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Dramatic Soprano

Gré Brouwenstijn, Lyric/Dramatic Soprano

By March 6, 2018March 25th, 2023No Comments

This post is very difficult to write. I would like to spread the word about this remarkable Dutch soprano, who is little known today. The difficulty that I have is that she had a very, very large voice. People with large voices (remember Fächer) tend to sing certain roles, and if you are not already an opera fan, the amount of sound might be too much for you. Therefore, I have chosen three arias which I hope don’t blast you out of your seats. If you like this singer, she was most well known for Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio”. The part that she played was Leonore, and the famous aria from that opera is “Abscheulicher”. If you like these arias, you can find more on youtube.
I would make two remarks about the Marriage of Figaro. One is that one of the supreme highlights of Western civilization. Second, notice how softly (piano) Brouwenstijn can make her voice during the aria. This is not easy for someone with such a large voice.

E Susanna non vien!
Sono ansiosa di saper
come il Conte accolse la proposta.
Alquanto ardito il progetto mi par,
E ad uno sposo si vivace e geloso!
Ma che mal c’è?
Cangiando i miei vestiti con quelli
di Susanna,
E suoi co’miei
al favor della notte.
Oh, cielo! a qual umil stato fatale
io son ridotta da un consorte crudel!
Che dopo avermi con un misto inaudito
d’infedeltà, di gelosia, di sdegno!
Prima amata, indi offesa, e alfin tradita,
Fammi or cercar da una mia serva aita!

Dove sono i bei momenti
Di dolcezza e di piacer?
Dove andaron i giuramenti
Di quel labbro menzogner?
Perchè mai, se in pianti e in pene
Per me tutto si cangiò,
La memoria di quel bene
Dal mio sen non trapassò?
Ah! se almen la mia costanza,
Nel languire amando ognor,
Mi portasse una speranza
Di cangiar l’ingrato cor!

Eugene Onegin, the letter scene

I have to apologize in advance.  Usually, I can find transliterations of Russian so that at least you will know what sounds the singers are making.  In this case, I cannot seem to find a transliteration.  I can only find Russian and English.  You will have to imagine.  Oh, and one more thing.  This is Pushkin’s original poem.  It may deviate from what Tchaikovsky ended up writing.  Please keep in mind that the character who Brouwenstijn is playing is a 15-year-old girl.  Listen to the way in which Browenstijn pulls her enormous voice back to portray this character.

Письмо Татьяны к Онегину

Я к вам пишу – чего же боле?
Что я могу еще сказать?
Теперь, я знаю, в вашей воле
Меня презреньем наказать.
Но вы, к моей несчастной доле
Хоть каплю жалости храня,
Вы не оставите меня.
Сначала я молчать хотела;
Поверьте: моего стыда
Вы не узнали б никогда,
Когда б надежду я имела
Хоть редко, хоть в неделю раз
В деревне нашей видеть вас,
Чтоб только слышать ваши речи,
Вам слово молвить, и потом
Все думать, думать об одном
И день и ночь до новой встречи.

Но говорят, вы нелюдим;
В глуши, в деревне всё вам скучно,
А мы… ничем мы не блестим,
Хоть вам и рады простодушно.

Зачем вы посетили нас?
В глуши забытого селенья
Я никогда не знала б вас,
Не знала б горького мученья.
Души неопытной волненья
Смирив со временем (как знать?),
По сердцу я нашла бы друга,
Была бы верная супруга
И добродетельная мать.

Другой!.. Нет, никому на свете
Не отдала бы сердца я!
То в вышнем суждено совете…
То воля неба: я твоя;
Вся жизнь моя была залогом
Свиданья верного с тобой;
Я знаю, ты мне послан богом,
До гроба ты хранитель мой…
Ты в сновиденьях мне являлся,
Незримый, ты мне был уж мил,
Твой чудный взгляд меня томил,
В душе твой голос раздавался
Давно… нет, это был не сон!
Ты чуть вошел, я вмиг узнала,
Вся обомлела, запылала
И в мыслях молвила: вот он!
Не правда ль? я тебя слыхала:
Ты говорил со мной в тиши,
Когда я бедным помогала
Или молитвой услаждала
Тоску волнуемой души?
И в это самое мгновенье
Не ты ли, милое виденье,
В прозрачной темноте мелькнул,
Приникнул тихо к изголовью?
Не ты ль, с отрадой и любовью,
Слова надежды мне шепнул?

