Introduction


Previously I had a mere career retrospect on this page. There was a lot about what I had done and virtually nothing about who I am. I guess I was never a born social media fan, and I continue to have problems with social media privacy conditions. However, with the larger part of my closest friends living scattered around the globe now, I decided to come to terms with reality. If you found this page, I guess, for better or worse, you were looking for me. You are welcome. Please know that I am still exactly the same guy that you see on the picture below. I am his future. My mission in life is to fulfill his wildest dreams. Some of them I will share with you on these pages.




 

The 1970s


The 1970s... a decade filled with going to school, drawing, writing and contemplating the odds of the universe being infinite. Thanks to Neil Armstrong, since my oldest datable memory is watching TV with my dad when Armstrong landed on the Moon in 1969. My grandfather had to laugh about it:


'Who believes in TV! It's just a fantasy – flying to the Moon, impossible!'

Regardless, I contemplated the existence of mankind in the Universe while swimming, fishing, playing and discovering the world on trips to safari park Beekse Bergen in the vicinity of the European city of Breda.



      

 
The stars provided an infinite attraction, but the daylight brought the lure of the mermaids...Cathing pike with my brother HansMe, neigbor friend Jan and my brother celebrating the seventies at our first communion.You know those guys, Björn & Bennie? Hmmm... we guess you’re 40+ then...No comment...Although I didn’t know Franco Corelli at the time, I shared his passion for the movies of Tarzan, the Johnny Weismuller movies of course, not those that came later...Rhine nixens Petra, Veerle, me & my brother searching for... Rhinegold! Rhinegold! Kla-a-hares Gold! Wie hell du einstens strahltest, hehrer Stern der Tiefe!

At the time, we were all completely oblivious of slightly older kids elsewhere, that were then inventing desktop computers, the World Wide Web and the first mobile phone. Throughout the 1970s, my father's car was pretty much the key to the world at large.


In my mind, we could drive to the Moon with it. Well, perhaps not with my mother's second hand Volkswagen Beetle, but my dad's Ford station wagon was so big that it could actually bring the moon back home, or so it seemed. We didn't make it to the moon then, but my dad's car did bring us beyond mountains and hills, over incredible bridges, past glaciers and ravines to Austria, Germany and France. Impressive huh? Well, wait till you get a girl... Hard to tell who was my first girlfriend though. Perhaps the one I used to walk to prep school every day. I remember waiting for her at the crossing, and then we'd walk to school, hand in hand. We walked in complete silence, every day again the same ritual, for two years.


   
I loved all games and fairy tales
As Strangely odd as that may seem
I loved firelight and witches' tales
You see, you were there in my dreams
I lived in a tower, cloud-top high
To stop your love from passing by

Just as in this Elly Stone song though, I've forgotten her name...
Perhaps it was the girl next door then, Angelique?


I remember yesterday in our secret hideaway
That was where, that was when
We became the best of friends
I remember the danger
I remember the sign
We were flashing the lights...




 

But no, she was just the girl next door. I simply had to play with her, and she with me. True love only arrived when Katja arranged my 'relationship' with Sonja. At age 11 I finally touched the moon and then also the stars beyond. Imagine to be allowed to play skipping rope with Sonja during lunchtime at primary school! Suddenly, all questions about life and infinity seemed irrelevant.

No further memories of the 1970s surpass those, except maybe when she broke the relationship after 6 weeks of playing skipping rope. To console me she said that I could still continue to play skipping rope with them during lunchtime. I guess that defines the moment when I became a man: no relationship, no skipping rope! Sometimes a man has to stand his ground. I never managed to forget her though. In 2006 she started her journey to the unknown and when I look up to the skies on a bright night, I can see her star. Small but bright it is now surrounded by a few other stars that left lasting memories in my mind.

In becoming stars they ultimately answered the essential questions that I was contemplating during this formative period in my life. But that was decades after I first took the Rainbow train to the worlds beyond. That magic train arrived every night on the station inside, to pick me up. I hopped on, and off it went, over the rainbow bridge to the Milky Way and beyond, stopping only in worlds unseen where I lived through incredible adventures. Imagine a train that never stops in the same world twice...





 

The 1980s


When my parents decided to move from Breda to some village in between, I lost ground for about six years, say, my entire time spend in high school. That didn't matter too much to me, since the rainbow train was there throughout to take me to a world that was better suited to me. I guess I lived in two worlds. I was pretty good at school, without having to do very much for it. I was more interested in painting and writing, which I seriously started to do from age 11 to 12. When, somewhere in high school, the German Language teacher asked us what we wanted to be later in life, I replied:


'I am a writer'.

A writer


Saying you are writer is not uncommon. Being one is quite a different thing. In short, I was in immediate need of a publication. At the time, my friends were Mark & Michiel, and one fine day Michiel boasted that he knew where lived one of the blondes from Dutch girl group Babe.

