ALBERT VAN HAASTEREN (BASS TURNED BARITONE)
Rotterdam born bass to baritone Albert van Haasteren (1927), had only been studying singing for two years with Johanna Bollekamp in Rotterdam, when he came in 2nd for the Jos Orelio Prize at the 2nd International Vocal Competition Den Bosch, 1955. That his name no longer sounds familiar in the world of Dutch Opera is largely due to his... immediate success! His surprise victory came at a moment that he just had started studying opera in Amsterdam, with Felix Hupka. He then worked as an interior designer, but his interest in opera was profound. He even went as far as to study stage movements by practicing ballet, and fighting: 'Appearance and physical presentation are very important in the theater. They define how you come across to the audience. It was not easy for me though, since initially I had so little money that I couldn't afford a paid for teacher. Fortunately, Miss. Bollekamp said that my voice was too beautiful to be wasted for lack of money alone, and she taught me for free until I could spare some money.'
Dutch Language Interview RS with Albert van Haasteren
July 25, 2013
Contract on the spot
Van Haasteren's passion for singing had come down from father to son: 'My father sang solo in a choir in Rotterdam, and I always admired him when he sang. I've always been singing, although I never contemplated a career. It was just a passionate hobby at the time, we didn't consider or even believe that you could do that as a profession.' Despite his limited training, his vocal endowments and appearance at the 2nd IVC impressed jury member and first conductor of both the Amsterdam and the Karlsruhe Opera Houses Alexander Krannhals enough to offer Van Haasteren a contract for the Karslruhe Opera House – on the spot! Van Haasteren first hesitated to accept the offer, since he did not consider himself a professional singer and wanted to talk things through with his wife Lily: 'I had just married and wanted to talk this over with her. There was no way I would have done it if she had any hesitations. This was not just a matter of leaving a secure profession behind. In 1955 going to work in Germany was not a decision you took lightly, because the memories of the German occupation during World War II were still fresh. I come from Rotterdam. I have seen with my own eyes the bombing of the city. At age 18 I had been captured by the Germans and was send to a forced labor facility in Thüringen, where I had to help assemble their VI rocket platforms. After the War I returned from Thüringen with tuberculosis. But you should understand that, apart from those sentiments, I had to give up a steady job for something that seemed like a big gamble. I was just a beginner.' Krannhals, however, knew what he was doing. Van Haasteren: 'I was 1.85 tall, I knew how to move and acted very self assured, more than I was perhaps. But you need that on the stage, otherwise you will have a difficult life there.'
Verdi: Don Carlos 'Ella giamai m'amo'
Albert van Haasteren (Philips)
IVC final concert, 1955
When Van Haasteren's wife Lilly finally said that he had to try his luck, the couple accepted, but only after van Haasteren's terms were met: 'I said I wouldn't come if they didn't provide a house. When I went to look I said I wouldn't come if they didn't fix things in that house, which was a bit worn to my taste. They fixed it, and already in 1956 I went to Karlsruhe, to become a singer.' Unexpectedly, it proved to be a most stimulating experience, says Van Haasteren: 'In a short time span I met an enormous number of fascinating and creative people.' From 1956 until 1963 Van Haasteren remained in Karlsruhe, then he accepted an engagement in Heidelberg. Van Haasteren: 'Initially it was just my intention to pick up new repertoire there. I never expected to stay for long. But I had to leave Karlsruhe, because my voice changed from bass to bass-baritone and then to baritone in the early 1960s. I was offered a contract there as a bass, for which they had a position vacant. This was, however, an ensemble theater. There were two baritones already, and they had been there longer than me, which limited my prospects there. There was a vacancy in Heidelberg, and so I went there. It was perhaps a smaller theater than I had in mind for myself at the time, even though it has a very fine reputation in Germany as best of the smaller theatres.' In the end, Heidelberg offered so many advantages to Van Haasteren, that he remained in the Heidelberg Opera Ensemble for a full twenty years, until 1983. During his career, he learned no less than 126 opera and operetta roles.
