Category Archives: Forgotten Divas

Episode 267. A Cavalcade of Pop Contraltos



My intention this week to produce a joyous new episode further celebrating contraltos, was undermined by multiple deaths this past week in the musical world, including French pop icon Françoise Hardy, Swiss tenor Eric Tappy, American art song icon Paul Sperry, and R&B diva Angela Bofill, capped by the tragic demise of young Belgian coloratura soprano Jodie Devos of breast cancer at the age of only 35. The episode, thus, begins with brief musical excerpts from all of these recently departed artists. In the main episode, I spread the contralto net even wider than last time, focusing on low-voiced doyennes of popular song. We hear jazz singers (Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae); stars of stage, screen, and radio (Marlene Dietrich, Polly Bergen, Connee Boswell, Alice Faye, Lisa Kirk, Kate Smith); purveyors of the Blues (Bessie Smith, Bertice Reading); French cabaret singers (Damia, Barbara); fado, rebetika, and tango artists (Amália Rodrigues, Milva, Maria Bethânia, Sotiria Bellou); and late-20th century pop icons (Cher, Tina Turner, Karen Carpenter, Annie Lennox); with a few delightful surprises along the way. I should also note, in honor of Pride Month, that more than a few of these artists flaunted societal norms regarding their affectional preferences, living either furtively or openly at a time when such expressions could have serious consequences. I love putting this kind of episode together and I hope that you enjoy the kaleidoscopic sounds that emerge from the throats of these deep-voiced pop divas.

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.


Episode 265. Meet Hana Janků



Have you ever encountered a singer that no one has apparently heard of, yet once you have discovered them, you feel compelled to introduce them to practically everyone you know? I’ve had this experience more than a few times over the past five years of producing weekly Countermelody episodes, and today I bring you another such singer: friends, meet Hana Janků, the Czech soprano who lived from 25 October 1940 to 28 April 1995. Her voice is one of steely brilliance that she can taper down to the slightest whisper of a pianissimo. As important as her extraordinary voice was her profoundly-felt and deeply-etched characterizations of all the roles she assumed. As a young music lover, Hana’s aims were modest, but thanks to a voice teacher who recognized her gift, she moved from the chorus to a member of the ensemble at the Brno Opera before she was 20. Five years later in Bratislava, she first performed the role with which she would be most closely associated: Puccini’s Turandot. Two short years later, after an arduous audition process, she sang the role at La Scala and became a star overnight. Her large repertoire also encompassed roles such Tosca, Gioconda, and Lady Macbeth, French and Russian operas as well as Mozart and Wagner roles, with a large smattering of roles by Czech composers as well, in particular Smetana and Dvořák. Because of political unrest, she made the difficult decision to leave her native Czechoslovakia, performing instead throughout the world, including stints in the ensembles at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Ill health forced her to leave the opera stage prematurely, and she died of cancer in Vienna before she turned 55. Janků left very few commercial recordings, but I have been plumbing the internet for rare live recordings spanning her entire career, encompassing not only her legendary Italian roles, but also roles by Mozart, Gounod, and Othmar Schoeck, as well as a smattering of Czech repertoire. It is an honor to present to you the woman whom Birgit Nilsson dubbed the finest Turandot of her era and who was, as we shall hear, so much more as well! Vocal guest stars include Franco Corelli, Giorgio Merighi, Cornell MacNeil, Roland Hermann, William Holley, and Naděžda Kniplová.

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.

 


Episode 264. Rescue Mission (Forgotten Divas Edition)