Mark and I called his bluff. We followed Michiel to the address concerned, where I boldly rang the bell. To Mark and my utmost astonishment a hot blonde opened the door: Margot van de Ven, one of the three hot blondes of Babe! I swallowed hard, took a deep breath and said:


'Uhmmmmm…. We are from the high school paper and we want an interview.'

We were greeted with an astonishing smile, and the hot blonde replied:


'Right now I'm not prepared, but tomorrow at 12, you are most welcome.'

Just as Anna Netrebko counts her first appearance as a figurant at the Mariinsky Theatre as her official debut, I count our interview with Margot as the true beginning of my journalistic career. I guess I was a born journalist, because I had the sheer instinct to bring a tape recorder and a photo camera to the interview, even though the entire interview argument was a lie from the start, since I had never ever even read that high school paper, let alone written a single word in it. However, once the interview was taped, I realized I had dynamite in my hands for that school paper. We actually asked her critical questions, such as if she could sing at all – which was the big discussion at the time in teen magazines! Unfortunately, I lost the actual publication, but, as can be seen and heard here, I treasured the photo and the interview tape to date!


Kim Wilde


That interview and refusing punishment for skipping all gymnastic lessons during my last two high school years were probably the formative moments of my teenage years. Although… slipping into Kim Wilde's dressing room on November 14, 1982, after a performance in Utrecht during her first ever live tour, should perhaps also be mentioned here. Security in the 1980s was not nearly what it was today, and although I had never been in Utrecht's Vredenburg Theater, and although my father was waiting for me outside, I figured that the guarded elevator to the dressing rooms would extend to the basement of the building. I also figured that chances that they had a security guard there were limited. And so I tried my luck.

There actually was a guard, but when someone came to ask him about backstage passage, he was distracted and I managed to slip passed him. I got to the elevator unseen and went up to the backstage floor. There, dumb luck struck: the elevator stopped almost right in front of Kim's dressing room. I snuck in and saw her through a foggy haze under the shower. I nearly fainted, caught my breath and snuck out as fast as I could. Sometimes I wondered if this wasn't a Rainbow train adventure... However, my dad remembers waiting for me outside to date, and I still have the concert photos and entrance ticket to prove it to myself. So, sneaking into Kim Wilde's dressing room should also count as a formative moment in my teen life.

On hindsight, there might have been a few more…





 

From Wilde to Berlioz


From Kim Wilde to Hector Berlioz may seem like a big step to some, but it is just a small leap for a writer. My Kim Wilde encounter actually occurred a month after a school outing to London had introduced me to the piano playing of Rudolf Serkin, the singing of tenor Dennis O'Neill and the organ playing of Gillian Weir under Claudio Abbado's baton at the Royal Philharmonic. I would like to say that this fabulous concert sparked my passion for classical music and tenors, but the truth is that I let Mozarts 'Piano Concerto No. 21' pass giggling, while I was deadly bored with Berlioz' Te Deum.



   

Come on people, Berlioz' Te Deum for starters, that is like killing any latent receptivity for classical music in any teenager that is not a priori suicidal… I still can't stand that work! Fortunately, the next day brought a performance of Evita with Stephanie Lawrence. I still see her standing there and I've had a weakness for her ever since.


Picasso


The next significant change in my life occurred when I went to University around 1986, to study Archeology and Art History. Archeology proved a bit boring. As for Art History, my friend Hans Talsma ended up having a dispute with a teacher there, who was a true Picasso devotee. In her mind no one could imagine what was going on in Picasso's mind while he was painting those 'super human' paintings. Hans, who was the only true painter in the group together with me, protested. Being a painter himself, he said that there was nothing more easily understandable than what was going on in Picasso's mind. Pandemonium broke out! Sacrilege had been committed! I stood up, declared myself solidary with Hans, and announced that I would leave their sect to continue my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts.


Diplomaed artist


Art Academy proved little better though... The later 1980s were a crazy time, where we still lived with the remains of the 1960s socialism that wanted to take care of people and artists alike. They had set up a system where the State bought all paintings! Art Academies 'flourished' like never before! Painting activities there were limited though. At times it seemed that those people were mainly painting their hair in shades of lightning green and purple rain, while the actual painting consisted of drinking coffee and smoking pot while contemplating future paintings...

After four weeks I left those 'classes' and started working at home. The rule said I needed three teachers to support me, and that was enough. Ernst Vijlbrief, Bart Bouwmans, Ramon van de Werken, Klaus Versteegen and Frank Daalder all backed me at one point in time there. From that day on I divided my time between painting at home and printing visual poetry in the lab after closing time, which was possible because the director had given me the keys. I spend three great years in Enschede, where I developed my visual and literary skills in complete freedom.

One fine day, about three years later, I felt I had nothing more to learn there and thanked the team for their confidence. They said I had one more year to go before I could graduate. I replied that I never contemplated graduating, since I didn't feel I would ever be asked after my 'diploma visual artist'. At that point, the consequence of an over subsidized society manifested itself: if I didn't graduate, the government would consider me a 'late drop out.' Subsequently, the Art Academy would have to repay all state subventions they had been given for me, about $ 40,000 in total. Since these four teachers had been loyal to me during my time there, I felt obliged to graduate. However, I wasn't going to stay there a day longer. I told them that I would accommodate them, provided that they gave me that diploma then and there. The ceremony was arranged at the earliest possible date, given the bureaucratic necessities, which meant that I 'graduated' about two weeks later.