Кто ты, мой ангел ли хранитель,
Или коварный искуситель:
Мои сомненья разреши.
Быть может, это всё пустое,
Обман неопытной души!
И суждено совсем иное…
Но так и быть! Судьбу мою
Отныне я тебе вручаю,
Перед тобою слезы лью,
Твоей защиты умоляю…
Вообрази: я здесь одна,
Никто меня не понимает,
Рассудок мой изнемогает,
И молча гибнуть я должна.
Я жду тебя: единым взором
Надежды сердца оживи,
Иль сон тяжелый перерви,
Увы, заслуженным укором!

Кончаю! Страшно перечесть…
Стыдом и страхом замираю…
Но мне порукой ваша честь,
И смело ей себя вверяю…

Tatyana’s letter to Onegin.

I write this to you – what more can be said?
What more can I add to that one fact?
For now I know it is in your power
To punish me contemptuously for this act.
But you, keeping for my unhappy lot
Even one drop of sympathy
Will not entirely abandon me.
At first I wished to remain silent;
Believe me, my shame, my agony,
You never ever would have heard.
As long as hope remained preserved
That rarely, even once a week,
I’d see you in our country house,
To hear your voice, to hear you speak,
To say a few words, and then, and then
To think, and think, and think again
All day, all night, until the next meeting.

But it is said you are unsociable,
And in this backwater all is tedious to you,
While we… well here we shine at nothing,
Although we’re glad to welcome you.

Why did you come to visit us?
In this forgotten rural home
Your face I never would have known
Nor known this bitter suffering.
The fever of inexperience
In time (who can tell?) it would have died down,
And I’d have found another lover,
Dear to my heart, to whom I’d be true,
And a loving wife, and virtuous mother.

Another!… No, no one on this earth
Is there to whom I’d give my heart!
That is ordained by highest fate…
That is heaven’s will – that I am yours;
My life till now was but a pledge,
Of meeting with you, a forward image;
You were sent by heaven of that I’m sure,
To the grave itself you are my savior…
In dreams you have appeared to me,
Though yet unseen, I held you dear,
Your glance and strangeness tortured me,
To my soul your voice was loud and clear
From long ago… It was not a dream!
You came, and I knew that very instant,
I was struck dumb, my heart flared up,
And in my thoughts said “He is the one!”
Is it not true? I heard you often:
In the silence did you not speak to me,
Both when I helped the poor, and when
With prayer I sought to ease and soften
The pain inside my anguished head?
And at this very moment, is it not you,
Oh sweetest, lovely vision who
In the night’s transparency flits by
And quietly nestles by the bed’s head?
And you, who with love and rapturously
Whispered a word of hope to me?

Who are you, my guardian angel?
Or a wily devil, a tempter fatal?
Disperse these doubts, this agony.
Perhaps all this is nothingness,
A foolish mind’s self-aberration,
And something other is fate’s decree…
So be it! Whatever my destiny,
To you I give it from this day,
Before you the tears roll down my cheek,
And your protection I beseech…
For consider: here I am alone,
No one understands what I say,
My reason tortures me every day,
And silently I am doomed to perish.
You I await: With a single glance
Revive the hope that’s in my heart,
Cut short this heavy dream I cherish,
Deserving, I know, reproach and scorn.

I finish – I tremble to read it through,
With shame and terror my heart sinks low,
But your honor is my guarantee
And to that I entrust my destiny.