During Black History Month this year I featured a group of five exceptional singers I dubbed, for lack of a better term, “Forgotten Divas.” Each of these women, sopranos Delcina Stevenson, Annabelle Bernard, and Veronica Tyler, mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, and jazz singer Ethel Ennis, represents the peak of achievement in each of their respective fachs. These proved to be among the most popular and far-reaching of my recent episodes. At that time, I promised my listeners that I would continue to seek out rare recordings of each of these women and that, if and when such material surfaced, I would be sure to share it with my listeners. True to my promise, I present a brand-new episode featuring (for the most part) newly discovered material with each of these singers: a live Washington Opera Ariodante from 1971 and a live Carnegie Hall Orfeo ed Euridice from 1967, both with Veronica Tyler; live original language performances of Puccini’s Il tabarro and Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète from the stage of the Deutsche Oper Berlin which starred Annabelle Bernard; Gwendolyn Killebrew singing the Habanera from Carmen, one of her most celebrated roles, as well as the Waldtaube in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder; rare studio recordings of Delcina Stevenson singing Bach and Vivaldi from the early 1970s; and live material featuring Ethel Ennis over the course of nearly fifty years of her career, 1958 through 2005. As more of this material resurfaces, I will present further episodes of this new “Rescue Mission” series featuring both these singers and others I have already featured on the podcast, performing material that adds to our understanding and appreciation of their artistry.

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.

 


Episode 263. Contralto Central



Finally, the first in my long-promised series on the contralto voice! The contralto is a rara avis in the today’s opera and classical music scene, and yet back in the day, there seem to have been more of them before the public. And of course contraltos have always been a powerful presence on the popular music scene, whether in blues, disco, jazz, or as purveyors of the Great American Songbook. There is no way that I can cover all of the great (and near-great) contraltos in recorded history, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Today’s selections span a wide chronological range , even for this podcast: nearly 120 years, and include voices both fleet and monolithic (and sometimes both). We begin with a tribute to the late Polish coloratura contralto Ewa Podleś and along with way we hear the most famous contraltos like Kathleen Ferrier and Marian Anderson, and jazz and pop contraltos like Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson. We also sample singers from the earlier twentieth century such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Cloe Elmo, Clara Butt, Eugenia Mantelli, Kerstin Thorborg, and Sigrid Onégin (about whom I spill some major tea!) Throughout the episode are sprinkled some of the most beautiful voices of any kind that I have ever heard: the Scottish Caroline Kaart, the Romanian Florica Cristofereanu, the Czech Věra Soukupová, the Dutch Aafje Heynis, the French Germaine Cernay, the British Norma Procter, and the Russian Valentina Levko. And if like me you have despaired of ever hearing another true contralto again in our lifetime, we hear in young Jasmin White cause for rejoicing. And if your favorites are not heard today, fear not, for this is the tip of the iceberg: many more great singers will follow when the series continues in two weeks.

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.


Episode 262. Sylvia Sass Revisited



Several summers ago I published my first episode celebrating the artistry of Sylvia Sass which primarily featured her 1984 album of pop songs sung in Hungarian. At the time I called it, without any irony, the finest crossover album of the 1980s and one of the best of all time. Sass is an artist who continues to engage discourse. Many of the opinions, theories, and input encountered therein are predicated on dissecting the reasons for her short international career. My objective with today’s episode, however, is simply to celebrate Sass’s singing in all its glory, extending from the standard Italian operatic repertoire with which she is most associated through the thorniest contemporary idioms to the subtlest art song to the most refined Mozart singing, with, once again, a nod to the pop material which initially drew me to her. I always say that I believe in giving flowers to our favorite artists when they are still around to receive them, and today’s bouquet is a stunning display full of color and variety humbly presented to one of my favorite divas.

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.


Episode 261. Thom Baker Introduces Rosanna Carteri (Listeners’ Favorites)



Today’s episode is one of my Listeners’ Favorites episodes, this one introduced by my wonderful friend Thom Baker. He had just written me about his enthusiasm for the Rosanna Carteri episode I posted in the fall of 2020 on the occasion of her death, just a few short weeks before her 90th birthday. Thom and I were both equally taken with 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.” 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.


