Jan Verbeeck

24 April 1913 Antwerp – 6 June 2005 Antwerp

Picture of Jan Verbeeck in La Passion
Jan Verbeeck in La passion

Picture of Jan Verbeeck in Otello
Jan Verbeeck in Otello

Picture of Jan Verbeeck

A very exhaustive portrait of Verbeeck, written by Claude-Pascal Perna, can be found on the extraordinary website Musica et Memoria; I'm limiting myself to a summary of that long article.

Verbeeck was born into a well-off family of diamond merchants, and he, too, became a diamond cutter. But he loved singing, and took voice lessons from a young age, in Antwerp and then in Ghent. He sang his first public concerts at the beginning of WWII, before being deported by the Nazis to perform forced labor for them in Auschwitz – not at the extermination camp, though, just in the town of Auschwitz. The work was extremely hard, and he would remain prone to bronchitis and pulmonary inflammation for all his life.

Back to Antwerp after the war, he was also back to diamond cutting, but in 1947, he changed profession, and made his debut at the Antwerp opera in June, as Alfredo. In 1952, Vina Bovy hired him for the Ghent opera, whose director she was at that time. Antwerp and Ghent would always be at the center of his activity; he also sang a lot in Liège and Verviers, but never at La Monnaie in Brussels. He actually had a contract with La Monnaie for the 1959/60 season, but it was cancelled by La Monnaie's new manager, who did not feel committed to agreements made by his predecessor.

Abroad, Verbeeck sang very much in France (Bordeaux, Toulouse, Toulon, Lille, Montpellier, Mulhouse, St-Étienne, Dijon...), and also in Algeria, Germany, Spain and Hungary. He quit the stage in 1976, but continued to appear in occasional recitals until he was 90 years old! His voice was incredibly robust and healthy; he was able to sing an afternoon performance somewhere in France, and step in the same evening for a sick colleague in Belgium. He was in high esteem as a very helpful colleague, and he could be as he typically knew not only his own role by heart, but also those of the other characters. He had a photographic memory for music, and learned his roles accordingly quickly, in a matter of few hours. He was even able to sing his roles in various languages at the same time, i. e. in Dutch in the Flemish part of Belgium, in French in Wallonie or France, and in German or Italian, respectively, at the more internationally oriented theaters. He had a reputation as a breathtakingly intense interpreter, although he was no good stage actor; he did all the acting with vocal means only.

From his lyrical beginnings, he very quickly advanced to the dramatic repertory: Tannhäuser, Max, Paul in Die tote Stadt (a favorite part of his), Grigorij, Loris, José Lohengrin, Luigi, Andrea Chénier, Otello, Manrico, Canio, Calaf, Siegmund, Samson, Jean (Hérodiade), Florestan, Pedro, Dick Johnson, Sadko, Bánk Bán (!!), Osaka, Stolzing, Vladimir Igorevich, Bacchus, Don Carlo, Raoul. But he was surprisingly versatile, and also sang Gennaro (Lucrezia Borgia), Ferrando, Lyonel, Sou-Chong, Barinkay, Edgardo, Tamino, Faust, Hoffmann, Roméo; plus he always sang the occasional comprimario part, as if he couldn't get enough of singing as much as possible: Narraboth, Tybalt, Matteo, Camille de Rosillon. All in all, he sang about 80 roles.

Reference 1: Claude-Pascal Perna; reference 2: Opera Nostalgia

Jan Verbeeck sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
In RA format

Jan Verbeeck singsFidelio: Gott, welch Dunkel hier
In RA format

Jan Verbeeck singsTurandot: Nul ne dorme
In RA format

I wish to thank Georges Cardol for the recording (Fidelio).
I wish to thank Claude Ribou for the recording (Turandot).

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