Category Archives: Behind the Iron Curtain

Episode 123. Lois Marshall (Great Canadian Singers I)



Today is my first episode of the New Year, and the first in my three-part series this month on Great Canadian Singers. It is my contention that my first subject, Lois Marshall (1925-1997), is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. If you haven’t heard of her (which is entirely possible, given the vagaries of posthumous fame and reputation), you are in for an enormous treat. Possessed of a rare musical scrupulousness, an interpretive honestly, directness, and integrity, as well as a finely-honed dramatic sensibility, Lois Marshall, in a better world, would have graced the world’s operatic stages. Alas, she was stricken with polio as a child, and though she managed to gain the ability to walk, staged opera was a genre which she only rarely attempted. Yet she worked with the world’s greatest conductors, among them Toscanini, Stokowski, and Beecham, and was a recitalist celebrated the world over. This episode offers an extended yet partial glimpse of the range and variety of her artistry, and includes recordings of arias by both Purcell and Puccini (the title role of Turandot!), Bach and Beethoven, as well as a dazzling array of recital repertoire from Debussy to folk song arrangements. Fellow Canadians Maureen Forrester and Glenn Gould are also featured. In my opinion, this artist is ripe for rediscovery, and I hope that you will join me on this extraordinary journey into the life and career of Lois Marshall.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 122. Auld Acquaintance II



Part Two of my “Auld Acquaintance” mini-series on Countermelody continues the exploitation of even more artists who have already been featured on the podcast, but in rare recordings that have only recently come into my collection. Today’s episode begins with a tribute to the German-based African American mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 80. Featured artists in the main episode include Paul Robeson, Magda Olivero, Edda Moser, Ileana Cotrubas, Carol Brice, Margaret Price, Igor Gorin, Josephine Baker, Eidé Noréna, Alberta Hunter, Thomas Carey, Christa Ludwig, Sylvia Sass, Francisco Araiza, William Warfield, and many, many more singing everything from reggae to Rigoletto. 2021 gets a better send-off than it deserves, what with these singers and this music that will certainly help us all to approach the upcoming New Year “keeping the song in our hearts!”

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 121. Auld Acquaintance I



This special episode, the first of two year-end celebrations, presents artists who have already been featured on Countermelody in rare recordings that have recently become available to me. A few of the artists heard include George Shirley, Heather Harper, Lawrence Winters, Elisabeth Söderström, Camilla Williams, Julia Migenes, John Raitt, Gloria Davy, Rosanna Carteri, Mirella Freni, Robert McFerrin, Margaret Marshall, Yi-Kwei Sze, Eileen Farrell, Shirley Verrett, Cathy Berberian, and many, many others in recordings, most from my personal collection, which you may not have heard before. This is a gift of love and gratitude from me to my listeners and supporters, a backward glance at all of the great singers who have been heard on the podcast over the past two and a half years, a theme which will continue next week. I look forward to continuing with new topics and new singers as we move into 2022.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 116. Pop Songs by Lieder Singers



This week I feature nearly a century’s worth of recordings of pop music by singers who also, and in some cases primarily, were great singers of art song. Many of my favorite singers figure into the mix, including Hermann Prey (who was the inspiration for this episode), Grace Bumbry, Helen Donath, Roberta Alexander, Elly Ameling, Peter Schreier, Lotte Lehmann, Gérard Souzay, Brigitte Fassbaender, Bryn Terfel, Richard Tauber, José van Dam, Peter Schreier, Leontyne Price, Donald Gramm, and many, many others. They perform everything from Broadway standards to jazz to Deutsche Schlager to tangos to the Great American Songbook to 80s power ballads. This episode was such a joy to put together and I hope that you will enjoy this cornucopia of vocal and interpretive bounty.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 111. Verdi auf Deutsch I



Today’s is a mammoth episode on a mammoth topic: historical performances of Verdi’s operas in German translation. I trace the historical and ongoing popularity of Verdi’s works in Germany, and include discussions of the works of Friedrich Schiller as Verdian subject matter; the co-opting of Verdi’s genius by the Third Reich; and the numerous African American Verdi singers, including Gloria Davy, Lawrence Winters, Lenora Lafayette, Betty Allen, and Grace Bumbry, who based their careers (or significant portions thereof) in German-speaking European countries. I include duets and trios from eight different Verdi operas; recordings featured were made between the years 1923 and 1973 and feature such native German-speaking singers as Richard Tauber, Margarete Teschemacher, Maria Cebotari, Josef Greindl, Meta Seinemeyer, Inge Borkh, Fritz Wunderlich, Annelies Kupper, Elisabeth Grümmer, Wolfgang Windgassen, Gottlob Frick, and Hilde Güden, among many others. Non-German singers such as Teresa Stratas, Sándor Kónya, Pilar Lorengar, Jess Thomas, Raymond Wolansky, and James King are also highlighted. This episode is an exploration of the greatest operatic composer of all time, but in unexpected garb.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 105. Teresa Żylis-Gara In Memoriam



One of my very favorite singers, the Polish soprano Teresa Żylis-Gara, died on Saturday 28 August at the age of 91. I had been planning a birthday episode dedicated to her next January, but instead I present a heartfelt tribute in memoriam. Over a long career and as her voice developed, Żylis-Gara moved deftly and skillfully from performances of Baroque music through French, Russian, Verdi, and Puccini and even verismo heroines, always with her trademark vocal glamour, technical acuity and musical refinement. I offer live and studio examples of this under-recorded artist, a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera between 1968 and 1984, including early Monteverdi, Bach, and Handel, moving through her career-making assumption of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and touching also on her recital work, and concluding with her definitive performances of Desdemona in Otello and Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder.

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. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Twenty-five exclusive bonus episodes are currently available to Patreon supporters.


Episode 104. Nicolae Herlea



Yesterday, August 28, would have been the 94th birthday of the great Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea (1927 – 2014). I continue my great baritone series with a salute to this extraordinary singer, who, unlike many of his fellow Romanian artists during this era, was able to pursue an active career in the rest of Europe and the United States. For many fans of great singing, Herlea is the Verdi baritone of choice. With this tribute, I begin a series examining great singers whose careers originated on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain. I present examples from one of Herlea’s first recordings, a 1959 recording of arias made in Moscow with the great Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting. I follow this with three excerpts from his two albums of Neapolitan songs, and conclude with extended excerpts from four of his recordings, made in Romania, of complete operas, which introduce us to a number of Herlea’s Romanian colleagues from the era, including Virginia Zeani, Arta Florescu, Ion Buzea, Ludovic Spiess, Ludovic Konya, and Magda Ianculescu. This episode also includes brief tributes to two of my favorite singers, recently deceased, who represented completely different genres: the folk singer and songwriter Nanci Griffith, who died on August 13 at the age of 68, and the exquisite Polish soprano, Teresa Żylis-Gara, who died yesterday at the age of 91.

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. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my 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.