Experts agree that Jacques Urlus, the fabled heroic tenor who sang the great Wagnerian roles in all of the leading opera houses, was a unique vocalist and probably the greatest singer ever in the Netherlands. Wherever he performed, music critics were filled with praise. Daniël de Lange, for example, wrote ...
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Biography Jacques Urlus
Experts agree that Jacques Urlus, the fabled heroic tenor who sang the great Wagnerian roles in all of the leading opera houses, was a unique vocalist and probably the greatest singer ever in the Netherlands. Wherever he performed, music critics were filled with praise. Daniël de Lange, for example, wrote after a performance of Tristan und Isolde: “There he wondrously made his glorious voice heard in a manner producing riches for the ear”. (Trouw, June 19, 1997) The Weekblad voor Muziek spoke of his “divinely coloured, ripened, unspoilt and exquisitely controlled voice” (de Volkskrant, June 6, 1997). Urlus had an illustrious, 40-year career in opera and was in addition a sensational concert singer. Throughout the world, in major cities such as Amsterdam, Brussels, London, New York, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Barcelona, he worked with the great musicians of his day, such as Arturo Toscanini, Erich Kleiber, Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch, and the tenor Enrico Caruso.
1867 - 1880
Jacques Urlus is born on January 9 in Hergenrath, Belgium, a small village not far from Aachen, Germany. His parents, both Dutch, move when he was 1 year old to Tilburg, where he is raised with his eight (seven, after one, the eldest, dies) brothers and sisters. His father is an opera enthusiast and tells his son everything he knows about it. Urlus undoubtedly inherited his love for singing from his father. As a child, he sings in a school choir, church choir, and with his father at home. He has his first music lessons from a certain Smarius, the assistant director of the Korvelsche Harmonie [Korvelsche Band] in Tilburg. Before long he becomes a member of the Korvelsche Zangvereniging [Singing Society].
1883 - 1893
Urlus' family moves to Utrecht when he is 16. He joins the Fidelio church choir and after a mere two weeks sings a solo aria from Joseph Haydn's 'The Seasons'. He also joins the Franciscan church choir, which sings at St. Augustine's Church in Utrecht: “A single singing society – I found it insufficient to satisfy my need for singing”. (Urlus, 1929, p. 12) After completing military service, he returns to Utrecht. He is offered membership in various choral societies and soon belongs to five, rehearsing most evenings and performing as a soloist in bi-weekly concerts -- at first for free and later for payment. His career slowly begins to take shape. On June 7, he marries Hendrica Johanna Jacobs. They will have four children.
Urlus auditions for Cornelis van der Linden, director of the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam, and is immediately put under contract. This gives the largely untrained tenor an opportunity to take lessons. His first singing teacher is Hugo Nolthenius, of Driebergen. Within three months, Urlus moves with his wife and their first child to Amsterdam, where he has lessons with Antoon Averkamp. Later, he takes drama lessons from Cornélie van Zanten. He frequents the university library and the Rijksmuseum to further his cultural development, in preparation for his future work environment. He writes of his debut as Beppe in Ruggiero Leoncavallos' 'Il Pagliacci': “Now I had found my place, and I felt happy in this place. The opera and everything that went with it exerted an irresistible attraction on me”. (Urlus, 1929, p. 37) He is greatly praised for his second role as Joseph in Etienne Méhul's similarly titled opera.
The heroic tenor Désiré Pauwels falls ill and Urlus replaces him in the title role of Richard Wagner's 'Tannhäuser'.
1900 - 1910
Urlus signs a four-year contract with the opera in Leipzig. He develops into a virtuoso heroic tenor. He expands his repertoire with roles from French, Italian, and German operas. In all, he can sing 67 roles, each one in German, Dutch, and the original language. Each year he sings the Evangelist part in performances of Bach's 'St Matthew Passion' conducted by Willem Mengelberg. In 1903 he makes his first recording.
1910 - 1911
Urlus makes his debut at Covent Garden as Tristan and in 1911 at the Bayreuth Festival as Siegmund. From this year on he often performs at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels.
After two concert tours to Boston and New York, Urlus, now an internationally acclaimed tenor, signs a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He makes his debut there as Tristan on February 8. In the summer he makes guest appearances with various European opera companies.
He sings in Gustav Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde' for the first time – this work will become a staple of his repertoire, adding a new dimension as a concert singer to his career. Among the other important works of his concert repertoire are Mahler's 'Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen', 'Das Klagende Lied', and 'Eighth Symphony', 'The Seasons' by Jospeh Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven's 'Ninth Symphony'.
Urlus' fame spreads to Scandinavia, and he begins to perform there regularly. He also travels throughout Germany and the Netherlands for guest performances. Having become prosperous, he no longer has a need for contracts and sings solely in guest appearances.
1923 - 1927
In Berlin, he records a number of opera arias sung in Dutch, a unique recording. He tours the United States again with a German opera company and in the winter of 1927 makes 31 guest appearances at the Berlin Staatsoper.
1929 - 1931
Urlus' autobiography, 'Mijn loopbaan' [My Career], is published. He gives a series of performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. At the age of 46 he sings the Ring cycle five times in Brussels. He retires from the stage singing Tristan for a last time with the Amsterdam Wagner society. Up to the last performance, his voice remains exquisite: “The world is amazed by his voice, which would not lose its lustre”. (Het Parool, June 19, 1997)
At age 68, Jacques Urlus dies on June 6 in Noordwijk after surgery for prostate cancer.
Discography Jacques Urlus
Lebendiche Vergangenheit - Jacques Urlus
|Type and year||CD, 2000|
|Label||Preiser Records, Preiser 89502|
Jacques Urlus, Heroic Tenor - The Complete Edison Recordings
|Type and year||2CD, 2001|
|Label||Marston, Marston 52031-2|
Jacques Urlus Vol. 2
|Type and year||CD, 2007|
|Label||Hamburger Archiv für Gesangskunst, HAFG 10260|
Jacques Urlus Vol. 3
|Type and year||CD, 2007|
|Label||Hamburger Archiv für Gesangskunst, HAFG 10261|
Jacques Urlus Volume 1 - Wagner
|Type and year||CD, 2007|
|Label||Hamburger Archiv für Gesangskunst, HAFG 10259|
In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.
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