René Jacobs was born in Ghent, Belgium, on October 30, 1946. As a child he was a chorister at St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. After obtaining a degree in philology from Ghent University, he studied voice with Louis Devos and Lucie Frateur. Later on he took master classes with countertenor Alfred Deller. Already active on the concert stage, Jacobs made his operatic debut in Amsterdam in 1974, singing Clerio in Francesco Cavalli's Erismena. In 1977 Jacobs founded Concerto Vocale, an ensemble he would appear with in many concerts, operatic productions and recordings.
By the 1980s Jacobs was steeped in conducting commitments, though he continued to sing, often in the same concerts. He was also editing performing editions of operas, as he famously did for the 1989 performance he led at the Opera de Montpellier of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea.
In the 1990s Jacobs established his credentials as one of the finest conductors on record of Mozart's operas. His 1998 Così fan tutte, for Harmonia Mundi, became one of the label's best selling recordings. But it wasn't just his Mozart that drew attention: Jacobs' performances of Haydn's Il mondo della luna at the 2001 Innsbruck Festival and at the Staatsoper unter den Linden the following year drew lavish critical praise. In 2004 Jacobs received the Cannes Classical Award for his recording of Handel's Rinaldo and in 2005 he was awarded the prestigious Diapason d'Or for his recording of Haydn's The Seasons. Among Jacobs' later recordings are his 2009 Idomeneo and 2010 Die Zauberflöte, on Harmonia Mundi.