The Belgian bass, José Van Dam (real name Christened Joseph van Damme), entered the Brussels Royal Conservatory at the age of 17, and studied with Frederic Anspach. A year later, he graduated with diplomas and first prizes in voice and opera performance.
José Van Dam made his operatic début as the music teacher Don Basilio in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Paris Opéra in 1961, and remained in the company until 1965, when he sang his first major role, Escamillo from Georges Bizet's Carmen. He then sang for two seasons at Geneva, La Scala, Covent Garden, and in Paris, mainly singing the role of Escamillo. At Geneva, van Dam also sung in the première of Milhaud's La mère coupable in 1966. Lorin Maazel soon heard José van Dam and invited him to record Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole with him for Deutsche Grammophon. Then, in 1967, Lorin Maazel asked him to join the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin, where José van Dam first sang his leading roles.
Since 1970 José Van Dam has sung in all the great opera-houses of the world, singing works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Bruckner, Felix Mendelssohn, Francis Poulenc, and Schubert. José van Dam has given many notable performances at the Salzburg Festival, including the Four Villains in The Tales of Hoffman in 1981, the Dutchman in 1982, and Philip II at the 1985 Easter Festival, a role he has also sung at the Metropolitan Opera.
Highlights from the 1980’s have included his Simon Boccanegra which opened the 1982-83 season in Brussels, Wozzeck at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. José van Dam was also celebrated for his interpretation of the title role on Messiaen’s Saint Francis of Assisi at the Paris Opéra, and his Brussels début role as Hans Sachs in Brussels in 1985.
Highlights of the 1996-1997 season included the role of Mephistopheles in Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; G. Mahler songs with the Montreal Symphony and in a Toronto recital; G. Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Seiji Ozawa conducting; and, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Boulez, songs by Ravel and G. Mahler.
Additional highlights of recent seasons include the role of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the late Sir Georg Solti conducting, and appearances as San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Opera, where José van Dam performed in Pelléas et Mélisande, The Tales of Hoffman, The Marriage of Figaro, and Der fliegende Holländer.
José Van Dam performs regularly at L’Opéra de Paris, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan, Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Salzburg Festival (Easter and summer), and festivals in Aix-en-Provence and Orange, France.
José Van Dam has quite an extensive discography and is a three-time Grammy winner. Recent recordings include Charles Gounod’s Faust, Oedipe by Enescu, and Don Quichotte for EMI France and Pelléas et Mélisande with Claudio Abbado, all of which have been honored with awards. Additional recordings can be found on Philips Classics and a series of solo recordings on Forlane.
José Van Dam is also celebrated as a concert, oratorio, and Lieder singer and has won many international awards for his extraordinary performances both on stage and in recordings. Berlin conferred on him the title of ‘Kammersänger’ in 1974, and the same year he received the German Music Critics’ Prize. Other awards include the Gold Medal of the Belgian Press (1976), Grand Prix de l’Academie Française du Disque (1979), Orphée d’Or de l’Academie Lyrique Française (1980), the European Critics’ Prize, (1985), Diapason d’Or and Prix de la Nouvelle Academie du Disque (1993), and the Orphée d’Or de l’Academie du Disque Lyrique (1994). In August of 1998, His Majesty Prince Albert II of Belgium made José van Dam a baron, recognizing him as one of the finest singers who ever lived.
José Van Dam starred in the motion pictures The Music Teacher (1988 - distributed by Orion Pictures) and in Don Giovanni, (1976) as Leporello, conducted by Lorin Maazel. He recently completed a video-film with recordings of Winterreise, for Disque Forlane.