01 September 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: José van Dam – the marathon man

“He was rigorous, demanding… He’s the great conductor I had the greatest pleasure singing with.”

José van Dam about Karajan

If he was fond of a singer, Karajan was capable of great loyalty and fidelity. This was obviously the case with the Belgian bass-baritone José van Dam, now 83 years old. He is the artist Karajan cast most often. Between 1970 and 1988, they performed 157 concerts and operas and made 28 studio recordings.

“Karajan had his artistic family. And he loved to work with his family. Karajan was a very loyal person. He had a lot of respect for the people he was working with.”

Van Dam testifies that it was possible to turn down parts in Karajan’s productions and still be engaged by him.

“I turned down two parts he offered me: Pizarro and Telramund. And he understood.”

Their collaboration includes a great variety of roles, such as the Flying Dutchman, Escamillo, Amfortas, Golaud, Jochanaan, Figaro, Sarastro and Rocco. Van Dam also appeared in almost the entire repertoire of great sacred works that Karajan conducted – Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms and Verdi. Up to last year, van Dam was still making studio recordings.

“I talked to a lot of artists. Jon VickersMirella Freni… All the artists who worked with him adored him.”

In 1974, Karajan and van Dam performed the Verdi Requiem with Mirella Freni, Christa Ludwig and Luciano Pavarotti at the Vienna Musikverein. In the bass aria “Confutatis maledictis” Karajan gave a sign to the orchestra “Listen to him!” He stopped conducting and crossed his arms. For over a minute, Karajan just listened. Then he started conducting again and said “Bravo, van Dam!” – in concert.


We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and José van Dam. Listen to them here.

José van Dam (3/5) : “Karajan, il avait sa famille”, Radio France 2019

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