The Dutch contralto
Maartje Offers was born in 1892 and
began her career as an opera singer.
Well received though she was, her reputation
remained local until colleagues suggested
she pursue her career in Italy at which
point much more than succès d’estime
beckoned. La Scala booked her for the
1924/25 season (Fricka in Rheingold
and Die Walküre) and she was successful
at La Fenice in Venice. She sang Mahler
(No. 2) with Mengelberg and after her
return to the Netherlands Beecham contracted
her for his concert tours of Britain
and Australia. But despite these prestigious
engagements, and despite her recording
contract with HMV, her public career
gradually wound down and teaching took
up an increasing amount of her time.
She died in 1944, having given her final
performance four years earlier at the
Spa Hotel in Schevening.
She made a number of
acoustic recordings under the name van
der Meer-Offers but her Red Label celebrity
(albeit brief) coincided with the Beecham
years, when additionally the young Barbirolli
accompanied her, and these are the discs
by which she is best known. As a nod
to England she even recorded one of
Elgar’s Sea Pictures. Offers had a good
quality contralto, although in his notes
the late Leo Riemens characterises it
more as a dramatic soprano. It’s a voice
capable – not always, but sometimes
– of dramatic incisiveness, well supported
and resonant. It’s not ideally steady
and though she is rhythmically astute
and stylish (and stylistically impressive)
there are moments of faulty technique.
These are primarily ones of faulty breath
control, and can be heard on the coupling
of Thomas and Saint-Saëns (HMV
DB913) where one can hear that the phrasing
is, as a result, somewhat compromised.
Her sometimes obtrusive vibrato is also
a feature of the other Saint-Saëns
recordings. Her Ave verum is movingly
expressive in the Old School way and
in the Gluck one can hear the lineage
of descent from her to Ferrier – albeit
Offers is pursued by a band unusually,
even for 1926, swimming in portamenti.
We do hear a couple of acoustic items
– Aida and Rienzi – that show her as
a good, but not outstanding, musician
in this kind of repertoire. Maybe the
reputation that has accrued to her as
a rather stolid stage animal, was not
entirely wrong – though I have to say,
on the evidence of these recordings,
that it wasn’t entirely right either.
For all the minor weaknesses she can
still have the power to move and to
The discs are not especially
rare but they have been well transferred.
Instances of blasting are uncommon (once
in the Trovatore extract) and the 1927
La Favorita sounds slightly over-resonant.
Otherwise, with the exception of some
of her Wagner, Offers has been sidelined
in recent years. This is a worthy salute
to her memory.