LINKS PROJECT EXPLAINED IN ENGLISH

Destroying that diploma during the festive ceremony was effectively my first performance as a diplomaed artist. Initially, I was flattered when local papers published interviews with me about this apparently 'bold' action. I soon found out, though, that journalists tend to give your words just a wee bit more 'bite' than you wanted them to have. In this case, my act was turned into a protest against the academy, which it was not. As an individual, I couldn't possibly complain about anything: I had enjoyed my time with those four teachers, and the institute had made this possible. It was a performance against the system as such. We had (and have) the ridiculous number of over twenty art academies in The Netherlands, where one or two would do, preferably outside the capital.

The 1990s


My 1990s started out with philosophy classes at Amsterdam University. Philosophy may be a useless study in terms of measurable economic value, but it definitely provides a solid background for a writer. Finally, I was also surrounded by motivated people who had something to say, although there were some inevitable odd moments here as well. Such as having a meeting with Professor Brons over my dissertation on Hegel. He told me that he didn't know from my dissertation if it was the most brilliant thing ever written on Hegel, or if I didn't understand even the most rudimentary beginnings of Hegel's theory. He gave me a straight A, hoping he would one day have his question answered. That day came a bit later, when Brons told us that Hegel had proven the existence of God in printed words. I replied: 'You mean that Hegel made an ingenious brain bridge to pretend that he proved the existence of something that cannot be discussed scientifically?' Brons replied:


'Hegel proved God in his books. Anyone who fails to understand that, has no place in this class.'

I left his 'class,' thinking that he had to visit a psychiatrist. I had more heart for Kant and Wittgenstein, with whom I spend four fascinating years, before graduating with a dissertation on the influence of Wagner on Nietzsche. I defended that dissertation dressed up as a blend between Dionysus and a Greek philosopher.


Initially, Professor Cornelis Verhoeven proved offended and wanted to cancel the ceremony, but Professor Maarten van Nierop persuaded Verhoeven to hear me out. Grudgingly he relented, but we never spoke again thereafter. A pity, Verhoeven was an esteemed philosopher. I valued his classes and his free mind very much, and had not for a moment anticipated his reaction. My theory was in that dissertation, and it was as rock solid then as it is today: philosophy is art and therefore defined by esthetic, literary criteria. Secondly, Nietzsche was not merely influenced by Wagner, but he copied 90% of 'Geburt der Tragödie' from Wagner's philosophical writings. To my surprise, no one, including my examinators, had ever bothered to read Wagner's philosophical writings, as Verhoeven postulates in the video excerpt provided here. This disappointed me, because it made the whole dissertation little more than a farce, whereas I had boldly thought to prove a ground breaking theory…

At the end, I gave my Professors each a bottle of Greek wine, and said:


'As much as I admire the books of Wagner and Nietzsche as cathedrals in writing, their quest for the source of the Dionysian cult is futile. There will never be proof of a Dionysian culture, which means that any fantasy is as good as another, although they will not all have the same esthetic or literary appeal. If you would really want to find the roots of European culture in the mythical Dionysian cult, the best way to do so is presumably to empty these bottles.'

As for the ceremony, that was just another performance. After all, I was a diplomaed artist...



Debt crisis

The nineties, that was a decade perhaps best described as the era of the eclectic. As for me, it was also the decade in which I started traveling around the Eurasian continent with a poem called 'Undestined'.

LINKS PROJECT 3D LINKS PROJECT EXPLAINED IN ENGLISH LINKS PROJECT UITGELEGD IN NL

When I finally finished The Links Project I had so many debts that I feared imprisonment. I had made an incredible poetic journey through life, but there was no way to pay the rent from the poetic results. However, during the last leg which took me through Siberia from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok and back, I had discovered that pretending to be an economic journalist would often result in getting hotels, food and transport for free. I started to play that card and soon went through Siberia from one Zil limousine to the next. There was but a small price to pay: I had to visit each and every factory on the route, in order to report its fantastic possibilities in 'my newspaper back home'.


When I finally returned home, I felt a bit guilty for all those Siberian city administrators that were expecting me to publish essays about their factories. I decided to call an economic newspaper called Intermediair. To my surprise they accepted my story on 'Siberian economy' in a four page feature.


Since they paid quite well, I decided to try my luck with other magazines. In Martin van Amerongen of De Groene Amsterdammer I found a kin soul, in Matthijs van Nieuwkerk during his Het Parool year I found someone who was open to bold initiative. Suddenly I was a journalist. Some results of this can be seen at the publications page.

