Urlus, Jacques

Dutch tenor, 1867 - 1935

Biographical notes:

He was born in Hergenrath near Aix-la-Chapelle (German-Belgium border), to Dutch parents. Urlus spent his early years in Tilburg and Utrecht where he worked in a steel mill and sang in a local choir. When doing his military service, his voice was discovered by an Officer who offered to cover the costs for his vocal-training which, Urlus to his regret, was unable to accept since it would have left him without any regular income. 1892 was the turning point when Urlus met the director of the Dutch National Opera House. Without having received any regular vocal training  he made his debut in Amsterdam, as Beppe in I Pagliacci on September 20, 1894. Afterwards he was taught interpretation by Cornelie van Zanten, Anton Averkamp and Hugo Nolthenius. As far as his vocal technique was concerned, he was largely self-taught! In 1898 Jacques Urlus was invited to Bayreuth to restudy his repertory of Wagner operas in German (he had previously sung all his roles in Dutch), but he left Bayreuth prematurely and Siegfried Wagner did not re-engage him until 1914!  Nevertheless, by the turn of the century he had become the leading heroic tenor at the Leipzig Opera House where he was contracted until 1914. During this period his fame started to spread. He appeared in Berlin, Vienna and London. In 1912 he made his debut as Tristan at the Met (the first performance was a nightmare for him because he had to sing despite a severe cold). In the following performances he was tremendously successful and also appeared as Adolar, Samson and Tamino.


As Rienzi


As Trovatore (1902)


He sang all his roles in at least three languages; Dutch, German and the actual original language! He was among those few Wagner singers who were able to preserve their international fame throughout the War years. In 1922 he returned to the United States with Hurok’s German Opera Troupe, his comeback at Covent Garden took place in 1924. At the age of 63, he appeared for the first time at the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona, as Tristan! His performances at the Amsterdam Opera House were celebrated gala-events. He was one of the first singers at the Zoppot Wagner Festival where he was heard as Tristan opposite an outstanding cast including Helene Wildbrunn, Margarethe Arndt-Ober and Otto Helgers. In Berlin he was not only celebrated as an opera singer but also as an accomplished concert singer. He appeared in concerts conducted by Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch and Erich Kleiber among others. When Jacques Urlus died in Noordwijk the Dutch Nation mourned for him like for a national hero.


As Siegfried


The most versatile tenor in vocal history

A selection of his opera repertory: Lohengrin, Parsifal, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde, Iphigenie auf Tauris, Der Freischütz, Die Rose vom Liebesgarten, Der arme Heinrich, Fidelio, Der Barbier von Bagdad, Oberon, Euryanthe, Salome, Tiefland, Carmen, Joseph (Méhul), La Juive, La Navarraise, Le Cid, Samson, Les Huguenots, L’Africaine, Le Prophète, La Muette de Portici, Faust, Aida, Otello, I Pagliacci (Canio and Beppe), Il Trovatore, Cavalleria rusticana, Mme Butterfly, Louise...

A small selection of his concert repertory: Das Lied on der Erde, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Das klagende Lied, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, St. Matthew Passion (Evangelist), Die vier Jahreszeiten, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9...


As Lohengrin


“The new tenor, Jacques Urlus, scored a triumph as Siegfried, and his splendid reception was fully justified. Not since the vanished days of Jean de Reszke has any artist at the Metropolitan conveyed the illusion of the hero so successfully. When he demanded of its full power, as in the song of the forge in the first act, it was brillant and vibrant...there were passages that were sung with greatest beauty of tone and  justness of declamation.”

Musical Courier - New York American - The New York Times (after a performance of Siegfried in February, 1913)


As Siegfried

Jacques Urlus was a contemporary of Enrico Caruso, a personal friend and colleague with whom he shared a dressing room at the New York Metropolitan for five years.


Jacques Urlus and Margarete Matzenauer in “Fidelio”


Recordings: (selection)

The Edison Recordings (1913 - 1917)


Recital (Arias by Verdi, Weber, Mozart, Beethoven, d’Albert, Wagner, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Leoncavallo)

Preiser - LV

Recital Vol. 1 and 2 (see above)

Hamburger Archiv

Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 1


Covent Garden on Record Vol. 3


Jacques Urlus - Recordings 1923 (Berlin)




Lauritz Melchior and Jacques Urlus are considered the greatest “Heldentenors” in history of records. Remarkable is Urlus’ declamation with the right intensity yet without sacrificing a good legato style. In my opinion, he is unique in this respect. What he did not possess was the heroic ring of Melchior’s top notes, and his singing may not have been of a simular passion and spontaneity compared to that of the Danish tenor (on records, at least).

His voice was a fully developped dramatic tenor. The dark, almost baritonal quality of the lower range predestined him for Wagner’s heros, but as we know, he suceeded in many other roles from the German, French and Italian repertoire.

Jacques Urlus made about 150 recordings from 1903 - 1924. All of them are impressing and instructive models of their kind. Because of this very rare combination of vocal power and refinement, Jacques Urlus ranks among the greatest singers.



A small selection of his greatest recordings:


- Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan (Title role in Lohengrin / Gramophone 1907)

- In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritten (Title role in Lohengrin / Gramophone 1911)

 Erstehe, hohe Roma, neu (Title role in Rienzi / Gramophone 1911)

- Mime hiess ein mürrischer Zwerg (Siegfried in Götterdämmerung / Gramophone 1912)

Italian repertory:

- Nein, bin Bajazzo nicht mehr (Canio in I Pagliacci / Leoncavallo / Gramophone 1912)

- Ich seh’ dich wieder, meine Aida with Melanie Kurt (Radames in Aida / Verdi / Gramophone 1911)

- Jeder Knabe kann mein Schwert mir entreissen (Title role in Otello / Verdi / Gramophone 1911)

German repertory:

-  Gott, welch’ Dunkel hier (Florestan in Fidelio / Beethoven / Edison 1914)

- Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (Tamino in die Zauberflöte / Mozart / Gramophone 1911)

- Unter blüh’nden Mandelbäumen (Adolar in Euryanthe / Weber / Gramophone 1912)

French repertory:

- Hier an dem Herzen treu geborgen (Don José in Carmen / Bizet / Gramophone 1912)

- Recha, als Gott dich einst (Eléazar in La Juive / Halévy / Gramophone 1911)

- Herr, dich in den Sternenkreisen (Jean in Le Prophète / Meyerbeer / Gramophone 1910)

On his late recordings (1923/24) you hear a 57 year old singer with a voice in remarkable condition.


Jacques Urlus as Tristan and some of his Isoldes...


Lillian Nordica                           Johanna Gadski


Zdenka Fassbender                Melanie Kurt            Helene Wildbrunn


Lilly Lehmann

“She had already snow white hair but was in full possession of her magnificent voice.”

Jacques Urlus about Lilly Lehmann. He sang his first Tristan opposite her at the Leipzig Opera, in 1900


My warmest thanks to Jan Urlus and Rein A. Zondergeld