Episode 258. (Frank) Lopardopalooza



Today I present to you the American lyric tenor Frank Lopardo, who from 1984 through 2014 appeared in all the major opera houses of the world, celebrated particularly for his Mozart and Rossini roles. Too often today these superb singers even from the recent past are forgotten by today’s audiences, and my listeners know that it is always a mission of mine to celebrate great artists who, for whatever reason, are not in the forefront of the public’s awareness. In Frank’s case, I suggest it has absolutely nothing to do with his stellar voice and astounding technique. Some singers are content to do their job and live their lives and serve the music and the art form to the best of their considerable abilities without engaging in antics or self-destructive behavior. A quick glance at Frank’s accomplishments and the musicians with whom he collaborated makes it immediately clear that his career unfolded naturally and organically at the highest levels. Today’s episode explores the infinite variety of Lopardo’s artistry and his impeccable musicianship and technique, which aided him in his pursuit of always discovering new aspects of the central roles in his career. Conductors with whom he collaborated (and as heard on the episode) include Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Ion Marin, Riccardo Muti, Robert Spano, and the late Seiji Ozawa. While Lopardo was never tempted to move outside the natural confines of his lyric voice, he did in the final years of his career, move into some of Verdi’s larger lyric tenor parts, in operas like Un ballo in maschera and Simon Boccanegra, both of which are sampled here. We also hear Frank in duet with some of his favorite colleagues, including memorable Chilean sopranos Verónica Villarroel and Cristina Gallardo-Domâs. It was all I could do not to entitle this episode Lopardopalooza, ‘cause that’s exactly what it is!

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.


Episode 256. Mari Lyn’s Golden Treasury of Chutzpah (Alternate Universe Bel Canto III)



Many of my listeners look forward with eager anticipation to my annual April Fool’s episodes, and today’s packs a particularly powerful punch! A few months back my friend Thomas Bagwell, a perpetual friend of the podcast, told me he had a dub of a rare recording on Philips Records [sic] by the New York-based soprano Mari Lyn, well known as the Singing Hostess of the 1980s public access cable television program The Golden Treasury of Song. On the spurious LP she sings Verdi and Puccini arias accompanied (sort of) by her artistic collaborator Howard Salat (of the Local 802) leading the “Belgravia Philharmonia Symphonica Orchestra” [sic]. If any of you remember Ms. Lyn from my previous Alternate Universe Bel Canto episodes, you will know that she packs a vocal punch that can leave you reeling (and your ears ringing!) I actually convinced Thomas to get on the horn with me yesterday from Copenhagen and we recorded a spirited conversation in which we discuss everything from Easter bonnets to theater organs to cranky Unitarians to defective blenders to aging ingénues to Lee Press-On Nails to Oscar the Grouch to Queens, Europe to the power of parlando before we get down to the true business of the day: singing the praises of our alternate universe diva, Marilyn Sosman (known to vocal aficionados the world over as Mari Lyn), she of the indestructible vocal bands, lofty wigs, and life-affirming (and -altering) costume jewelry. This whimsical episode strips Mari Lyn of her wigs, gowns, and accountrements (in a figurative sense only) leaving her only with her most powerful asset: that legendary Sherman tank of a voice. Armed with that voice, she refashions some of the most popular arias of Verdi and Puccini, and, thanks to her imaginative use of the Italian language; her refusal to conform to the strait-jacket of the printed page; and her idiosyncratic use of pitch, rhythm, and vocal color; renders them unrecognizable in the process. Not only is the music transformed, but so are we, her fans, who listen on in horrified fascination at what she will think of next. Evviva Mari Lyn!

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.


Episode 246. Previn Moore Introduces Camilla Williams and Janet Williams (Listeners’ Favorites)



As the final entry in this year’s Black History Month episodes, my dear friend Previn Moore introduces his Listeners’ Favorites choice, an episode I published in the early months of Countermelody back in the fall of 2019. It features two phenomenal Black sopranos whose friendship and mentorship Previn outlines in detail in an introductory interview I did with him at his home in Vienna this past week. This episode features the phenomenal, the legendary, the pathbreaking soprano Camilla Williams (1919-2012), whom Previn first met as a young tenor at Indiana University’s School of Music, where Miss Williams was the first African American teacher of singing to serve on the faculty. While there, Previn also formed a lifelong friendship with Camilla’s student, Janet Williams, who herself went on to a brilliant worldwide career, including twelve years as a leading soprano with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden here in Berlin. Janet and I met as fellow students in the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera and it has been my joy and a privilege to share a treasured friendship with her ever since. In tribute to both of these extraordinary sopranos, I offer a cache of rare studio recordings by Camilla Williams, supplemented by live material sung by Janet Williams from the artist’s private archives. Included among the selections are excerpts from Camilla’s rarely-heard album of spirituals on the MGM Records label, and a concert given by Janet Williams in her home town of Detroit in 1989, capped by a stunning rendition of Undine Smith Moore’s arrangement of the spiritual “Watch and Pray,” dedicated to Camilla Williams. Many thanks to Previn, Janet, and the extraordinary Camilla Williams for their shining examples and for their dedicated artistry.

