Category Archives: Bel canto

Episode 87. Christa Ludwig In Memoriam



The world of singing sustained an enormous loss a week ago: the death of the great German singer Christa Ludwig on April 24 at the age of 93. A singer whose repertoire centered around the great German composers but who also sang Verdi and French repertoire with often stunning results; a mezzo-soprano who was unparalleled in Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms, but who also sang the great soprano heroines of Richard Strauss; a Lieder singer of great perception and textual acuity whose supple technique nonetheless centered on legato singing: the greatness of this artist simply cannot be overestimated. In this, the first of several episodes that, over the next few months, I will devote to one of my favorite singers, I focus on the key composers (Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Wagner) and conductors (Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, and Leonard Bernstein) with whom she was most closely associated, while also examining some roles that might surprise you: Cenerentola, Amneris and Marie in Wozzeck. Vocal guest stars include Gloria Davy, Victoria de los Ángeles, Reri Grist, Gundula Janowitz, Gwyneth Jones, and Ludwig’s one-time husband Walter Berry. A bonus Patreon episode published concurrently with this one explores Ludwig’s mastery in the field of 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 81. Happy Songs (straight up)



This week I offset the gloom of last week’s music with straight-up joy. No gimmicks, no goofiness, no weird accents. Whether the composer is Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Benatzky, Aaron Copland, Oleta Adams, or Harold Arlen, and whether sung by Nancy Wilson, Dorothy Maynor, Tina Turner, Maria Callas, Max Hansen, Conchita Supervia, Barbra Streisand, Mahalia Jackson, Lisa Della Casa, or the Pointer Sisters, all today’s selections are guaranteed to make you feel a little lighter, a little more joyous. And in today’s continuing climate of pandemic uncertainty, who doesn’t need a little more of that?

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.


Episode 72. Igor Gorin (Great Baritones II)



I recently rediscovered the great Ukranian-American baritone Igor Gorin (1904-1982) and was bowled over by the sheer beauty of his voice. In fact, I am tempted to call his the most beautiful baritone voice I have ever heard. His is a fascinating life story, beginning in pre-Soviet Ukraine and moving back and forth from Vienna to the United States until finally, with forged documents, he emigrated to the US and became a naturalized citizen. Through a series of happy circumstances, he became one of the top US radio stars of the 1930s and 1940s and eventually appeared as well on early television broadcasts. A career in regional opera resulted, including starring roles at Lyric Opera of Chicago and one single appearance at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 59. This episode features live, radio, and studio performances by Gorin in opera, operetta, Broadway, and folk and art songs over a period of nearly 40 years, including exceptional a live late career performance of Ernest Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh, in which he returned to his cantorial roots. If you do not (or do) already know this artist, you are in for a treat.

A bonus episode on Igor Gorin for my Patreon subscribers includes complete performances of two constrasting song cycles by Modest Mussorgsky, The Nursery and the Songs and Dances of Death.

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.


Episode 71. Eidé Noréna



Kaja Eidé Noréna (1884-1968, née Karoline Hansen), the Norwegian lyric-coloratura soprano, is one of the greatest singers of her generation, and nearly forgotten today. She made her concert debut at the age of 19 and in 1907 began her operatic career as Amor in Orfeo ed Euridice. In 1909 she married the actor Egil Eide, through whose coaching she became celebrated for her dramatic portrayals. Under her married name Kaja Eide she became one of the Norway’s most famous singers, though her career was essentially a provincial one until, mid-career, she restudied her technique and rebuilt her voice, which led to her La Scala debut as Gilda under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (and under her new professional name, Eide Norena). She went on to an international career, performing in the world’s most celebrated opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, and, particularly, the Paris Opéra. Her repertoire was a wide one, ranging from Ophélie to Desdemona, and her vocal technique was solid to the point of near-perfection, her legato singing being particularly remarkable. What sets her apart, and what makes her one of my favorite singers, is her profoundly musical interpretations allied to her keen dramatic sense. The majority of the recordings featured on the episode are from the 1930s. Noréna retired in 1938 and spent the remainder of her life in Switzerland, where she died in 1968. Noréna is, for me, everything that a great singer should be, and it is a particular honor for me to feature her on the podcast.

A bonus episode posted today on my Patreon page (www.patreon.com/countermelody) features Noréna in the role of Juliette in Gounod’s opera, including both live and studio recordings of duets with Charles Hackett and Gaston Micheletti.

And a link to the article about Noréna that I wrote in 2007 for my long-defunct blog: www.counterleben.blogspot.com/2007/07/fairy-from-ice.html

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.


Episode 59. Rosanna Carteri In Memoriam



I had been planning a 90th birthday tribute to this extraordinary artist in December, but alas, the great Rosanna Carteri departed this earth a week ago today, just a few weeks short of that landmark celebration. But let us celebrate today nonetheless, that this long-lived artist, who abandoned her performing career in 1966 when she was only 35 years old, brought her full-throated voice and impeccable artistry to operatic stages around the world for fifteen exceptional years. Carteri’s was a lyric yet full-bodied voice with facility that allowed her to undertake soubrette parts as well as some spinto roles. I feature extended examples of her versatility over the course of that entire career, including excerpts from La traviata, La bohème, La rondine, Guglielmo Tell, Falstaff, L’elisir d’amore, Madama Butterfly, Roméo et Juliette, Otello, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz and Iris, Prokofiev’s War and Peace (the final version of which she created in Florence in 1954), the premiere recording of Poulenc’s Gloria and Gilbert Bécaud’s Opéra d’Aran (which she premiered in Paris in 1962). These operas represent just a fraction of her repertoire, in which are featured, among others, Giuseppe di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, Leonard Warren, Carlo Bergonzi, Ettore Bastianini, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Giuseppe Taddei, Cesare Valletti, and Giuseppe Gismondo and conductors Tullio Serafin, Pierre Monteux, Vittorio Gui, Georges Prêtre, Gabriele Santini, and Artur Rodzinski. In other words, the crème de la crème of the operatic firmament in the 1950s and 1960s, in which company Carteri most emphatically belonged.

