Category Archives: Art Song

Episode 49. Eileen Farrell (Crossover Classics V)



The American dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell (1920–2002) was one of the finest and most versatile singers the United States has ever produced. Her singing career lasted more than fifty years, and this episode covers the entire chronological range of that career, from her early work as a radio singer in the 1940s to her final pop albums in the 1990s. While the episode focuses on her crossover work (and includes work by, among others, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, as heard on two of her lesser-known pop albums with Percy Faith and the late André Previn), we also sample her opera and concert work, with examples from Verdi and Wagner, to Debussy and Charpentier, to Barber and Menotti. A late reunion with her frequent collaborator Leonard Bernstein caps the episode. In all her singing Farrell combines ease of delivery and a relaxed, insouciant response to the words and music with a vocal and interpretive precision that inevitably strikes a bullseye. Bow down to the Queen of Crossover, nay, the Queen of Song!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 48. Cesare Siepi (Crossover Classics IV)



Last month marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Italian basso Cesare Siepi, one of the most important basses of the twentieth century, after such figures as Nazzareno de Angelis, Tancredi Pasero, and, particularly, Ezio Pinza, the latter, like Siepi, particularly associated with the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His dashing good looks, solid technique, sonorous voice and appealing artistry, placed him in the forefront of the opera world, particularly in the 1950s through the 1970s. In this episode, rather than his celebrated Mozart and Verdi portrayals, however, we will focus primarily on his 1958 Decca/London album, Easy to Love: The Songs of Cole Porter. Siepi also made two appearances on Broadway, including 1962’s nearly-forgotten Bravo, Giovanni, from which we hear two excerpts. Other musical selections in this episode include two operatic arias, several favorites from the Neapolitan song repertoire, and live and television performances from Brahms to Sigmund Romberg. Revisiting this artist, and particularly his spot-on Cole Porter performances, is a nostalgic journey for me, and I hope to convey to you his enormous appeal.


Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)



For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 39. Pathos à la Cotrubas



Several weeks ago I began a series on particular vocal and artistic qualities that I find most important in a singer’s artistic profile. I had already done episodes on Charm and Glamour. Then the BLM protests intervened and I felt impelled to respond with two episodes examining Protest in Music. Today I resume my previous series with that all-important artistic trait Pathos. And who better exemplifies Pathos than the great Romanian soprano Ileana Cotrubas, who celebrated her 81st birthday this past week? Cotrubas was a deeply expressive and communicative artist who gained heights and plumbed depths that (in my estimation) no other artist of her generation was able to achieve. In this episode, I examine the earliest projects that brought her to international prominence, including the Glyndebourne production of Cavalli’s La Calisto, in which she sang the title role. I devote ample time to her traversals of Mozart operas, including her surprising (and surprisingly effective) assumption of Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Pausing briefly to acknowledge her work in the French repertoire and the bel canto soubrette parts, I then turn to her two greatest assumptions, Mimì in La bohème and Violetta in La Traviata. In relation to these I offer excerpts from live performances with Carlos Kleiber and Bruno Bartoletti. I conclude with a discussion of how her vocal flaws revealed her humanity in a way that an artist with a more perfect voice and technique might not have achieved, while never compromising musical values. The episode begins with a brief tribute to another singer of a different stripe who also exemplified Pathos: Judy Garland, who celebrated her 99th birthday this past week, and the 51st anniversary of whose death we commemorate next week.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 35. Charm: A Second Helping



Last week we had such an overflowing of vocal, artistic, and personal charm that I was compelled to produce a second episode on the subject with a fresh batch of charmers. We begin the episode with a tribute to Gabriel Bacquier, the iconic French (bass-)baritone who died this past week just four days short of his 96th birthday. I feature him in three rare selections that represent him in repertoire which is a far cry from his operatic roles. I then resume the survey of charm as demonstrated by artists as varied as Conchita Supervia, Joséphine Baker, Hilde Güden, Ella Fitzgerald, Yvonne Printemps, John McCormack, Lois Marshall, Charles Trenet, Lucrezia Bori, Lily Pons, Hermann Prey, Dusolina Giannini, Tito Schipa, Richard Tauber, Julie Andrews, Julius Patzak, Maria Kurenko, Judith Blegen, Danny Kaye, Marta Eggerth, Elisabeth Schumann, Fritzi Massary, Maxine Sullivan, Magda Kalmár, Ella Logan, Dorothy Warenskjold, Aksel Schiøtz, Erich Kunz, and Lucia Popp. Repertoire ranges from operetta (including Franz Lehár in three different languages), folk song arrangements, musicals, art song, pop music, and children’s songs. Amazingly, opera is nowhere to be seen in this episode, but that will certainly change in the next week, when we take up consideration of Charm’s cousin, Glamour.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 34. Charm (Artistic Heartbeat I)



I have planned a series on five different artistic traits that guide a singer through their artistic journey. The designations are my own, and as such, purely idiosyncratic. Charm is defined as “the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration.” In this episode, we examine singers of many genres singing music from many lands. Featured artists include Bidú Sayão, Carlos Gardel, Mary Martin, Régine Crespin, Richard Lewis, Victoria de los Angeles, Eileen Farrell, Ezio Pinza, Patachou, Judy Holliday, Hugues Cuenod, Elisabeth Welch, Ninon Vallin, Richard Dyer-Bennett, Jorma Hynninen, Susannah McCorkle, Barbara Cook, Ninon Vallin, Teresa Berganza, Yvette Guilbert, and many others. Because there is so much charm and enchantment in the world, the episode threatened to stretch to an untenable length, I will present additional examples of Charm in the next episode. I also pay tribute to the Lebanese-American mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias, who died a week ago at the age of 90.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 32. Fedora Barbieri (Mezzo Madness III)



The Italian mezzo-soprano Fedora Barbieri (1920-2003) was never a great favorite of mine. That is, until I recently came across her rare 1953 recording entitled Fedora Barbieri Sings Old Italian Songs and Airs, accompanied by Dick Marzollo, an assistant of Toscanini’s and one of the principal coaches at the Met in the 1950s. Though possessed of an extraordinary voice, Barbieri’s vocal problems prevented her from making her full mark in much of the dramatic mezzo-soprano repertoire in which her compatriot and arch-rival Giulietta Simionato excelled. However, in this recording of songs by Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Paisiello, Cherubini, Scarlatti, and others, recorded in New York for the Vox label, Barbieri reveals herself as that true rara avis, a classicist with guts. The episode also includes recordings from either end of Barbieri’s five-decade-long career and begins with a tribute to the great American jugendlich dramatisch Sopran Arlene Saunders, who died last week at the age of 89.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 31. Janet Baker (Mezzo Madness II)



Few singers have more affected my life in a more fundamental way than the great Janet Baker. This episode seeks to pay humble tribute to that exceptional artist. I have sought long and hard to find repertoire and performances that my listeners might not have heard before. While this is not an exhaustive survey (methinks a second JB episode is lurking around the corner), I do touch on many of the cornerstones of her repertoire, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Gabriel Fauré, Dominick Argento, and Gustav Mahler. I also feature composers less often associated with her, including Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Hugo Wolf, and Peter Aston. Her musical collaborators represented in the episode include Martin Isepp, Paul Hamburger, Josef Krips, Rafael Kubelik, Colin Davis, Geoffrey Parsons, Anthony Lewis, and Michael Tilson Thomas, among others. I present to you The High Priestess of Song. (I also pay passing tribute to the Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer, who died this past week at the age of 92, and Dusty Springfield, whose 81st birthday we celebrated posthumously this week.)

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your support at whatever level you can afford.