Bert Olsson

  • IVC1960BertOlsson1
  • IVC1960BertOlssonkarolySchmidt
  • IVC1960BertOlssonReconstr
  • IVC1960BertOlssonKrant
  • Bert Olsson, IVC 1960
  • Bert Olsson & Károly Schmidt, IVC 1960
  • Bert Olsson as Don Juan (Reconstructie, 1969)
  • Bert Olsson interview, Sept, 1960

‘Among basses, Bert Olsson was another fine surprise. As one of the youngest finalists, even n one in The Netherlands had yet heard of him. With courage and power, he performed a song by Schumann, and arias by Mendelssohn and Leoncavallo. A winning debut before an audience.’

At the age of 20, Bert Olsson (1934, Amsterdam) started his vocal studies with Coby Riemersma, and has graduated from the Opera class of the Conservatory of Amsterdam. His Second Prize was considered even more special, given the fierce competition in that section for this year. In the semi final he appeared among others with ‘Ich Grolle nicht,’ in which he surpassed himself during the finals. Excellent there, was also his repeated Pagliacci prologue, ‘Si può,’ and these efforts reaped him the first prize awarded to a Dutch singer in two years. The 26 years old son of a labor class family had to take Dutch pronunciation lessons, to get to Den Bosch:

‘I was just a simple guy from Amsterdam. My youth was not very easy, but my father and mother have given me everything possibly. Hen friends of my father told him that I had a promising voice, my father looked in the telephone book for a voice teacher. I ended up with Jan Keizer. When he felt that he couldn’t get through to me, it was Keizer himself who told me that it would be better if I tried another teacher, and he recommended Coby Riemersma. She formed me to who I am now, she taught me Dutch pronunciation, and taught me how to sing. I owe her big time. Later I made it to the Opera Class of Felix Hupka and prof. Altman, who pointed me in the right direction. I then sang in the Capital’s Operetta and did some other artistic handicraft work, since I needed to live from something. You will not believe it, but to make it to Den Bosch, I really had to borrow money. I would never have guessed that I would win a prize here. Contracts? No, there aren’t any, although the Dutch National Opera has contacted me.’ (Interview with Bert Olsson, unidentified newspaper clipping).

The article further informs us that Olsson’s prime interest is in opera, a genre he would onwards frequently appear in. In De Volkskrant, Gérard Verlinden added that with Olsson, the IVC had made one of those discoveries that justified the event as such. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, his voice could frequently be heard on Dutch and also Flemish Radio, in opera broadcast appearances. In Flanders he appeared with the Royal Flemish Opera, among others in a 1974 Simon Boccanegra performance, with Olsson in the title role:


Verdi: Simon Boccanegra ‘M'ardon le tempia’ (ACT II) [Sung in Dutch]
Bert Olsson (Simon Boccanegra), orchestra of the Royal Flemish opera, Antwerp, 1974 (private recording from the 401DutchDivas archives)

He participated in the creation of the notorious 1969 world premiere of the opera Reconstructie, a joint composer’s effort by Reinbert de Leeuw, Peter Schat, Micha Mengelberg, Jan van Vlijmen and Louis Andriessen, on a libretto by Harry Mulisch and Hugo Claus.


Reinbert de Leeuw, Peter Schat, Micha Mengelberg, Jan van Vlijmen and Louis Andriessen: Reconstructie ‘X is for the unknown’
Bert Olsson (Don Juan), Instrumental Ensemble conducted by all 5 composers, Holland Festival, 1969 (LP STEIM Opus 001)