“Ozean, du Ungeheuer” from Carl Maria von  Weber’s Oberon.  It is impossible to find the German text of this aria on the internet, so we downloaded the score.  There are many differences between the German that Brouwenstijn sings and the lyrics in the score.  In comparison, Lotte Lehmann sings exactly the lyrics in the score as shown below.  I can only think of a few reasons by Brouwenstijn would not use the original lyrics.  It seems that there was quite a history of rewriting Oberon, and the lyrics that Browenstijn used were alternative lyrics.  Otherwise, Brouwenstijn could have made a mistake, although that is hard to believe, or this could have been an artistic decision on her part or on her conductor’s part.  We really cannot know.  The German here is from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and it will not match what Brouwentijn sings.  They are close, but they are not exact.

This is such a complicated opera (although not nearly as bad as The Ring, which I will bring myself to go into) that I’m going to skip the whole plot.  The heroine Reiza has been in a shipwreck, and she is not happy about it.  She sings this aria about the Ocean’s power.  This aria is generally for a really big lyric or dramatic soprano.  It has a lot of colaratura in it, which is typically not easy for a large voice.  In this case, Brouwenstijn sings it as if it were nothing.  This is an amazing performance.

Rezitativ und Ozean-Arie

Ozean, du Ungeheuer!
Schlangen gleich hältst du umschlungen rund die ganze Welt!
Dem Auge bist ein Anblick voll Grösse du,
Wenn friedlich in des Morgens Strahl du ruhst
Doch wenn in Wut du dich erhebst, o Meer,
Und schlingst die Knoten um dein Opfer her,
Malmend das mächtige Schiff, als wär’s ein Rohr,
Dann, Ozean, stellst du ein Schreckbild vor. –

Die Wellen werden etwas ruhiger und heller

Noch seh’ ich die Wellen toben,
Durch die Nacht ihr Schäumen schleudern,
An der Brandung wild gehoben,
Jede Lebenshoffnung scheitern! –

Die durch die Gewitternacht verdrängte
Abendsonne zerteilt in einzelnen Strahlen die Wolken

Doch, still! Seh’ ich nicht Licht dort schimmern,
Ruhend auf der fernen Nacht,
Wie des Morgens blasses Flimmern,
Wenn vom Schlaf er erwacht?

Die Wellen werden immer ruhiger

Heller nun empor es glühet
In dem Sturm, dess’ Nebelzug
Wie zerrissne Wimpel fliehet,
Wie wilden Rosses Mähnenflug! –

Die Abendsonne strahlt hell und voll am Himmel

Und nun die Sonn’ geht au! Die Winde lispeln leis’;
Gestillter Zorn wogt nur im Wellenkreis.
Wolkenlos strahlt dann die Sonne
Auf die Purpurwellen nieder,
Wie ein Held nach Schlachtenwonne
In Triumph sein zelt sucht wieder. –

Das Meer wird ganz ruhig, und die
untern Wolkenschichten zerteilen sich

Ach, vielleicht erblicket nimmer
Wieder dieses Aug’ Licht!
Lebe wohl, du Glanz, für immer!
Denn für mich erstehst du nicht. –

Die Sonne geht unter. Ein Schiff zieht entfernt von rechts nach links vorüber

Doch was glänzt dort schön und weiss?
Hebt sich mit der Wellen Heben?
s ist die Möwe, schweift im Kreis,
Wo die Flut raubt ein Leben!
Nein – kein Vogel ist’s! – Es naht!
Heil! Es ist ein Boot, ein Schiff!
Und ruhig segelt’s seinen Pfad,
Ungestört durch das Riff. –
O Wonne! Mein Hüon! Zum Ufer herbei!

Sie nimmt den Schleier ab, der sie
umhüllt, und gibt damit nach dem Schiffe hin ein Zeichen

Schnell! Schnell! Dieser Schleier! Er weht!
O Gott, sende Rat!
Sie sehn mich! Schon Antwort! Sie rudern mit Macht!
Hüon! Hüon! Hüon! –
Mein Hüon! Mein Gatte! Die Rettung, sie naht!
Rettung naht! Rettung naht! Rettung naht!