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte 'In diesen heil'gen Hallen'
Albert van Haasteren (Sarastro), Concertgebouworkest – Bernard Haitink, 1955
Van Haasteren's beginnings as a bass can be retraced in his only officially released recording, as Sarastro in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (1955 LP MMS). The change in vocal range was rather stressfull to the former bass. Van Haasteren: 'I suddenly found myself without repertoire and had to start all over again. Initially, one could still hear the darker tones of my past as a bass, so I started with those baritone roles that were neither really bass or baritone parts, such as Don Giovanni, or Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. These parts were once also bass parts, but have since come to be regarded as baritone parts.' Although Don Giovanni was one of his best parts, his voice was preserved as Don Giovanni's servant Leporello in the only other remaining Dutch radio broadcast with Van Haasteren, from 1960. Van Haasteren: 'Indeed, I went from being the servant to being the master.'
Mozart: Don Giovanni 'Madamina, il catalogo e questo'
Albert van Haasteren (Leporello)
Mozart: Don Giovanni 'Treibt den Champagner'
Albert van Haasteren (Don Giovanni), 1965
From Mozart to Lortzing and Mussorgsky
Apart from Don Giovanni, his most famous Mozart roles in Karlsruhe and Heidelberg were Count Almava in Le nozze di Figaro, and Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte. Van Haasteren: 'Later the Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte, because at a certain age I started landing the parts of the father figures.' Verdi and Wagner were not generally within his scope, although he sang Posa in Verdi's Don Carlo, and Wolfram von Eschenbach in Wagner's Tannhäuser, the latter only in a concert performance. Other roles were Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, then Valentin in Gounod's Faust. Van Haasteren: 'Germany was simply not the right place for the French repertoire. Germany also has a great opera tradition of it's own that is preserved only here, with opera's such as Lortzing's Zar und Zimmermann, in which I was the Zar. Then Undine, and Der Widschütz. I was a typical German 'Spielbaritone', as the range is called here. They have asked me for Verdi and Wagner as well, but I have always refused that. As I mentioned I returned from the war with tuberculosis and I've always felt I was singing at only half of my original powers ever since, for I remember that I had a much stronger voice before.''
BORIS GODUNOV 1958
The Dutch Opera
Initially, Van Haasteren had expected that after some years in Germany, he would probably find employment within the Dutch Opera Ensemble. Indeed their came a moment when they approached him, in 1960, just before... they went bankrupt. Because he remained in Germany ever since, while appearing in The Netherlands only in a few guest performances for the Dutch radio, he fell from the radar in his native country. His stature in the second half of the 1950s is revealed only through his Sarastro in the world famous 1958 Concertgebouw broadcast of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (in which he also took on the spoken part of the reciter). This performance was not just legendary because of Fritz Wunderlich's Tamino and Juliane Farkas's Queen of the Night, but also for the all-star Dutch cast surrounding them. With 'all star' we refer to the likes of Maria van Dongen (Pamina), Jan Derksen (Papageno) and Nel Duval (Papagena) in the principle roles. The surprises are however to be found in the minor parts, where the first IVC winner Annette de la Bije, Lucienne Bouwman, and Anny Delorie sang the Three Ladies. To top things off, the internationally renowned soprano Elly Ameling and mezzo Cora Canne-Meijer sang the Three Boys along with Thea van der Steen. The young Bernard Haitink conducted and the recording made it to an early official LP release on the obscure The Opera Society label. Van Haasteren received something between and ƒ 700 to ƒ 900 for the job, which was the going rate for Concertgebouw performances at the time.
