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Elly Ameling is a Dutch soprano renowned for her performances of art song and oratorio. She is among the few singers to gain worldwide fame without being an operatic star. In fact, though she did sing one staged role (Ilia in Mozart's Idomeneo in 1973 and 1974), she avoided opera almost entirely during her more than 40-year performing career, choosing to focus instead on concert and recital repertory.
Ameling began her vocal studies with Jo Bollekamp and Jacoba Dresden Dhont in Rotterdam, and later coached French song literature with renowned singer Pierre Bernac. She first came to attention by winning the 1956 Hertogenbosch and 1958 Geneva competitions. Debut recitals in Amsterdam (1961), London (1966), and New York (1968) were important milestones in a developing career that eventually took her all over the world. She found special favor with the Japanese public.
As a concert artist, Ameling was especially noted for her Bach and Mozart interpretations. At the same time, her performances in works such as the oratorios of Haydn and Mendelssohn and the Fourth Symphony of Mahler are justly admired. Her concerts also included performances of Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder and Altenberg Lieder, as well as Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été and Ravel's Shéhérazade. Always interested in new music, she sang in the premiere of Frank Martin's Mystère de la Nativité in 1959. She had the honor of singing during the wedding of Princess Christina of the Netherlands in 1975, as well as during the Royal Crowning Ceremony of Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1980.
Ameling's vast repertory includes songs in German, French, Dutch, English, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. She was most strongly associated with the songs of Franz Schubert, but she was an equally accomplished interpreter of Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf. Her outstanding feel for the French mélodie is on display in EMI's complete recordings of the songs of Debussy, Fauré, Poulenc, and Ravel, with Dalton Baldwin at the piano. Other notable career highlights include a recording of the complete songs of Dutch Baroque composer Constantijn Huygens (with baritone Max van Egmond), recital performances of songs by Joaquin Rodrigo and Xavier Montsalvatge (they do not often appear on her recordings), and performances of Frank Martin, Samuel Barber, and Benjamin Britten. Ameling occasionally gave cabaret evenings in intimate settings, including the Stratford Festival in Canada.
Elly Ameling's voice is a light soprano of great purity, with a wonderful command of the entire dynamic range and a wide variety of expressive colors. She moved very little on-stage, and so even the slightest hand gesture carried great meaning. Having been an audience favorite for over 30 years, Ameling retired from the recital stage in the mid-'90s, following a series of farewell recitals in her favorite cities. However, she continues to share her love of song by giving master classes for young singers.