Sie will nach links hinten ab

Recitative and Ocean Aria

Ocean! thou mighty monster!
That lies curled like a green serpent, round about the world!
To musing eye thou art an awful sight,
When calmly sleeping in the morning light;
But when thou risest in thy wrath,
As now, and fling’st thy folds around some fated prow!
Crushing the strong ribbed bark as if it were a reed!
Then, Ocean, art thou terrible indeed.

The waves become increasingly calm and bright.

Still I see thy billows flashing!
Through the gloom their white foam flinging,
And the breaker’s sullen dashing
In mine ear hope’s knell is ringing.

A few rays of the evening sun, hitherto obscured by the darkness of the storm, break through the clouds.

But lo! methinks a light is breaking
Slowly over the distant deep,
Like a second morn awaking
Pale and feeble from its sleep.

The waves continue to abate.

Brighter now, behold! ’tis beaming!
On the storm, whose misty train
Like some shatter’d flag is streaming
Or a wild steed’s flying mane.

The evening sun sheds its full glory across the sky.
And now the Sun bursts forth, the wind is lulling fast,

And the broad wave but pants from fury past!
Cloudless over the blushing water,
Now the setting sun is burning,
Like a victor red with slaughter,
To his tent in triumph turning.

The sea becomes quite calm and the clouds part.

Ah! per chance these eyes may never look upon
Fare thee well, bright orb, forever,
Thou for me wilt rise in vain! –

The sun sets and a ship glides past from right to left.

But what gleams so white and fair,
Heaving with the heaving billow?
tis a seabird, wheeling there over some
Wretch’s wat’ry pillow!
No! it is no bird, I mark!
Joy! lt is a boat, a sail!
And yonder rides a gallant bark,
Unimpair’d by the gale! Oh transport!
My Huon, haste down to the shore!

Removing her veil, she signals with it to the ship.

Quick, quick for a signal, this scarf,
This scarf shall be waved!
They see me! They answer! They ply the strong oar!
Huon! Huon! Huon!
Huon! my husband, my love, we are saved!
We are saved! We are saved!

She is about to go out towards the left

Gré Brouwenstijn (born Gerda Demphina: August 26, 1915 in Den Helder –December 14,1999 in Amsterdam) was a Dutch soprano whose stage career spanned from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s.


She studied voice at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum, with Jaap Stroomenbergh, Boris Pelsky and Ruth Horna. She made her operatic début in 1940 as the First Lady in The Magic Flute. Brouwenstijn then became a member of the Hilversum Radio Choir, later performing as a soloist in operatic broadcasts. In 1946, she joined the Netherlands Opera, where she made her debut as Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann.

In 1949, Brouwenstijn made her debut at the Holland Festival as Leonora in Il Trovatore, the beginning of a long association with that institution.

In 1951, Brouwenstijn made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Aida, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Her Berlin debut in 1954 caused “something of a sensation”; the critic praised her “phrasing in Italian opera”.  In 1955, under Rafael Kubelík, she sang Desdemona. In 1958, she sang Elisabetta in a famous production of Don Carlos designed by Luchino Visconti and conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. In 1958 she sang Leonore at the Teatro Colón in a production of Fidelio conducted by Thomas Beecham.

From 1954 to 1956, she appeared at Bayreuth, as Elisabeth, Freya, Sieglinde, Gutrune and Eva.   Two Wagnerian roles she performed elsewhere, Senta and Elsa, she never performed there, however, due to a breach in 1957 with the Wagner family.

Brouwenstijn’s roles at La Monnaie in Brussels were Chrysothemis in Elektra, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Sieglinde in Die Walküre.  At the Paris Opera she appeared as Leonore in Fidelio in 1955 and Elisabeth in Don Carlos in 1960.  In 1959, she made her American debut as Jenůfa at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

She made her farewell appearance singing Leonore, with the Netherlands Opera in 1971.