Van Haasteren remained in Heidelberg after his retirement and currently lives there with his wife Elize, nicknamed Lilly. He dedicates his time to his children, gardening, and his passion for painting. Obviously, he found his place in the Heidelberg area. Yet, one can't help but wonder why he remained in his engagement there for a full 30 years? Van Haasteren: 'The most important reason is that by then my daughters Elvira and Viviana were born. Heidelberg provided a safe environment for them to grow up in, which I saw as my principal duty. Together with my wife we saw them grow into careers of their own, and it is our pride and joy that they landed well, Elvira in teaching, Viviane as a doctor in Frankfurt. At the time, I did not want my family to live the traveling singer's life, with constantly shifting environments and never a real home. Admittedly, had Munich, Hamburg, Berlin or Vienna offered me contracts.... Had I been a tenor, this might actually have happened. But as a baritone I had to be realistic. There are far more baritones than tenors. I might have gone to bigger theatres, but there I would likely have been the second baritone. In Heidelberg I was the undisputed first baritone for 30 years, singing all the principal parts, accumulating to the mentioned 126 roles in all. I wanted to sing for real, not just four line parts. I would really like to hand this out to young singers at the IVC today too: One has to count his blessings carefully.'
Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia 'Largo al factotum'
Albert van Haasteren (Figaro), 1966
Van Haasteren's wife, his harshest critic during the days of his career, also has some advice for youngsters with aspirations in opera: 'They should not just learn stage movements and singing, but also study business, in order to learn how to negotiate better deals. Albert was far too happy to sing, he usually sold himself short!' Van Haasteren laughs, warm hearted 'Heidelberg has given me a tremendous experience; it was and is a great time. My contributions, also in terms of advice or even as a stage hand whenever there was some emergency backstage, has been greatly valued by the General Managers here.'
Van Haasteren's special position within the world of German opera is emphasized by his title Kammersänger, an honorary title usually associated with stars of the Berlin, Munich and Viennese opera houses. Van Haasteren: 'I received that title in 1989. That was indeed a novum for Heidelberg, where no other singer had ever been given this title, which was usually reserved for singers of State Theaters. I can only assume that my time as a substitute for a colleague in Karlsruhe was instrumental in this respect. Usually, when you substitute, it is an incident, but in Karlsruhe the first baritone fell ill for quite a long time, and somehow it also worked out with my schedule in Heidelberg. I also sang numerous guest performances elsewhere, and have performed with such famous singers as the tenor Rudolf Shock, the bass Josef Greindl, soprano Astrid Varnay, Bayreuther singers such as the dramatic soprano Paula Baumann who was a celebrity in Germany at the time... then also Erika Köth, to mention just the most important ones.'
Tchaikovsky: Evegeni Onegin 'Duet Onegin-Tatiana)
Albert van Haasteren (Onegin), date unknown
No longer singing, he still can be heard giving lectures and introductions on operas in the Cultural Circle of Boxberg-Emmertsgrund. Otherwise he lives a life in leasure: Van Haasteren: 'We bought this house in the middle of nature, with a large garden. My wife talks to the plants, while I trim them with gardening equipment. As mentioned, I also paint, a remnant of my initial profession.' Another remnant of days long gone are his continuing appearances as Santa Claus, a profound Dutch tradition on December 5. Here we have to give the word to Elize van Haasteren: 'When I fell for Albert in the early 1950s, I was mostly attracted to his dark voice. Otherwise there was little to go for, because a big white beard and a towering white mustache covered his face. It's true, I married Santa Claus!'
They no longer have much attachment to The Netherlands, yet they still speak Dutch at home, and their daughters still speak Dutch as well. They continue to go to the opera, although it is not always easy for Van Haasteren to accept some modernisms: 'Some directors, well... they just rape these great operas you know. On the other hand, I'm past the age of criticizing everything. It's their turn now, there's also much beauty to be found in opera today.'
*Download Van Haasteren's Sarastro in the complete 1955 performance of Die Zauberflöte here
*Download the 401DutchDivas Van Haasteren retropsect featuring his most important roles from his IVC Final Gala Concert 1955 until the 1970s.