As for The Links Project, it took me seven years to complete the journey, and it is only now, 15 years later, that I managed to present the first results online at thelinksproject.com.



with a Diva

Those were still the days before the internet arrived to change the world. Sometimes I wonder how I got from playing skipping rope during school breaks to living behind a computer screen, but I believe I know the answer. There I was: a writer. I had published five poetry albums in the first half of the 1990s, De psyche van Klein Zwitserland (The Psyche of Little Swiss) I & II, De letters wreken zich (The letters avenge themselves), Bloed (Blood) and De Krant (The Newspaper).

Apart from those, I had never published a solid book. I was writing one though, my first novel – I still am. However, it was already in 1991 that I started researching the life of Hariclea Darclée, the Anna Netrebko of the 1890s and the Diva for whom Puccini wrote the role of Tosca. By the time the internet came around, I started posting strange requests about this mysterious Romanian Diva of Royal Greek descent. To my amazement, I received replies from persons I would then never have dared to approach, like Tom Kaufmann, the famous Donizetti chronologist.

Tom then emailed me his draft chronology for Darclée, and I found myself with enough basic info to seriously research her life and times. Before I knew it, I was writing her book. An impression can be sampled at www.darclee.com .


   


 

The extent to which I was able to find source information would have been impossible even a mere two years before. Thanks to the internet, oceans vaporized, and cost limitations of international phone communication ceased to exist. Soon my best friends were no longer just those that lived nearby, but those that I shared any given passion with, wherever they lived on the planet.



Meeting Franco Corelli


In 1997, during a meeting with Italian tenor Franco Corelli in Vienna, I got Corelli's blessing to write his biography. Simultaneously with Darclée, I now started also researching Corelli's life by means of collecting relevant source information. It proved an expensive hobby though, since these careers had taken place roughly between Moscow, New York, Buenos Ayres, Rio de Janeiro, Milan and Paris. Which is why I accepted an incredible amount of commercial assignments, for the most outrageous magazines imaginable. Showbizz, men's magazines, page 3 girls and chicklits, often under exotic, mostly female disguises. To my own surprise I proved so good at producing commercial pulp fiction, that I soon had a mini-company in text-photo productions, with full time personnel and a hand full of free lancers.



Good company

Regardless, I continued to cultivate my career in the serious press. There were further publications in acknowledged magazines as HP-De Tijd (HP-The Time), De Groene Amsterdammer (The Green Amsterdam) and Het Parool, In addition, I started publishing feature opera interviews and reviews in leading Dutch classical music magazine Luister (Listen). Thus, the late 1990s were definitely my formative years as a commercial writer/photographer, since the output of my pulp fiction enterprise easily exceeded a monthly amount of 100 pages. I did crazy, outrageous, and adventurous things then, such as driving my Ford Escort Cabrio to the Red Square in Moscow in order to make a model shoot in front of the St Basil's Basilica, with the lead singers of Russian girl group Кошки мышки (Cats & Mouses). Samples from their playful, only album 'А завтра я с другим уйду' (Tomorrow I'll go with another one) accompanies the slide shows provided here.

I had met the girls the night before in a local disco, and they loved the idea. Their job was to fall from the car in front of the Basilica, in the context of a series I made on 'girls falling from cars' for The Holy Cow Car Magazine and Esquire. Of course the Red Square is a no go zone for cars, but I figured we'd have two minutes before we would be arrested. In addition, I gambled on the charms of my lovely models. As for the risks and costs, the magazine had accepted the bet to pay up if I returned with photos, and so there was little risk for me: I switched films after the first twenty shots and gave them a third girl who immediately left the scene. We were lucky though, the security forces recognized the singers and actually started helping us by keeping curious people away. When, a few minutes later, the better instructed army arrived in full force, the girls simply said that the guards gave us permission and we drove away…





 

Photographing Lena, an underdressed Marilyn Monroe look-alike in the fountains of Red Square for my 'girls in famous fountains' series proved another ground for arrest, but the trick with the charming girls and the armed forces worked its magic once again. On our way to the police station, Katya & Lena were clinging to the police officers, pleading them to let me go. The officers proved a little more tough than the ones from the day before though. They scolded the girls, arguing that for sure this kind of display would not be tolerated in Amsterdam. Katya came up with a brilliant reply:


'But officer, there was no sign in the fountain that said Plavjat Nilzha (No swimming allowed).'

Suddenly the three police man started laughing their guts out and told the girls to take me away from the Red Square quickly, before they changed their minds.





 

I may not have learned too much from those publications in themselves, but leading a team to accomplish a fine result is often more rewarding than managing things on your own. Some people can bring you truly amazing insights. Others can inspire you so much, that you can advance to the next level. I was born a lone Wolf, but since the late 1990's this Wolf started to value certain company...

The 21st Century





 

The turn of the Century brought a change in so far, that post midnight I went home from the party where I was celebrating, in order to start writing the Darclée book. After a decade of research, the time had arrived to turn the results into words. I wrote till deep into the day, and continued writing vigorously for weeks, and then off and on, as far as my work permitted. Suddenly, I was no longer planning to write a book, but writing one and that felt pretty good. Onwards I continued to combine further research and completing new chapters, until the end of 2002, when Tirion publishers asked me to write a book on... Jacques Brel!



