Remembrances of Charles Van Tassel

From Sigmund Rosen, January 5, 2013

We are profoundly sad to report the death, in his home in Amsterdam, of our original RCNY member, distinguished baritone and musicologist Charles van Tassel.

From Neely Bruce, January 5, 2013

Charles and I were close friends for thirty years. He was an excellent singer who did a lot of good for the art of music. That's saying a lot. I will write to Cecile of course.

It was my great good fortune to see Charles twice recently. In May of 2011 the Ricciotti Ensemble did a piece of mine for their 40th anniversary. I went over for the performance and stayed with him while I was in Amsterdam. It was like old times. Aside from the obvious—he moved slowly, needed a wheelchair, etc.—he was pretty much his old self. We talked up a storm and had a wonderful, wonderful time. This past summer he and his son Josse came over to visit John Graziano. Charles wanted his son to see the place he grew up. I took pictures of the apartment building in Queens. When I get organized I'll send them to you.

From Lorraine Gribaa

I am so very saddened to read of our loss of Charley. He was a good friend especially during my senior year at M&A and for all too short a time thereafter. I had no idea that he was experiencing any difficulties at all and I wish I had tried to be closer. Thank you so much to the Ren. Chor. Assoc. for giving me an opportunity to connect with him at the 2009 Harold Brown Centennial in NYC. Heartfelt condolences to all mourners.
With love & regret from Lorry.

From John G.

We saw Charles twice last year, in July. We spent a night at their house in Amsterdam, and several weeks later, he and his son came and stayed with us. He was pretty weak when he stayed with us, but recovered enough to sing a concert at the end of July after he returned to Holland. According to Gabby V., he sang a Bach cantata several days before Christmas and was managing his cancer.

From Gabrielle Varro
January 19, 2013

Dear Sig, Renaissance Chorus and all other friends,

I’m writing from Paris on January 19th. It’s taken me a few days to recover from the trip. My husband (Jean-Jacques) and I returned from Amsterdam last Monday after the ceremony for Charles organized in an old synagogue used as concert-hall (Charles loved the place I'm sure). We sat in the first row to the left, right in front of the casket, covered in freshly cut flowers and with a portrait of him (attached) looking at us throughout. Cecile and the three children sat in the first row on the right, everyone was very moved and alternated between laughter and tears as the various people on the program went up to sing or speak. Marien Van Nieukerken (his accompanist) had organized the program and he and Cecile wanted me (as sole other American there) to read an article from the Milwaukee Sentinel of May 13th, 1968 [see below] telling how Charles had broken his foot rushing up a staircase and had to sing in a cast. It was supposed to provide a touch of lightness. Everything else was in Dutch (except a few readings of Robert Frost and another poet I can’t remember). Though we couldn’t understand the words, the gestures and expressions were eloquent. A strange mixture of Calvinism and Bohemian spirit, all very emotional, it was impressive. Charles would have loved it all. Clearly they were all talking about him and his tremendous gifts, talent and contradictions. Three of his former students sang, among whom Johannette Zomer whose recording of Haendel cantatas Charles had given me.

Charles himself sang because his last concert with Marien in our Burgundy village on August 17th was recorded, it was magnificent. We also heard an old recording of him singing a Gilbert & Sullivan piece he did 30 years ago, and at the very end, an extract from the St. Mathew Passion which he sang many times but never enough (Rita Zindler Asch and I went to hear him do it once in Holland, a few years ago). When leaving, we heard Finzi’s “Come away Death” that he sang last summer… The final scene was overwhelming, hard to describe: the casket was brought out carried by Cecile and her whole family (brothers and sisters and Hannah, Josse and Louise) walking in slow motion, all glued together as in a bas-relief, their faces twisted with pain, it was an 18th century Pietŕ. About 200 people attended.

I too am glad we came to the Harold Brown Centennial in New York in 2009, Sig. It was about time! but in time I think to make the farewell ceremony of today more meaningful for all of you who saw Charles again then and can piece images together back to our times at Music and Art and Renaissance Chorus sixty years ago.

