401Concerts Nr. 2 – Flemish Opera Arias & Duets 1834-1921

Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerpen, 29 januari 2016
Joris Grouwels (bariton), Pauline Lebbe (sopraan)

On January 27 2016 soprano Pauline Lebbe and baritone Joris Grouwels appeared in a unique concert with forgotten Flemish opera excerpts in Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp. Performed were  arias and duets from once famous operas by August De Boeck, Jan Blockx, Emiel Wambach, Armand Limnander Van Nieuwenhovee en François-Auguste Gevaert. In coproduction with the artists, 401DutchOperas filmed and recorded the concert. This can be download as 401Concerts Nr. 2.


401COnc2Logo130aud401Concerts Nr. 2 (Audio)
Download: € 7.99
401Conc2Logo130401Concerts Nr. 2 (Video)
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01 GevaertQuentin Durward (1868)
    ‘Enfin le Roi... Le ciel lui-même’ (Aria Isabelle) [P]
02 GevaertQuentin Durward 
    ‘Il va venir... Mon père était jadis’ (Duet Isabelle, Crèvecoeur) [PJ]   
03 Limnander Van NieuwenhoveMaximilien à Francfort (1853)
    ‘Chant de l'armurier’ (Aria Maximilien) [J]
04 Limnander Van Nieuwenhove - Maximilien à Francfort
    ‘Je n'avais pas trois ans’ (Marguerite) [P]   
05 Limnander Van Nieuwenhove - Maximilien à Francfort
    ‘Si tu m'abandonais’ (Aria of Gunther) [J]
06 Limnander Van Nieuwenhove - Maximilien à Francfort
    ‘Moi qui l'aimais’ (Aria of Marguerite) [P]
07 BlockxDe herbergprinses (1896)
    ‘Ik keek te diep in 't glas’ (Act I monologue Jan Rabo) [J]         
08 De BoeckLa route d'Émeraude (1921)
    'Comme une fleur de serre' (Cantilene Francesca) [P]       
09 WambachQuinten Massijs (1899)
    ‘De moeder maged en 't goddelijk kind’ (Act III aria Floris) [J]
10 BlockxDe bruid der zee (1901)
    ‘Ach liefste, comt...’ (Act II duet Free Kerdee & Kerlien) [PJ]    

T.T. 54.11' • Tracks 1-6 are creations in modern time.

Armand Limnander Van Nieuwenhove: Le Maître-chanteur (1853)

  • FlConSLIDELimnander
  • FlConSLIDEGevaert
  • FlConSLIDEBlockx
  • FlConSLIDEWambach
  • Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove (1814-1892)
  • François-Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908)
  • Jan Blockx (1851-1912)
  • Emiel Wambach (1854-1924)

His native Flanders has forgotten Armand Limnander Van Nieuwenhove even though he celebrated noted triumphs at the Paris Opéra-Comique between 1845 and 1870. Of his seven operas Les Monténégrins (1849) was the mot succesful one, followed by Le Maître-Chanteur from 1853 (after the triumph of Wagners Meistersinger von Nürnberg, new performances of Van Nieuwenhove's opera in the 1870's were under the title Maximilien à Francfort). Grouwels and Lebbe present here no less than four highlights from this legendary piece of Flemish operatic history: Maximilien's ‘Chant de l'armurier’, Marguerite’s romance ‘Je n'avais pas trois ans’, Gunther's aria ‘Si tu m'abandonais’ and Marguerite’s aria ‘Moi qui l'aimais’.

Raiding the opéra-comique with Gevaert's Quentin Durward (1858)

François-Auguste Gevaert can rejoice in a slow but significant rise in interest for his stature as a teacher, musicologist and composer. Some years ago a beautiful cd entirely devoted to his music was published, and in April 2015 the Brussels Conservatory performed his 1864 opera Le Capitaine Henriot. The three fragments in our own concert of Gevaert's Quentin Durward (1858) are a welcome addition to the Gevaert catalogue, because  Quentin Durward ranks as Gevaert's best opera. As a composer in Paris he was held in high regard among the likes of Auber, Adam, the Thomas of Le Caïd and Le songe d’une nuit d’été, young Offenbach and Planquette. Performed at 401Concerts Nr. 2 were  Isabelle’s aria ‘Enfin le Roi... Le ciel lui-même’ and the duet duet between her and  Crèvecoeur, ‘Il va venir... Mon père était jadis’.

The excerpts from operas by Gevaert and Van Nieuwenhove are not just important rediscoveries of a part of Flemish operatic history, but also important additions to the repertoire of the Paris Opéra-Comique of those days, the knowledge of which has long been reduced to just a few composers and operas. Apart from the efforts of such cd labels as Malibran and some obscure niche books, that theater suffered notably under the shadow of the more prestigious L'Opéra, although the connaisseur of course knows all too well that the greatest hits of the L'Opéra were seized from the Opéra-Comique (Carmen, Mignon, Lakmé…) and Carvalho’s Théatre Lyrique (Faust, Roméo et Juliette). Now that it is clear that numerous scores of the Opéra-Comique repertoire are extant also as piano-vocal reductions, a record label such as Phaedra might as well devote some cd issues in their priceless series 'In Flanders' Fields' to the Flemish undertakings in the Paris opera world of the mid 19th century.

