1959reminiscenceAn unidentified critic left a nice memento of his hanging around in the corridor outside the Casino Theatre auditorium, where singer came and went, either waiting there nervously for their trials, or coming back from those with even more nerves:

‘When Tuesday morning in Den Bosch the doors of the International Vocal Competition opened for the public, they faced non less than 28 semi finalists. A still respectable number that had survived the massacre in the previous days, when the rest of over a hundred singers were eliminated; more than half of them sopranos – the singer’s world is rife with these! And 13 out of the original 52 were still singing out on this Tuesday morning, along with 5 altos (including mezzos), 6 basses and baritones, and 4 tenors, a fine number, given that mother Nature hasn’t been as generous with providing tenors as she was with delivering sopranos.

28 Vocalists were worked hard from morning till evening. All had to sing a song, an opera and an oratorio aria. Accompanists came and went, while the Jury listened in silence. Manus Willemsen, president of the Jury, addressed them by microphone in 5 languages, all which he spoke fluently. The bel canto lovers in the auditorium reveled in the luxury of so many voices to sample, the best of the new harvest. An annual fun fair, for those who have the virus called bel cantissimo.’ (‘Spanning bij Concours stijgt met het uur,’ unidentified newspaper cutting, September 8, 1959)

A story behind each singer – Karin Mannhart

For Karin Mannhart the IVC was important for a peculiar reason, she told an unidentified critic. Having just finished her studies with Prof Emil Geneger in Bonn, she faced the challenge of having to start her career at a slightly advanced age:

‘This competition is so important because they have an exceptionally high age limit. For me and fellow Germans who could not study during the war, Den Bosch is a chance to make up for the lost time.’

She arrived accompanied from her husband, Franz Mannhart, who worked as a press officer for the German government, in addition to which he proved an amateur opera singer. Karin, a Sudeten-German from Czechoslovakia, met him in West Germany, after she fled for the Russians post the war:

‘Before I started studying voice full time, I first worked as an interpreter, then as a secretary with the Bundestag. But why would you want to know all this/ There are far better voice in this competition, I can assure you!’ Her husband, a former journalist, explained her that it served the human side of the reportages on the IVC. Perhaps regrettably after such a life story, her self-knowledge proved correct, since fate, or rather the Jury barred her from a place in the semi finals. While there may be some tolerance with respect to age, the requirements in Den Bosch are also exceptionally high.’ (‘Spanning bij Concours stijgt met het uur,’ unidentified newspaper cutting, September 8, 1959)

A chat with Zenon Kosnofski

1959reminiscence 2A singer that did pass to the semi finals was Polish baritone Zenon Kosnofski, looked very tired when the reporter from the same newspaper cutting caught up with him in the foyer of the Casino. From the back of the auditorium, Frans Vroons, Lode Rosquin, Annie Woud, Roy Henderson and Julius Patzak listened to his singing. According to the singer, he was not nervous, at least he didn’t appear to be. Perhaps it helped that he had just received an engagement for the Danzig Opera. Recalling his life and the situation for Polish singers, as well as some insights into how they reached Den Bosch, Kosnofski said:

‘I am receiving private tutoring from prof. Victor Brigby, a stage director at the Warszaw Opera. In Poland anyone can study opera, given that there is some talent, otherwise you won’t find support from the government. One starts at the musical high school, and when you made enough progress you enter the Conservatory. Admittedly, it is impossible for us to just go to some Vocal Competition here or there. Before we are allowed to travel to a competition as the IVC, we have to pass special tests, since the government pays for our travel and expenses. It is the Ministry of Culture that decides who can go and who can’t.’ (‘Spanning bij Concours stijgt met het uur,’ unidentified newspaper cutting, September 8, 1959)

According to Kosnofski, opera is very popular in Danzig and Warszaw, which makes competition fierce on one side, while it also leads to an upcoming golden generation of vocalists:

‘The purpose is simple, since in 1962 the new State Opera of Warszaw will open its doors, and then we need to be there. But please write that the hotel they provided us with is excellent!’ (‘Spanning bij Concours stijgt met het uur,’ unidentified newspaper cutting, September 8, 1959)

Hotel De Postzegel

1959reminiscence 3

That the last remark regarding the accommodation was not a loose one, is shown from the advertisement that those who were residing in that same Hotel De Postzegel placed in, presumably, Brabants Dagblad. It spelled:

‘The joint participants at the Vocal Competition who reside in Hotel De Postzegel herewith thank the staff and the workers at the hotel or the excellent treatment and care that they have given us. For all, Zofia Janukowicz-Pobłocka .’ (1st Prize Winner sopranos).