Category Archives: Behind the Iron Curtain

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.