Love to all,

From The Milwaukee Sentinel, March 13, 1968
by Jay Joslyn

“The show must go on” - Baritone’s foot in cast

The Skylight Theater opened with Milwaukee’s first production of Bizet’s « The Pearl Fisher » on Tuesday. It was the first time anywhere that Zurga, the pearl fisher king, was played with a broken foot. Charles Van Tassel, 30, a New York baritone, reported to the theatre at 813 N. Jefferson St. with his right foot in a cast. He had broken the foot while dashing up the stairs to an auditorium in New York for the title role in a Chatauqua (N.Y.) production of “Don Giovanni” ten days ago. But the show must go on! The Skylight production indicates that Zurga was attacked by a giant clam. To minimize difficulties in movement, Van Tassel had his left shoe built up. Since Van Tassel is 6 foot 3 inches tall normally, the emergency measure also made the Skylight Zurga the tallest. The young baritone is a man on the move. A broken foot didn’t prevent him from singing his first major operatic role. The son of a professional singer turned minister, Van Tassel started life as a prospective singer. His father was his first teacher but the youth took a long way around to get his career going. A graduate of Yale University with a philosophy major, Van Tassel got a job as an economist with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in Chicago before picking up his singing four years ago. The usual Hollywood Cinderella gimmick helped get him on his way when he substituted for the famed baritone Gustino Diaz in a Grant Park concert of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”. The substitution led to a concert version of Rossini’s “Italiani in Algiers” with the Chicago symphony orchestra and a fellowship at the University of Chicago where he worked with Ralph Shapey’s Contemporary Chamber Players. Last season, Van Tassel was in Milwaukee twice. He moved chairs with Shapey’s group at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and made modern sounds with the group at Cardinal Stritch College. In August, Van Tassel’s career will take another usual turn. He will become the lead baritone for the Bremerhaven (Germany) State Opera, doing lyric, Italian and singspiel roles. Operatic debuts at the Skylight Theater have proved lucky in the past. Sakiko Kanamori, Van Tassel’s leading lady in the Bizet opera, made her debut here as “Madame Butterfly” last season and then went on to win a top prize in the Metropolitan opera’s national auditions. Patricia Craig, who sang Violetta in the Theater’s latest production, “La Traviata”, won the regional Metropolitan audition while on tour with the Skylight. Stumping across the Skylight’s multilevel stage with a foot in a cast should do great things for Van Tassel’s career – out of simple justice.
Read by Gabrielle at the Farewell Concert for Charles, in Amsterdam, January 12, 2013

January 24, 2013

Dear members of the Renaissance Chorus,

We regret to inform you of the passing of Charles Van Tassel, an early member of the Renaissance Chorus. We learned of his death from alumni Gabrielle Varro and Prof. John Graziano, both good friends of Charles. Many of us who knew Charles are saddened by this news.

In his long professional singing career, Charles performed hundreds of roles in concerts worldwide and made many recordings. With his death, the music world has suffered a great loss. We feel honored to think he began his illustrious career as a member of the Renaissance Chorus during the 1950s, singing on the original LP records we produced.

We are posting messages of condolence and remembrances on the Chorus People page of our website and on the Renaissance Chorus Facebook page.

Charles lived with his family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At our invitation, he traveled to New York in 2009 to attend the Harold Brown Centennial celebration where many of us were able to become reacquainted with this accomplished man.

We send our condolences to Charles' wife Cecile and children Hannah, Josse and Louise.

-Sigmund Rosen, John Hetland, Dorrie Rosen, Ruth Horowitz

From Eliane Reinhold
January 25, 2013

I was very sad to read your email. Charles (whom I hadn't seen in almost 50 years!) and I had a wonderful conversation and meeting at Harold's centennial celebration, recalling the enthusiasm we shared in the early days of the Renaissance Chorus. He was such a charming and gentle man.

My deepest condolences to his wife and family,