Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy All Saints Day – Messiaen: Saint François d'Assise

The great bass-baritone, José Van Dam was born in Brussels in 1940, and made his operatic debut in Paris in 1961. After an incredible career on the opera stage, in film, as a sensitive recitalist, and in the recording studio, Van Dam retired from opera in 2010. However, I believe he still performs in concert and recital. 

One of Van Dam’s greatest successes was as the title role in Olivier Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise. In honor of All Saints Day, we offer this clip of St. Francis preaching to the birds. 

He actually seems more to be having a conversation with them, as the birds give him a lot of feedback. This scene combines Messiaen’s signature bird songs, his flowing melodies, and thick lush harmonies. It also reveals why José Van Dam is renowned for his sensitive, smooth lyrical singing. 

Messiaen: Saint François d'Assise Act 2, Scene 6

Unfortunately the clip ends pretty abruptly. And I am not sure this video is commercially available. I think it's worth seeking out. The use of the video monitors is fascinating and I would like to see more of this production. 


  1. I haven't seen this production either but there is a very good Blu-ray/DVD version of Pierre Audi's Amsterdam production with Rod Gilfrey in the title role.

    1. I saw references to that one and I need to track it down. This is an opera I know only by reputation.

  2. This documentary with Peter Sellers has scenes from that production of his - and interviews with Van Dam. I believe most, maybe all, the clips on Youtube from St. F. are from this video.

    The Gilfrey performance is quite good, and I like the way in that production they have children as birds.

    1. Thanks for the link. I will check it out.


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