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, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 57. Francisco Araiza @ 70



On October 4, the great Mexican tenor Francisco Araiza celebrated his 70th birthday. On that day I promised my listeners a full episode on this exceptional artist in the very near future. And here it is! I’m thrilled to trace Araiza’s career path, from his studies with the great soprano Irma González through his early career encounters with Herbert von Karajan. Through the 1980s through the 1990s, Araiza was simply the greatest lyric tenor on the planet. I share live and studio recordings of his nonpareil performances of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and the heroes of the French repertoire through his assumption of heavier repertoire including Verdi, Puccini, Beethoven, and Wagner. Though his critics dubbed these journeys ill-advised, I would argue that Araiza’s singing, always rooted in a very secure technique, in fact followed the natural trajectory of his voice and allowed him to retain vocal health and longevity. I also highlight his deeply-felt Lieder performances, including an exceptional live performance of Schubert’s Winterreise.

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 53. Justice (In Memoriam RBG)



I awoke Saturday morning in Berlin to the apocalyptic news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Once again a crisis in the United States has prompted me to quickly put together a different episode than originally planned. The late Justice Ginsburg was a particular lover of opera, and so I have decided to showcase some of her favorite operas and performers. We will hear extended scenes from La Gioconda, Le nozze di Figaro, Der Rosenkavalier, Otello, Don Giovanni, La Fanciulla del West, Fidelio, Götterdämmerung, and others in performances featuring favorite singers of hers, including Jussi Björling. Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, and Cesare Siepi. Other featured singers are Gottlob Frick, Fernando Corena, Margaret Price, Leonard Warren, Arlene Saunders, Carol Neblett, Gianpiero Mastromei, Beverly Sills, Gwyneth Jones, Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Elisabeth Söderström, Eileen Farrell, among many others. The episode also incorporates a memorial tribute to Maria Callas on the 43rd anniversary of her death, and to Jessye Norman on what would have been her 75th birthday.

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 47. Sylvia Sass (Crossover Classics III)



The Hungarian soprano Sylvia Sass was a comet in the operatic firmament in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, most celebrated for singing the heaviest dramatic coloratura repertoire. In 1984 she also released a crossover album entitled Nézz körül, which I purchased when it was first released, and which amused me to no end, featuring as it did songs from “Flashdance” to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” all sung in Hungarian. As the years have passed, and I have become more and more of a Sass fan, I have completely revised my opinion of this unusual entry into the Crossover Classics genre and now am of the opinion that Sass’s achievement on this record represents the peak of opera singers singing crossover material. Her unusual and compelling voice is heard at its most mellifluous here; her musicianship is at the complete and non-condescending service of the material, which ranges from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Quincy Jones; and the intensity of her delivery, contrasted with the sometimes tacky arrangements, makes for a unique and delectable experience. I supplement material from that album with several examples of Sass’s magisterial performances of operetta and classical music, from Mozart and Offenbach through Ferenc Erkel and Richard Strauss, pausing (regretfully only momentarily) on her matchless Verdi portrayals. Prepare for the Total Eclipse of the Kékszakállú!

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 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 42. Battle Hymn of the Scotto



On the weekend that my benighted nation celebrates its birthday, I turn for real leadership to Renata Scotto, specifically her portrayal of the Druid priestess Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s eponymous cornerstone of the bel canto repertoire. Scotto began her career as a charming lyric-coloratura, lending her distinctive voice and artistic personality to roles from such country damsels as Amina in La Sonnambula and Adina in L’elisir d’amore to the more substantial title roles in Lucia di Lammermoor and La Traviata. With Butterfly, she moved into heavier repertoire and eventually, in 1974, first took on Norma. Singing this role for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera season in 1981 was a risk that took a toll on her reputation. But, I contend, even with its flaws, her Norma is one of the greatest post-Callas assumptions of the role. Scotto’s occasional vocal vulnerabilities in the role contrast with her continuing fearlessness in coloratura. And her insights into the varying aspects of Norma’s persona: her wisdom, her compassion, her conflict between love and duty, and finally, her ability to admit wrongdoing and accept the consequences, show all the characteristics of a true leader. In 1978, at the peak of her achievement, Renata Scotto sang the role of Norma in at least three different productions: in Philadelphia (with the gleaming John Alexander); in Houston (with the glorious Tatiana Troyanos); and in Firenze (conducted by the stern but compelling Riccardo Muti). I offer extended excerpts from each of these performances as well as a beguiling performance of “Casta diva” from her first assumption of the role in Torino in 1974. I also offer John Alexander and another podcast favorite, Shirley Verrett, in the Adalgisa-Pollione duet. Finally, I top off the episode with Scotto’s oh-so-wrong yet oh-so-right performance of “Send in the Clowns,” which serves as the perfect commentary for the current political situation in the USA.

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.