Flemish Opera Arias & Duets (November 2015)

Symposium From Emperor Charles to the Princess of the Inn
Flemish Opera in Flanders and Abroad
26 November 2015, Flemish Opera Ghent
27 january, 2016, Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp

Joris Grouwels (baritone)
Pauline Lebbe (soprano)
Joshi Hermans (piano)

  • FlConSLIDELimnander
  • FlConSLIDEGevaert
  • FlConSLIDEBlockx
  • FlConSLIDEWambach
  • Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove (1814-1892)
  • François-Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908)
  • Jan Blockx (1851-1912)
  • Emiel Wambach (1854-1924)


Emiel Wambach: Quinten Massijs (1899)
–  'De moeder maged en 't goddelijk kind' (Act III, aria Floris)
François-Auguste Gevaert: Quentin Durward (1858)
– 'Le ciel lui-même' (Nr. 7 Air Isabelle )
– 'Elle était la … Je l'ai revue' (Nr. 10 Romance Crêvecoeur )
– 'Mon père était jadis le compagnon' (Nr. 11 Duet Isabelle & Crêvecoeur)
Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove: Maximilien à Francfort (1853)
– Moi qui l'aimais d'amour si tendre (Act II, air Marguerite)
Jan Blockx: De bruid der zee (1901)
– ‘Ach liefste comt…’ (Act II, duet Kerlien & Kerdee)
Jan Blockx: De herbergprinses (1896)
– 'Ik keek te diep in't glas' (Act I, monoloog Jan Rabo)


On November 26, 2015, a symposium on Flemish Opera was given along with a concert of arias and duets from once famous Flemish operas. For us this was a sister initiative to our own 401DutchOperas Concerts and we filmed and record the event, as well as the upcoming concert in Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp. Soon we will provide a ticket link.

Among the composers presented in the concert were Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove and François-Auguste Gevaert. Of the latter, the Royal Conservatory Brussels had previously performed the opéra comique Le capitaine Henriot (Paris, 1864). The three excerpts from Quentin Durward (1858) are a welcome addition to the Capitaine Henriot performance, also because Quentin Durward is regarded as Gevaert's best work. As a composer he is now forgotten, although there was a time that his name was mentioned inline with the likes of Auber, Adam, the Thomas of Le Caïd and Le songe d’une nuit d’été, Offenbach and Planquette.

With Emiel Wambach’s Quinten Massijs (1899), we arrive at one of the most popular operas in the history of Flemish opera. It remained in the repertoire there until the late 1960s, when it was performed in the Flemish Festival of Flanders. While the libretto and the music strongly remind us of Wagner’s Meistersinger, the sentimental Act III aria of Floris before the prize winning painting of Quinten seems to echo Kienzl’s ‘Selig sind die Verfolgung leiden’ from Der Evangelimann, a work created five years earlier, in 1894. With Armand Limnander de Nieuwenhove's Le Maître-chanteur ou Maximilien à Francfort from 1853, soprano Pauline Lebbe presented an aria from a composer who name isn’t even remembered today. All the same Limnander de Nieuwenhove had a splendid career at the Paris Opéra-Comique between 1845 and 1870, which extended to his native Belgium. From his seven operas, Les Monténégrins (1849) was the most successful. Marguerite’s aria from Maximilien à Francfort reveals the typical characteristics of any central soprano aria in an opéra comique, with a light  melodic structure, culminating into a melodramatic finale. The Gevaert and Limnander de Nieuwenhove excerpts are fascinating additions to the repertoire of the Paris Opéra-Comique of those days. Except for the efforts of the Malibran CD-label and a few obscure books, the history of that illustrious theatre has now been reduced to a handful of composers and operas only, because critics and authors have always favoured the more prestigious l’Opéra. Yet, connoisseurs know that the greatest hits of L’Opéra today are borrowings from the Opéra-Comique (Carmen, Mignon, Lakmé…) and Carvalho’s Théatre Lyrique (Faust, Roméo et Juliette). Since Grouwels and Lebbe revealed in this concert that there are abundant scores of the Flemish triumphs at the Opéra-Comique of ere, we express the hope that record label Phaedra will consider to devote an issue of their series ‘In Flander’s Fields’ to the subject.