Jacques Brel


I accepted the offer because I liked Brel's decision to leave his name and fame behind him, when he started sailing toward the Pacific, ending up living there, at Hiva Oa. Tirion had agreed to give me a substantial amount of support for research, and in a few months I managed to get an astonishing amount of source information together. In addition, I met with Brel's partner in the final years of his life, Maddly Bamy, who provided a fascinating insight in Brel's latter years, and gave us permission to use photographs from their joint boat journey on the Askoy II, and their stay on Hiva Oa. Being a dancer, actress (she met Brel on the set of L'aventure c'est l'aventure), and musician herself, she later devoted several albums to Brel's memory. A sample of Maddly singing 'Mon ami est mort' (My friend has died) accompanies the slide show provided above.



Corelli revisited

The Brel publication had further wetted my appetite for the three projects I was then working on: the completion of The Links Project and the work on Darclée and Corelli books. Because of some new friends that I had made online, and a sudden revival of interest in Corelli, I decided to contact him through EMI records, where I had good relations due to my flourishing career as an opera critic. I was thinking to discuss the results of my research with him in order to see if we could work together. The answer came already the next day: Corelli had suffered a stroke, was in critical condition and no longer able to speak. Shortly after the presentation of the Brel biography, Franco passed away. It was then that the rainbow train visited me once again over night, and someone up there told me to take the first plane to Ancona, where Franco was born. It sounded pretty much like the 'Italie! Italie!' summonings to Eneas in Berlioz' setting of the epic:


'Ancona! Ancona!'

Indeed, there was no time to lose if I wanted to find his colleagues, managers and childhood friends alive. So I took the next airplane to Ancona, where Franco was born, and started asking people in the streets if they knew some elderly person who had known Franco Corelli. That worked wonders. Within a few hours I was sitting at a table with his cousin Marco, who then brought me to each and every remaining childhood friend of Franco. In the years of writing, I worked closely together with Marco, and by 2007 I was ready for a publisher. Since I had written the book in English, I decided on Amadeus Press. My friend and colleague Frans van der Beek came up with the best approach: since Amadeus had a booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair in September, we would find them there 'in the flesh'. So I went with Frans to the book fair, walking straight to the Amadeus booth. Since it was empty, I took a seat. Frans remained standing. A few minutes later a man in an approachable suit appeared, saying; 'Since you are already occupying my seat, I might as well ask what I can do for you?' I replied that I wasn't an incidental passer by who landed on his seat for a rest, but told him that I was there to make him happy:






 
'I have written the definitive biography of Franco Corelli... It answers all question anyone has ever had about the man! His childhood is reconstructed, we have pictures from him in the Italian army, there are pictures and testimonies of his friends and family. Many roles of which hitherto no documentation existed, have been traced either in photographs or recordings and -'

The man in the booth cut me short:



'Relax, relax, I am convinced, I'm going to publish it. Now would you like to get a cup of coffee? My name is John Cerullo by the way, I'm the owner of Amadeus Press.'

Frans and I accepted the coffee, canceled our hotel and went back to Amsterdam on the next train. What followed were seven months of incredibly concentrated work with their immaculate editor Barbara Norton, and Franco Corelli Prince of Tenors was published by October 2008.


It was Nr. 1 in the Amazon opera biography bestseller list for almost half a year, staying permanently ahead of the simultaneously released biographies of Renée Fleming and Luciano Pavarotti. More info on Corelli and Prince of Tenors can be found on francocorelli.nl. One may not be able to live from books like that, but seeing Prince of Tenors published was a highlight in my life.



Annegreet


Prince of Tenors is dedicated to my fiancée of those years, Annegreet Haisma, who tragically died at age 29, on July 12, 2006. While I concentrated on the work on my books, and my niche publications in the serious press, she maintained my commercial activities. When she passed away, I decided it was time to move on. Previously, I had worked in the pulp fiction range not just for financial reasons, but also because it was fun to run such a wild & exciting company. Although the publications were often not of a level that I wanted to lend my name to, it was certainly interesting to make those reportages. Without Annegreet I couldn't do that on the same scale though, and I had to chose between working for money alone, or disbanding my team and continuing on a smaller scale in arts and music publications like Villa d'Arte and Luister. I chose to do the latter, while continuing work on The Links Project and Darclée in a slower pace. For more info on Annegreet, see annegreethaisma.nl

2008-2010





 

After concentrating myself more and more on arts, opera and a few wonderful magazines that I have worked for as a photographer or author for over a decade, among them Swinglevend (Brimming with Life), I became more and more in touch with the little guy that these pages started with. Without loss, one can't value life. Not one's own life, and not that of others. While rounding up the main part of the Darclée biography, I also lost Tom Kaufmann, the original chronologer of her career. In December 2011, Frank Hamilton, with whom I was working on the Darclée chronology and a joint Franco Corelli chronology joined Tom. After Tom's website vaporized in posthumously unpaid bills, I offered to keep Frank's site alive at frankhamilton.org.

