A multi-faceted festival honored the final appearance the Belgian baritone legend Jos_ van Dam at the Brussels opera, La Monnaie. Saluting his 50 year career and his 30 years with La Monnaie, the company arranged a free projection of Jules Massenet's opera Don Quichotte in the main square and a Europe-wide live television broadcast with Van Dam starring as the disillusioned knight.
Brussels-born Jos_ van Dam, who will be 70 in August, has been described as "A Living National Treasure." and this tribute is a top ticket for this European opera season. In addition to appearing in most of the world's major houses and with a vast recording legacy, Van Dam has also appeared in the films "The Music Teacher" (1988) and as Leporello in "Don Giovanni" (1979) directed by Joseph Losey. The dowager Queen Elisabeth was in the royal box as Massenet's opera itself celebrates its centenary (composed for Feodor Chaliapin, it debuted in Brussels May 19, 1910)
The evening was under the formidable baton of Marc Minkowski and featured a new production by acclaimed director Laurent Pelly. During the overture, an old man, looking much like late photos of the composer, sits alone, reading. As the characters appear and the opera starts, he gradually is swept up to the role of the knight errant himself. Mountains of paper fill the stage hints at the twilight of Massenet's long career and the popular Cervantes story about a passionate, idealistic knight also in his final days.
Van Dam had some vocal dry spots during the evening but in the final acts, his expressive baritone managed that all-to-rare phenomenon where the performer and the character become a seamless whole. It was this talent which has made him an invaluable opera asset for a half century. Making a splash as his Belle Dulcin_e was soprano Silvia Tro Santaf_ with Werner Van Mechelen as a surprisingly fine Sancho Panza.
The broadcast, on the French/German television channel Arte, will also be available for free viewing on their streaming service, liveweb.arte.tv. This broadcast is only part of the weekend's giant annual outreach program, European Opera Days. This year 97 opera companies in 21 countries had open air concerts, open rehearsals and performances in metro stations and shopping centers to give a taste of opera to thousands who have never experienced it live.
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All photos by Johan Jacobs.