The success of Emiel Wambachs Quinten Massijs (1899)

With Emiel Wambach's 1899 opera Quinten Massijs we arrive to a work that both in the text and the music has many reminiscences with Wagner's Meistersinger, although the aria performed here,  Floris sentimental 'De Moeder-Maged' (The virgin mother) vaguely reminds us of Kienzl's masterpiece Der Evangelimann from 1894, especially of the aria ‘Selig sind die Verfolgung leiden’. A certain predominance of the vocal line and a purity of lyricism were the weapons with which  Wambach's Quinten Massijs conquered the Flemish audience. It became one of the most popular pieces in Flemish operatic history and remained in the repertoire until the end of the 1960's, when it was performed a last time in the Flanders' Festival.

Emergence of Flemish opera with Jan Blockx

With Jan Blockx’s operas De herbergprinses (Princess of the Inn; 1896) and De bruid der zee (Bride of the Sea; 1901) we enter new territory. During those times these operas were revolutionary and they still deserve to be presented to audiences today just as Wambach's Quinten Massijs and the best operas by Karel MiryPaul Gilson and August De Boeck. In idiomatic, strong performances they would still make an impact in the opera houses of Antwerp, Brussels, Luik or Ghent. Blockx essentially made a synthesis between verism and the Flemish school, which reaped him international success (in 1909, De herbergprinses was even performed in New York). De herbergprinses anticipated D’Alberts Tiefland. Jan Rabo’s sobering-up aria ‘Ik keek te diep in ’t glas’ (I had a few drinks too many) was once a piece that could be heard on the streets. The duet from Act II of De bruid der zee between Free Kerdee and Kerlien is without a doubt one of the most beautiful duets in all Flemish opera litature.

August De Boecks mesmerizing La Route d’Émeraude (1921)

What goes for Blockx also goes for August De Boeck's 1921 masterpiece La route d'Émeraude of which Pauline Lebbe here sings the once famous cantilene ‘Comme une fleur de serre’ (Like a flower in the greenhouse). De Boeck's long struggle with Wagner and the late romantic school of Richard Strauss found its end in La route d'Émeraude, his only French-language opera. Here the promise of his earlier works is finally met in full, with none of the reservations regarding eclectisism applying that limited the stature of his previous operas. La route d'Émeraude sounds as if the scents and colors of the flowers and butterflies in the composer's beloved garden in themselves mastered the art of singing. It is pure musical poetry that sprang from the soul of a man  for whom art was sacred. Against all odds De Boeck thus gave Flanders the third great masterpiece of Flemish opera with La route d'Émeraude, which stands on a par only with the two mentioned works by Jan Blockx. Against all odds, because the work was composed to a French-language libretto, which resulted in a boycot by the Flemish Opera in Antwerp. When the work proved a tremendous success in French,  that theater ultimately gave in to the demands of the audience and performed the opera in a Dutch translation, under the title FrancescaPauline Lebbe sings the aria here in the original French language.

That there are no studio-recordings and not even live recordings available of these Flemish masterpieces is a stain on the cultural standing of musical Flanders. The pain of this neglect is perhaps a little bit diminished  by our unique concert. About  Pauline Lebbe and Joris Grouwels we can write that they have thrown themselves heart and soul into this project. They brought out the music very well and the audience truly appreciated the splendour of some of these obscure compositions. Grouwels has a clear, lyrical baritone voice with a noble ring to it, which is most promising. Lebbe has a voice with a characteristic timbre, which is in line with the Flemish vocal tradition.

The singers

FlConJorisGrouwelsJoris Grouwels, baritone, started his musical studies in 2009 at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. He is now continuing his studies at the Opera School of Stockholm. His prime vocal teachers are Ulf Lundmark, Catrin Wyn Davies and Lucienne Van Deyck. In Stockholm he performed among others parts of Faust (Valentin), Roméo et Juliette (Capulet) and La Bohème (Schaunard). As concert soloist Joris frequently appears in repertoire ranging from Bach to Buckinx. Recently he could be heard at the Canals Festival Amsterdam and, in the same city, in Russian opera excerpts of the IVC-master class Russian repertory. In the near future he will appear in  Bach's Weihnachtsoratorio (Lier), and in in the Flemish opera arias concert presented in this download (Museum Vleeshuis Antwerpen); then also a performance at the Stockholm Conservatory and a Song recital in Vimmerby (Sweden). Since he finished his studies as Civil Engineer at the Catholic University Leuven, Joris also worked as a researcher. He lived for several years in Malaysia, Spain and Sweden.

FlConPaulineLebbeSoprano Pauline Lebbe started her musical studies at age eight, studying solfege and cello at the Academy of Turnhout. After the humaniora she studied law at the Catholic University of Leuven, and then higher musical studies at the Lemmens Institute there. She obtained a bachelor Cello with Jaap Kruithof and Wim De Moor and a bachelor singing with Lieve Jansen. Currently she is following a Master in singing with Catrin Wyn-Davies. She took further lessons from Lucienne Van Deyck, Margreet Honig, Randi Stene and Susanna Eken. In 2014 Pauline performed Mrs. Grose in Brittens The Turn of the Screw, in two different productions in Leuven and Ghent. During the first half of 2016 she participates in several productions with the chorus of De Munt Theatre Brussels. As chorus vocalist she was active in Laudantes Consort Brussels, Collegium ad Mosam Sittard (Netherlands) and the Coro Polifonico di Santo Spirito Ferrara (Italy). In the wake of her Master thesis, Pauline is studying the Belgian song repertoire on texts by Belgian symbolist authors.