Info on both Tom and Frank can be found on my friend Rudi van den Bulck's website operanostalgia.be.



2012 - 2013


2012 should have been the big year for Darclée, but it proved impossible to solve all problems on the road to a publication that would coincide with the Tenth Anniversary of the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition, in her birth place Braila.

With the Darclée publication postponed, 2012 is the big year for my revised and expanded Jacques Brel biography. Apart from fine-tuning the biography part, it features a completely new and adventurous chapter on what happened to Brel's boat, the Askoy II, after he sold it to two hippies in 1976. From an early No Nukes & love generation vessel it then turned into a fish freeze container, before becoming the mother ship to a drugs runner syndicate. In an anti-drugs raid, the boat was confiscated on the Fiji Islands, where it withered for years, until it was auctioned off to the adventurer Lindsay Wright. He repaired it and sailed it solo to New Zeeland, where the boat perished in a hurricane. Buried on the Tasmanian coast, it became part of the beach, until the brave Belgians Piet & Staf Wittevrongel read my first Brel book. They had been working in their father's sail sewery, when Brel came there to order the sails for his boat, and, after reading my chapters on his journey, they wondered what happened to the boat after Brel sold it. When they finally located the wreck, they decided to salvage it. It took them years of preparation, but eventually, and against all odds… they succeeded!

   


 

Another new feature of the book focuses on Brel interpretation. Few people realize that Brel is the most performed non classical singer-songwriter from the 20th Century.

Perhaps The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are more often played by beginning bands, but Brel has over 5,000 officially released cover versions on 78RPM, vinyl, video or cd/dvd + over 100 songs and albums devoted to, or in protest of his songs. There is even a band named after him: Le Jacques Brel Massacre! If in tribute or protest is unclear, but their albums revealed stunningly beautiful Neue Welle music, as can be sampled in the mp3 fragment that goes with the slide show. The 1968 musical Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris is still running to date! Info on this project can be found here.



Dawn of a new era...


Meanwhile, Brel De Definitieve has been published in a lavish, luxury edition by Tirion/Houtekiet. More about the book van be found at 401Brel.nl

In addition, the Darclée book is ready, and I am currently discussing its publication with some interested Romanian parties. Having said that, I finally hope to find the time to complete some other long running projects, beginning with The Links Project.

Then, there is that novel I have been working on of and on since I was sixteen, and there are some new books coming up. One would focus on the correspondence between Metropolitan Opera manager Rudolph Bing and his right hand in Europe, Roberto Bauer. Another might zoom in on Corelli's rival of the 1950s, Mario Del Monaco. Most actual though, is my work on a Dutch Opera anthology, something I have been spending the larger part of my free time on since December 2011.

401 Dutch Operas

The first aim of the Dutch Opera Anthology is to document all Dutch Operas since 1678, and to describe the best 250 of them in detail. Next, the plan is to preserve all scores by digitalizing them, and from there to revive Dutch Opera and present it to the world in the form of performances and audiovisual presentations on whatever distribution format is hot when the moment is there. More info can be found on 401dutchoperas.com.


   


 

401 Dutch Divas

Another case of the stars claiming their birthright occurred when Joop Lindeijer died in July 2011, leaving his wife, children and his Dutch Divas website behind. Once the hosting contract lapsed, the website disappeared. I contacted his widow, offering to take over the website on the promise of bringing it back online, and keeping it alive. We are currently working on a plan to integrate it in the 401 Dutch Operas project.


Awarded The Nobel Prize of Peace


In October 2012 I had the ‘great honor’ to be awarded ‘The Nobel Prize of Peace’, which placed me in line with the likes of Martin Luther King (1964), Mother Teresa (1979), The 14th Dalai lama (1989), Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1990), Nelson Mandela (1993), Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres & Yitzhak Rabin (1993), Barack Obama (2008) and a few hundred million other Europeans (2012). Did I deserve the prize? Given the amount of blood that washed from the hands of a good number of my predecessors, I think I’m certainly not less a candidate than most of them. At least I didn’t start an armed revolution to win the prize by means of a mere cease fire. Neither did I throw cluster bombs on people to end a war started by myself. Instead I merely advocated culture and traveled with that poem ‘Undestined’ from Ireland to Japan, to unite people in the context of words. So hell yes, I deserved that prize, although… I thought the Nobel Prize of Literature would perhaps have been more appropriate.

This slight disconcern made me wonder if I should actually accept the prize… Being diplomatic, I decided to accept but not collect it in person. Instead, I asked our foreman Herman van Rompuy to collect it on my behalf in Oslo. Thanks mate!

 

401 Modern Operas


Modern opera… is perhaps not everyone’s preferred cup of tea. I myself have at times defended Maria Callas, who had provocatively stated that she wouldn’t sing anything post Turandot (1924), since thereafter only trash had been composed. However, in time I became more responsive to less simple music than tonal music alone, and I grew to understand and also genuinely enjoy 20th Century music, with a focus on vocal music – opera. In December 2012/January 2013 I started the website 401ModernOperas.com, aiming to create more understanding for modern music, by presenting it in its proper context.

