevka Čakarević, Julianna Falk, Harold Gray, Arthur Loosli, Lia Rottier, Giuseppina Schettino, Judith Heller, Zofia Janukowicz, Loris Sutton, and Manya Breier. The Belgian hope for the finals was tenor Kamiel Lampaert, while the Dutch torch was carried by Max van Egmond and Wilhelmina Driessen, who had to appear before the Jury in a separate audition, in order to determine which one of them would receive the Young Talent prize ‘Toonkunst.’
Post finals, the critics all agreed that it had been splendid competition, with a rich harvest of fine voices and genuine talents. According to Eindhovens Dagblad it was impossible to guess which soprano would win the First Prize, since all 6 were more or less equal and it was a matter of taste if one wanted to give it to the excellent but slightly dry English soprano Sutton, or to the spirited Italian Schettino, the large voiced Belgian Rottier, the temperamentfull Hungarian Heller, or the German Breier with the most gorgeous timbre, or the versatile Polish Janukowicz. Among basses/baritones, the critic had previously put his bets on the English bass Harold Gray, but after 52 arias and songs performed by the 14 finalists, the Swiss bass Arthur Loosli emerged as the undisputed winner of both the First Prize in the Jos Orelio category, and the Great Prize of the City of Den Bosch as best singer in the competition.
The Jury elected Swiss baritone Arthur Loosli for the Great Prize of the City of Den Bosch as best singer in the Competition. According to critic Bertus van Lier this was on the grounds of his beautiful voice, his warmth and his artistic performance in arias by Mozart, Händel and a Schubert song, although his voice was not a large instrument. Eindhovens Dagblad thought Loosli rose to great hights during the finals, whereas the semi finals had been a close call between him and Harold Gray, who received the Second Prize. While Leo Hanekroot agreed that Loosli had excelled, he thought gray still worthy of another First Prize, and then brought up the odd situation that basses and baritones had to compete in the same league. While he admitted that there was a problem with those ‘in between,’ the bass-baritones, he thought that with split categories, they might choose for themselves where to compete. He had of course a point here, although creating 6 categories (since between mezzo sopranos and altos the same situation applied) was hardly an option. The entire matter could also have been resolved by giving more shared First prizes in these categories, but Juries over the decades have been very selective when it came to First Prizes. Still, Hanekroot could follow the 1959 Jury well. Instead of disputing their choices, as he would onwards frequently do, he actually had wished for more Prizes! Among them for Belgian tenor Kamiel Lampaert, who now obtained an Honorary Diploma while Hanekroot had wished for him to win a Second Prize.
Van Lier thought that some might dispute the 1st Prize among sopranos which was given to the Polish Zofia Janukowicz, who indeed excelled in her Tchaikovsky aria, although she was decidedly less up to Bach and her song. Hanekroot had the same feelng here, and thought she lacked a cultivated taste for more than a certain form of operatic grand standing, which rendered her one dimensional. In versatility, Van Lier thought Manya Breier and Giuseppina Schettino superior, although he admitted that Janukowicz was further in her development as a performer (on top of which she could sing in seven languages). Another critic, FV, was more positive about the Polish diva in the making, while Lia Rottier did her advantage with her Second Prize, which apparently resulted in an instant engagement with the Gent Opera.
Finally, Max van Egmond won the Young Talent Prize ‘Toonkunst,’ although most critics thought that one might have given the prize also to Wilhelmina Driessen.