With Jan Blockx’ operas De herbergprinses (Princess of the Inn, 1896) and De bruid der zee (The Bride of the Sea, 1901) we enter a wholly different territory. Like Wambach’s Quinten Massijs and the best operas of Karel Miry and Paul Gilson, Blockx’ operas sill deserve to be performed on the main stages of Antwerp, Brussels, Luik or Ghent, with state of the art casts. Given the lack of courage or knowledge among the Flemish theatres, one would at least welcome a concert initiative by Flemish or Wallonia radio. That none of the masterpieces of Flemish opera has ever been recorded is a disgrace for Flanders’ cultural policy of the past 70 years. We can’t believe that one-day Filip De winter of the Flamingant party will rise to the challenge of becoming the saviour of Flemish opera by installing legal quota for Flemish singers and composers in state funded opera theatres and concert halls? However, given the statistics, I am afraid that eventually this may prove to be what it takes. Until that day arrives, we can already enjoy the follow up concert that Joris Grouwels and Pauline Lebbe will give on January 27, 2016, in Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp. Regarding these young singers we can write that they have thrown themselves heart and soul into this project. They brought out the music very well, and here and there one could really appreciate the splendour of some of these obscure compositions. Grouwels has a clear, lyrical baritone voice with a noble ring to it, which is most promising. Lebbe has a voice with a characteristic timbre, which is in line with the Flemish vocal tradition. They were excellently accompanied from the piano by Joshi Hermans, who already has an impressive CV, as can be seen in the artists’ biographies below.

The singers

FlConJorisGrouwelsJoris Grouwels, baritone, started his musical studies in 2009 at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. He is now continuing his studies at the Opera School of Stockholm. His prime vocal teachers are Ulf Lundmark, Catrin Wyn Davies and Lucienne Van Deyck. In Stockholm he performed among others parts of Faust (Valentin), Roméo et Juliette (Capulet) and La Bohème (Schaunard). As concert soloist Joris frequently appears in repertoire ranging from Bach to Buckinx. Recently he could be heard at the Canals Festival Amsterdam and, in the same city, in Russian opera excerpts of the IVC-master class Russian repertory. In the near future he will appear in the Weihnachtsoratorio (Lier), and in January in another concert with forgotten Flemish opera arias  (Museum Vleeshuis Antwerpen); then also a performance at the Stockholm Conservatory and a Song recital in Vimmerby (Sweden). Since he finished his studies as Civil Engineer at the Catholic University Leuven, Joris also worked as a researcher. He lived for several years in Malaysia, Spain and Sweden.

FlConPaulineLebbeSoprano Pauline Lebbe started her musical studies at age eight, studying solfege and cello at the Academy of Turnhout. After the humaniora she studied law at the Catholic University of Leuven, and then higher musical studies at the Lemmens Institute there. She obtained a bachelor Cello with Jaap Kruithof and Wim De Moor and a bachelor singing with Lieve Jansen. Currently she is following a Master in singing with Catrin Wyn-Davies. She took further lessons from Lucienne Van Deyck, Margreet Honig, Randi Stene and Susanna Eken. In 2014 Pauline performed Mrs. Grose in Brittens The Turn of the Screw, in two different productions in Leuven and Ghent. Currently, she participates in several productions with the chorus of De Munt Theatre Brussels. As chorus vocalist she was active in Laudantes Consort Brussels, Collegium ad Mosam Sittard (Netherlands) and the Coro Polifonico di Santo Spirito Ferrara (Italy). In the wake of her Master thesis, Pauline is studying the Belgian song repertoire on texts by Belgian symbolist authors.

The pianist

FlConJoshiHermansJoshi Hermans studied piano at the Royal Conservatory Antwerp in the class of Levente Kende. He trained also as an accompanist with Jozef De Beenhouwer and Lucienne Van Deyck. He took his Master in Music with distinction at the Guild-hall School of Music and Drama Londen, where he was awarded the Guildhall Artist Fellowship. As repetitor he worked for the Flemish opera, Summer Opera Alden Biesen and Lyric Opera Studio Weimar. He was solo repetitor with conducting obligations at the Koblenz Theater (Germany). He participated in no less than 25 opera productions, and also in several musicals. He’s much sought after as accompanist in Master Classes. He worked with Juan Diego Flórez, Gidon Saks, Yvonne Kenny and several others. Joshi received sholarships of the Guildhall Trust and Inspiratum (Axel Vervoordt).