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Maartje Offers (Contralto)

Born: 1891
Died: January 28, 1944 - Island of Tholen, the Netherlands

The Dutch contralto, Maartje Offers' voice was discovered at an early age. She studied in The Hague under Arnold Spoel and Mrs. Hekking and in Rotterdam under the contralto Pauline de Haan-Manifarges.

As early as 1910 Maartje Offers gave her first church concert and in the years following she seemed destined for a career as an oratorio singer. To everyone's great surprise she was offered a contract by the Opera Francaise in The Hague in 1917 where she first appeared in the role of Dalila. She remained there for the following two years until the theatre's closure. In all the long years of this opera house's existence Offers was one of the very few Dutch singers to have sung there; this is all the more remarkable as she was still unknown at that time. From 1919 on she appeared with a series of shortlived Dutch opera companies as Dalila, Ortrud, Amneris, Azucena, Magdalene in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Adriano in Rienzi, and Maria Magdalena in the Dutch premiere of Eugen d'Albert's Die Toten Augen. With one of these troupes she made her debut at the Opera in Paris as Dalila (with Jacques Urlus) and was complimented on her performance by the venerable composer. In 1923, when yet another Dutch opera company had gone bankrupt, some singers joined a group of Italians who had just finished their stagione in the Netherlands. Here Offers sang for the first time in Italian and her Azucena so impressed the baritone, Lorenzo Conati, that he advised her to go to Milan and start a career in Italy. This she did and was immediately engaged by La Scala in Milan for the 1924-1925 season when she appeared as Fricka in Rheingold and Walküre.

Maartje Offers performed in Italy for about three years, mainly at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Around 1927 she returned to the Netherlands, but soon was discovered by Sir Thomas Beecham who engaged her for a concert tour of Australia and England. The soprano of this troupe was Eva Turner. Offers was also to become the leading contralto of a new Beecham Opera Company, but this project failed to fruit. In 1926 she sang the contralto solo in Gustav Mahler's 2nd Symphony under Willem Mengelberg. Then suddeny she suffered a lull. She returned to the Netherlands, where appearances were only sporadic. Significantly, her last operatic performance was one of the eight Valkyrie (for the Amsterdam Wagner Society in 1936). Her last public appearance took place in 1940 in a concert at the Spa hotel at Scheveningen, where she sang an aria from Samson et Dalila and one from La Reine de Saba by Charles Gounod.

During the last 15 years of her life Maartje Offers taught singing, but none of her pupils made notable careers. In World War II she was evacuated from The Hague to the island of Tholen where she died.

Maartje Offers' career was one of those which, after a promising start, came to a sudden halt. Despite her impressive chest notes, in Georg Frideric Handel's Ombra mai fu, for example, she was not a genuine contralto but rather a dramatic soprano with a well-developed lower register (like Celestina Boninsegna). Other reasons for her decline may have been a certain lack of temperament on stage and her -even for those days - heavy-weight figure.

Maartje Offers' first records were issued by Artiphon under the name of Maartje van der Meer-Offers, as she called herself until her debut in Italy. For a short time she was married to a Mr van Buuren, a lawyer and amateur conductor who even conducted some of her records and for a while was the director of the Italian Opera in the Netherlands. By 1928 already, she was officially signing M. Eigenmans-Offers. In Italy she became a Red Label star of "His Master's Voice", making several acoustic recordings of arias and duets from Rienzi, II Trovatore (with Pinza, among others), Aida (duet with Poli-Randacio), Mignon, Samson et Dalila, etc. Her electric recordings (also issued on the Red Label) date from the time of her years in London when she was singing under Thomas Beecham. The only exception was the Waltraute-scene from Götterdämmerung; a recording which clearly shows the soprano character of her voice - in some passages Brünnhilde sounds even darker than Waltraute! The titles from Il Trovatore and Don Carlo with Barbirolli demonstrate how positively a good conductor could influence her singing: she shows much more fire and temperament. Other recordings include arias from Carmen (a role which she never sang on stage) and various songs - among them some songs by Dutch composers - and even one from Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures.

Source: Dutch Divas Website (2001, author: Leo Riemens)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (February 2002)

Maartje Offers: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works under her name

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




John Barbirolli


Selection from BWV 244

Malcolm Sargent


Arias from BWV 244

Links to other Sites

Dutch Contraltos (Cantabile Subito)


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