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.


Episode 244. Veronica Tyler (BHM 2024)



This Countermelody episode is the last in my miniseries featuring artists from Baltimore. It is also the last in my new episodes for Black History Month 2024 featuring “Forgotten Divas.” Today I offer to you the absolutely divine soprano of Veronica Tyler (1939-2020), who fits all three categories. In the 1960s, Veronica Tyler was a name on everyone’s lips: she appeared on three different episodes of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, she was the second prize winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1966, the first time this venerable contest had featured singers, she was a featured artist at the New York City Opera, where, in their first season at Lincoln Center, she sang a Pamina in The Magic Flute of such humanity and transcendent vocal beauty that audiences were transported into another world. She sang under conductors Leopold Stokowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Zubin Mehta, Eugene Ormandy, Carlo Maria Giulini, Robert Shaw, and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. Later on she made a belated Met debut in 1985 as Serena in their premiere production of Porgy and Bess, but gradually her high profile appearances became fewer and fewer and eventually she disappeared from view. Her death on 21 March 2020 was only announced three months later, and with little fanfare. But during her heyday, Veronica Tyler was among the most elegant, compelling, and ingratiating lyric sopranos in the business. I have scoured the archives to bring to light some of the artist’s most beautiful performances, some of them virtually unheard for decades, including a 1980 album of spirituals that ranks among the best of this repertoire ever committed to disc. What inexpressible joy it brings me to present to you the unforgettable Veronica Tyler!

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.


Episode 243. Ethel Ennis (BHM 2024)



Today’s “Forgotten Diva” takes us outside of the realm of opera and into the rich musical field of jazz. I have been in musical heaven the past few days as I’ve been savoring the output of the great Ethel Ennis (28 November 1932 – 17 February 2019). In her native Baltimore she was known as the “First Lady of Jazz,” and while this might cause some persons to look askance at such a claim, I can only say that they have not yet sampled the vocal, musical and interpretive majesty that is Ethel Ennis! Because of her superlative gifts, worldwide fame kept nipping at her heels, and yet she had no interest in being “famous.” She just wanted to make music, and that’s exactly what she did, remaining in the city of her birth, where she performed regularly at certain clubs, including one she and her husband Earl Arnett ran in the 1980s called “Ethel’s Place.” She had recording contracts with both Capitol Records and RCA, for whom she released some monumental albums in the 1950s and 1960s, and later in her career, as her artistry become more refined, burnished, and inward-looking, she also recorded a number of spectacular live recordings on small, independent labels. Recordings sampled on this episode cover the musical gamut from the Great American Songbook to quirky non-standards, to contemporary pop. If you hear Ethel Ennis interpret just one song, I predict that you will become an immediate fan for life.

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.


Episode 240. Annabelle Bernard (BHM 2024)



