José Van Dam

Belgian lyrical singer (Ixelles, 25th of August 1940)

Because of his Belgian origins, José Van Dam has always had strong affection as well for the German repertoire as for French music. This internationnaly reputed artist is an accomplished melodist and, as a true ambassador of the French culture, always tried to defend its very peculiar - and constraining - characteristics of pronounciation and expressivity.

Joseph Van Damme, of his real name, started his vocal studies at the age of 13. In 1957, he joined the Brussels Conservatoire in the classe of Frédéric Anspach. He won in first singing prizes the following year and later was rewarded at the competitions of Liège, Paris, Toulouse and Geneva. His baritone-bass voice was quickly noticed and, after his debut in Liège, he was admitted in 1961 at the Opéra de Paris and at the Opéra-Comique. In 1967, he joined the Grand Théâtre de Genève, then became two years later one of the main singers of the Deutsche Oper of Berlin. There, he played among many roles the part of Leporello de Don Giovanni of Mozart, and left such a mark on the part that this interpretation has been following since. 

From 1970, his career gained an international dimension. He has been singing in the most prestigious venues: The Scala of Milan, the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Covent Garden in London, the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, in grand pieces such as Boris Godounov of Mussorgsky, Falstaff of Verdi, Wozzeck of Berg, the Marriage of Figaro of Mozart.

After Leporello, the second favorite role of José Van Dam is Saint François d’Assise in the eponymous opera of Messiaen. He sang the part for its creation at the Opéra de Paris in 1983 in the Garnier room, at the production for the Salzburg Festival in 1992 and then for the one in 2004 at the Opéra-Bastille. Besides the lyrical stages, José Van Dam gives recitals all around the world in the company of the greatest symphonic formations or with his regular pianist Maciej Pikulski.

He made two remarkable appearances in movies: in Don Giovanni of Joseph Losey and _The Music Teacher_of Gérard Corbiau and on television, in the documentary of François Jung, Une leçon particulière in 1990. 

His vast discography covers the baritone best roles of the lyrical repertoire, the French melody and the German Lied.

Six landmark dates in the life of José Van Dam
 • 1961: made his debut at the Opéra de Paris
 • 1978: Don Giovanni, a movie by Joseph Losey
 • 1983: creation of Saint François d’Assise, an opera of Olivier Messiaen
 • 1988: The Music Teacher, a movie by Gérard Corbiau
 • 1994: Victoire de la Musique for Don Quichotte of Massenet
 • 2010: said goodbye to the stage

Radio France documentation biography