 

Multimedia company

Additionally, I became chief editor of the Villa d'Arte Special Art & Culture, and started initiating new magazine titles in print, while embracing also new media formats. Together with my close friend Bas ten Have I have launched an agency in integrated multimedia projects that combine attractive high profile online presentation with social media networking/ publicity and quality personal relations maintenance, at low cost. We are not aiming at the crowded market for companies and large institutions, but aim to find customers among small scale companies and individuals that hitherto could not afford high brow, individualized design and professional presentation/marketing, due to the often astronomic costs.

Our approach is simple: the projects above are, or will soon show what we are capable of in the field of integrated multimedia presentation and online presence. We know how to avoid mailings from ending in spam boxes, how to optimize search engine parameters, and how to implement payment systems in any given programming language.

Some people asked me how I got from writing books to commercial online activities, but as usual with the events described on these pages, it proved a matter of one thing following from another thing. In this case, I created optimized newsletters in a very personal design, which resulted in a number of people asking if I could also tailor such designs to their personalities, activities and style. That made me realize that there was a niche market, where I had less competition, since our designs are all exclusive, created from scratch by a small group of adventurous programmers and web designers. You can soon find info on this at 401www.nl

The International Vocal Competition ‘s-Hertogenbosch Golden jubilee Book & CD

The larger part of 2014 was spent on a vast project that prevented me from holidays and any sort of adventurous excursions that I had hitherto always enjoyed. The project concerned is easily explained as building the archives website of the international Vocal Competition ‘s-Hertogenbosch and writing, producing, and publishing their Golden Jubilee book, “Discovering Voices.”

As easily as this is summarized here, so difficult was and is it to complete this vast project, which includes research in over 20 meters of handwritten archives, entry forms, newspaper publications and so on. The ambition of the website is to reconstruct full winners’ lists, including the smaller prizes, which restores dozens of now famous singers to the ranks of the IVC participants (Michele Molese, Evelyn Lear, and Robert Lloyd, among others). We give hundreds of biographies, thousands of audio and video samples, summarize the press reports per competition, and present filmed interviews with former winners, jurors, people from within the board and so on.

Doing the research is one thing, but my web design company 401www.nl is also building this huge but user friendly database, We are now at 60%. The date for completion is scheduled as end of May 2015.

The project sparked from a huge collection of reel-to-reel tapes that 401DutchDivas inherited from Dutch and Belgian collectors. These hold the larger part of all vocal broadcasts from the period 1978–1986 (piano and violin recitals are also included). This unique collection constituted the basis for the IVC project since it contained the larger part of all IVC Closing Gala Concert broadcast, which were never kept within the IVC archives (for reasons explained in the Jubilee Book). At the first meeting with current IVC director Annett Andriesen it took all but 3 minutes to come to an agreement that can be summarized as: ‘Lets do it!’

I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into, but over a year later I finally understand that it was one those mission impossibles that I seem to have an unfailing antenna for. In short: no holidays bar a few press trips for Luister and Villa d’Arte to Siberia and Norway. When I realized the effort necessary to get the Jubilee Book produced by September, I put all work on books and research projects on hold and focused for the remainder of the year on the IVC.


The IVC Golden Jubilee Book

One of the prime features of the book are the hundreds of unique and largely never printed before photographs of an array of famous and once famous singers of the past sixty years, starting from Annette de la Bije in 1954 to Nadine Koutcher in 2012. The singers either gave many of these to us, or they come from either the IVC or the 401DutchDivas archives. All printed on luxurious glossy paper by printing house Deltabach in a breathtaking book-design by Misha Ooteman. I wrote the book in English language that was edited by Barbara Norton, who previously also edited my Franco Corelli biography.


IVC Golden Jubilee CD


 

The IVC Golden Jubilee book comes with a unique bonus CD that includes 17 unique IVC closing concert performances. These mark the recording debuts of such illustrious singers as Annette de la Bije, Albert van Haasteren, Elly Ameling, Yvonne Minton, Ileana Cotrubas, Nelly Miricioiu, Maria Slatinaru, Jules Bastin, Robert Holl, Thomas Hampson, Andrea Rost, Howard Crook, Lenneke Ruiten and Nadine Koutcher. The bonus track is a fragment of an IVC Master Class starring Magda Olivero!


On becoming a publisher

As a writer I always had a profound interest in the publishing process for the simple reason that no book is stronger than the weakest link in the chain. Therefore I have always insisted on professional editing, and I have always supervised the design. With the IVC Golden Jubilee Book I established myself as an independent publisher that can make state of the art publications in 7 languages for third parties. Admittedly, all knowledge comes from experience. I learned the trade from my Jacques Brel biography publishers Tirion and Houtekiet, and my Franco Corelli biography publisher Hall Leonard/Amadeus Press. Rule Nr. 1: Secure professional editing (for English Barbara Norton). Rule Nr. 2-4: Get the editing triple checked. Rule Nr. 5: Find designers who have heart for your project (thanks Misha Ooteman and Dick Bak!). Rule nr. 6: Choose the right printing firm (in the case of the IVC publication Deltabach Grafimedia did an excellent job).