Last week we celebrated the 97th birthday of our Ur-Diva, Leontyne Price. And today, continuing my Black History Month 2024 theme of “Forgotten Divas,” I present to you a Verdi soprano of similar repertoire and voice to Miss Price, Annabelle Bernard (1935-2005), whose career, unlike Price’s, was centered primarily in Europe, specifically at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, where she was a member of the company for nearly forty years. Born in New Orleans, she received her early musical training from Earl Hogan (uncle of the famous composer and conductor Moses Hogan) and Sister Mary Elise Sisson, whom Bernard herself credited with being her formative and primary musical inspiration. With the patronage of Edith Rosenwald Stern, an heiress to the Sears-Roebuck fortune, Bernard found early success in Europe, winning second prize in the Munich ARD Competition in 1960, settling in Berlin in 1962. Annabelle Bernard was married to the German tenor Karl-Ernst Mercker (1933-2021), who in addition to appearing alongside her in many performances and productions, was also a fierce advocate for his wife during her tenure in Berlin, when she would encounter racism. The two of them retired to New Orleans in 1998, where Bernard became a voice teacher at Xavier University, her alma mater. This episode includes rare live clips of the soprano in works by Verdi, Mercadante, and Dallapiccola, as well as from her sole commercial recording, excerpts from Porgy and Bess in German alongside the iconic African American baritone Lawrence Winters, released in 1964, the year before Winters’s untimely death. Mercker’s strong lyric tenor is also featured in a few brief excerpts, but the main focus is on the radiant voice and artistry of Annabelle Bernard. Believe me when I tell you that I remain on the lookout for further recordings of this magnificent artist!

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.


Episode 239. Gwendolyn Killebrew (BHM 2024)



This week’s “Forgotten Diva” is the mezzo-soprano / contralto Gwendolyn Killebrew (26 August 1941 – 24 December 2021), who made an indelible contribution to opera in particular during the active years of her career (1965 – 2009). Though the majority of her career was centered at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, she sang the world over with some of the most important opera companies (including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Bayreuth, Washington Opera, Santa Fe Opera, La Monnaie, and the Bayerische Staatsoper), conductors (Pierre Boulez, Gary Bertini, Michael Gielen, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Georg Solti), and stage directors (Patrice Chéreau, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, August Everding, Giancarlo del Monaco, Christof Loy, and John Dew). She had an enormous repertoire from Monteverdi and Handel to Henze and Fortner, excelling in particular in various Wagner roles. She was also a superb actor, who, through the use minimal gestures and stage business, made an enormous impact. This episode presents her in a wide range of material, including both live and commercial recordings ranging from Cavalieri to Zimmermann, alongside such fellow singers as Teresa Stratas, Carlo Bergonzi, Hermann Prey, Stuart Burrows, Sherrill Milnes, and Gail Gilmore led by conductors Leonard Bernstein, Gary Bertini, Bohumil Gregor, Berislav Klobučar, James Levine, Heinz Wallberg, and Eve Queler. Of special interest is a rare live recording of her prize-winning performance of “Asie” from Ravel’s Shéhérazade at the 1967 International Voice Competition in Montréal. The episode opens with brief memorial tributes to soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez and pianist Thomas Muraco.

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.


Episode 238. Delcina Stevenson (BHM2024)



I am so grateful to all the listeners who did introductions to their favorite episodes last month. It provided me with a little bit of needed breathing space and now I am back raring to go with my first new episode for 2024, just in time for Black History Month 2024! There is a secondary theme for this month which is “Forgotten Divas,” a favorite topic of mine at any time of year. The term “forgotten” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because these women are anything but forgotten among those who experienced their singing, teaching, or friendship live and in person. Nevertheless, for want of a better term (Divas Who Deserve to Be As Well-Remembered as Any of Their More Famous Counterparts seems a little wordy), I’ll stick with the designation I chose.

Today’s artist is the only “Forgotten Diva” who is still with us, soprano Delcina Stevenson, born 29 September 1933, so this enables me to also “give flowers” (to coin a present-day term I actually like) to her directly. She was born in Kansas and graduated from Kansas University. After moving to California in 1960, she coached and studied with Lotte Lehmann, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Martial Singher, and William Vennard, and was a protégée early in her career of Kurt Herbert Adler at the San Francisco Opera. She has lived and performed around the world, primarily in California, New York, and Germany. She possessed one of the most exquisite lyric soprano voices I have ever heard, one which never aged, but simply grew more lush and voluminous. The musical excerpts I have compiled feature her in live and studio recordings from over the course of more than 30 years, ranging Mozart to Sondheim to Rossini, in which that voice is on shimmering display. I am thrilled to introduce (or reintroduce) her to you.

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.