"If there are nightingales residing in Hibiya Park and if it is true that they die of shame whenever they hear other birds sing better than they do, then last Saturday evening the park would be covered by dead nightingales, when Elly Ameling sang in Tokyo's Hibiya Hall." (The Japan Times, Ronald P. Berger)
With Elisabeth (Elly) Sara Ameling (8th February 1933 in Rotterdam) the International Vocal Competition 's-Hertogenbosch (IVC) discovered one of the greatest artists it was to produce in the span of 60 years. Winning the IVC in 1956, and subsequently also the Concours International de Musique in Geneva in 1958 provided a trampoline for Ameling's career. She was not only a great soprano, but she also combined the right mix of talent, ambition and determination to become the greatest Dutch Lieder interpreter in the post war era.
In vocal terms her strong points were a perfectly placed voice with a creamy timbre and a soft edge, while still very focused – ethereal. Apart from these intrinsic qualities in terms of sheer natural beauty of her instrument, she was also an utterly imaginative and at the same time faithful interpreter. Her singing conveyed Schubert's love and pain, while one could float in Debussy, or obtain a different position on what matters most in life while listening to her in Wolf. Ameling's voice went straight to one's heart. That is the Ameling phenomenon summarized in a few lines.
Text: René Seghers
Photos: Elly Ameling, IVC, EMI, Decca, Philips, Sony, Omnium Video: 401DutchDivas/RS in gesprek met Elly Ameling, verlucht met Amelings eigen keuze aan muziekfragmenten
After working with Miss Ameling, Ernest Ansermet described her thus: “A good voice is a blessing from somewhere above; Madame Ameling stands continually under this downpour, of which the romanticists would have said it is of divine origin”.
A wise artist, she never went beyond her boundaries and her late radio recordings of the 1990's show her still in full control. Moreover, with the passing of time she revealed ever deeper levels of interpretation, as can be heard in the compilations of her radio recordings of exclusively live concerts on the cd boxes "Elly Ameling 75 Years" (2008) and "Elly Ameling 80 Years" (2013), which span the period 1957 until 1991. These radio recordings were all made during live recitals with piano accompaniment and orchestral concerts. When she bade her farewell to the stage in 1996, her career spanned a full 40 years, during which she had become one of the world's most prominent concert singers.
From the 1960's onwards, Ameling practically monopolized the song repertoire in The Netherlands in terms of recordings, which then found their way around the globe. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s she was almost 'omnipresent'. She performed in virtually every major cultural center in the world, from Tasmania to Iceland, from Nairobi on the Equator to Finland in the Arctic Circle, including such venues as Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Salle Pleyel Paris, Hercules Saal Munich, Philharmonie Berlin and Bunka Kaikan Tokyo. She has sung with prominent conductors as Karl Ançerl, Ernest Ansermet, Benjamin Britten, James Conlon, Eduard Flipse, Jean Fournet, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Eugen Jochum, Josef
Krips, Rafael Kubelik, Erich Leinsdorf, Raymond Leppard, Neville Marriner, Kurt Masur, Seji Ozawa, André Previn, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Ed Spanjaard, Hans Vonk, and others. Her countless song recital tours with accompanists like Dalton Baldwin, Jörg Demus, Irwin Gage, Rudolf Jansen, Graham Johnson, Felix de Nobel and Roger Vignoles have been received with great enthusiasm by both public and music critics alike. She appeared in prestigious music festivals such as Aix en Provence, Bergen, Caramoor, Edinburgh, Holland Festival, Sofia, Tanglewood and the Flemish Festival.
Her repertoire (songs and vocal works with orchestra) reaches from Monteverdi and Bach via Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Britten to composers like Kosma, Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.
She has recorded more than 150 LP's and CD's. Many of them were awarded with an Edison (5x), the Grand Prix du Disque (3x) and the Preis der Deutsche Schallplattenkritik. She rarely sang in opera, but there is a Dutch radio recording of Maillart's opera comique Les dragons de Villars from 1957 (a recording that also features IVC 1954 winner Hans Wilbrink). In 1958 she was the first of the Drei Knaben in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, with co-Knaben Cora Canne-Meyer and Thea van der Steen in the famous live broadcast that Bernard Haitink had organized around star tenor Fritz Wunderlich, featuring also Maria van Dongen, Nel Duval, Juliana Farkas and Albert van Haasteren (IVC 2nd prize winner 1955).
Again under Haitink she sang Ilia in Mozart's Idomeneo in concert. She twice repeated this role for the Nederlandse Opera in a staged performance under Michael Gielen in Scheveningen (1973) and Amsterdam (1976). She sang the same role in Washington under Julius Rudel. Her two box sets with live concert recordings also include some rare excursions into operatic repertoire: Mozart with a.o. all the female roles in the Marriage of Figaro; Gounod (Marguerite in Faust), Bizet (Micaëla in Carmen) and Rose Friquet in Maillart's Les Dragons de Villars.
LP en CD registraties
Elly Ameling was awarded an extra Edison for her entire phonographic oeuvre in 1996, when she bade farewell to a remarkable artistic career. Since then, she has been in great demand throughout the world for master classes. While we are still working on a discography of her vinyl recordings, we refer here to three superb anthologies. One contains her EMI studio recordings in the ICON series (8CD 'Elly Ameling The Dutch Nightingale'). The second one was published by the 'Elly Ameling Foundation 75-Years' on the occasion of her 75th birtday, and containes her live radio recordings made between 1957-1991 (5CD 'Elly Ameling 75 Jaar'). The third one, also of live concerts, was made on the occasion of her 80th birthday in 2013 (5CD 'Elly Ameling 80 Jaar'). Both anthologies were published by Omnium.
Elly Ameling received a number of important awards, such as 1971 (knighted by Her Majesty Queen Juliana of the Netherlands: Ridder in de Orde van Oranje Nassau), 1981 (doctor honoris causa University of British Columbia, Vancouver), 1985 (doctor honoris causa Westminster Choir College, Princeton , New Jersey, USA), 1986 (doctor honoris causa The Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland, Ohio, USA), 1988 (doctor honoris causa Shenandoah University, Washington DC, USA), 1996 (Elly Ameling Ring, Concertgebouw Amsterdam), 2008 (knighted in the highest civil order by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands: ridder in de orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw). In 2015 she received the prestigious Hugo Wolf Medaille of the International Hugo Wolf Academy, Stuttgart. She was preceded as award winner at there by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Peter Schreier, Brigitte Faßbaender and Graham Johnson. The Dutch bass, Kammersänger Robert Holl spoke the laudatio to his compatriot.
Until this day the soprano is busy giving masterclasses and workshops at conservatories and summerschools in Europe, Japan and the United States of America. Her motto is: "Let us try to be aware that we are there for the music and not the other way around."