The IVC Golden Jubilee Book was first presented in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and then at the opening of the IVC, on Friday, September 5, 16.30 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The Mayor of ‘s-Hertogenbosch received the first copy, along with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Nadine Koutcher, IVC Winner 2012, gave a recital there, an excerpt of which is featured in the video above.


Making movies


A trade I learned in the wake of The Links Project at the end of the 1990’s was making movies. Since long I film most of the interviews I do, but this was never done commercially. My web design trade recently brought me back on the track of making movies for third parties, and for my own websites. If the first opera movies of Karel Miry’s Charles Quint, Bouchard d’Avesnes were still experimental, new full HD equipment enabled me to present professional web movies for, among others, the IVC ‘s-Hertogenbosch, whose first and second rounds of opera and Lied-duos I filmed for their YouTube channel. In addition, I filmed Christa Ludwig’s Master Class in The Hague (see photo), Edwin Rutten’s musical program for children and other grown ups De Hemelbuik (Heaven’s Belly), along with his Opera for Kids Master Class/theatre show (presented together with Dutch vocal phenomenon Francis van Broekhuizen).

Darclée at last?




 

I became fascinated by the legendary creator of Puccini’s Tosca, Haricléa Darclée, after reading that Dutch opera critic Leo Riemens owned 89 version of Tosca's 'Vissi d'Arte', lacking only Darclée’s creator recording, which has never surfaced since. A few years later, at the dawn of the CD era in 1991, a Memories CD booklet dubbed this unfindable Darclée Fonotipia recording 'The Holy Grail of collectors.' That triggered my imagination to the point where I took a ride on the rainbow train in plain daylight. I simply had to find Darlée's recordings and sample her voice. At the end of the ride I am exactly 27 years older. Finally, my English language biography of the first Tosca, Iris and Wally is finished, and currently we are negotiating the publication of it, which currently translates to financing the editing, design and printing stages.

Release during the July/August 2015 in the context of the Darclée Festival and International Vocal Competition was planned. Together with my ‘sparring partner’ in this quest, Anthony van der Heijden, I now ponder on the possibility to release the state of the art English language book around November/December 2015, a date that seems more likely given the logistic realities at the time of writing this. Since this labor of love was 27 years in the making, I will at least do anything in my power to realize this project, together with the team of people that collaborated with me previously on my Franco Corelli and IVC Golden Jubilee Book publications.

The mp3 fragment that accompanies the slide show above has President of the Darclée Festival and International Voice Competition, Mariana Nicolesco, singing Darclée's signature aria, 'Ebben? Ne andrò lontano,' from Catalani's La Wally (the composer dedicated the score to Darclée, as can be seen in each copy of it to date).


The first 401DutchDivas and 401DutchOperas live concert


While 2014 was largely spent on the IVC project, my team continued working on the Dutch Opera project. Updates to the website were minimal, yet the number of scores acquired accumulated past the critical point for what will ultimately become my life’s work: the anthology of Dutch Opera (by Dutch and Flemish composers). From those scores we have now compiled a selection of two times 45 minutes on arias and duets, which we plan to perform live in concert at the end of March/ early April 2015. The event will be restricted to invited guests, although 401DutchDivas and 401DutchOperas members can express interest. They will be first on the list if there are seats available on the exclusive private location we have secured for this in the East of the Netherlands.

At the moment we are preparing the musical materials and contacting the singers of our choice, whom we believe to be veritable assets to the world of singing in their own right. Our photo above has Jolien de Gendt singing a part of Karel Miry’s opera Bouchard d’Avesnes, which is one of the works of which we plan to perform an excerpt, along with works by Van Bree, Knigge, Verhey, De Haan, Dopper, Brandts-Buys, Brucken-Fock en Van Eycken, to name but a few!


High quality Live Streams

Over the past months my web design company has invested time and resources in developing a system that enables us to make professional live streams directly from our HD movie cameras. The encoding of real HD camera feeds to limitless multiple view live feeds, however, poses significant problems (as opposed to simple webcam broadcasts in inferior quality). Having now solved all problems with respect to high quality HD broadcasts, we will use the Dutch Opera Concert in March/April as a try out for future live broadcasts, which we also offer commercially to third parties.


The impossible dream...





 

What about that child that lost his heart over playing skipping rope during school breaks? Well, that guy is still the same within, he never left, he never changed. For better or worse, he experimented in life, and from time to time he found enough happiness to continue his quest for the unknown, the untouched, and the unanswered question. I thank the eight loves of my life for having loved me back at one point in the adventure till so far, the unknown girl in prep school, Angelique, Sonja, Ingrid, Annegreet, Natasja, Tatsiana and Nida. Who knows what is to come…


To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

René  Seghers
2013