Category Archives: French Opera

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 259. Lawrence Winters Revisited



During the first season of Countermelody I presented the great African American baritone Lawrence Winters in an episode which paired him with his contemporary Robert McFerrin. Today Winters (born Lawrence Whisonant in South Carolina on 12 November 1915 and died of cancer in Hamburg at age 49 on 24 September 1965) returns center stage to Countermelody in a program which focuses on his prowess in standard operatic repertoire and art song. After vocal study with Todd Duncan at Howard University, Winters toured for several years with the Eva Jessye Choir before enlisting as a member of the Armed Forces. Upon returning to the US, he appeared in Harold Rome’s Broadway musical revue Call Me Mister. In 1948 he debuted at New York City Opera, the first Black male singer to perform there; he performed there for seven seasons, returning for a single performance as Porgy in 1962. He made his first trip to Europe in 1949 and in 1950 joined the roster of the Royal Swedish Opera, with whom he sang for two seasons. Thereafter, he joined the ensemble of the Hamburg Opera and later, the Deutsche Oper Berlin. He also performed at the Wiener Staatsoper and the San Francisco Opera. He returned to the Broadway stage in 1960, garnering a Tony nomination for his appearance opposite Joya Sherrill in the play The Long Dream. In the last year of his life he also appeared in Germany in the title role of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. He made a large number of recordings for Philips, Deutsche Grammophon and other labels, as well as a slew of radio recordings, many of the latter of which are featured on this episode. A certified star in Germany, Winters was often featured in pop music that appealed to the German public of the time but which, frankly, was not always worthy of his talent. In this episode I present him in repertoire that reveals him as one of the primarily Verdi and verismo baritones of his era, even when he was singing those roles in German translation. We also hear Winters in excerpts from two operas in which the protagonists are specifically Black: Frederick Delius’s Koanga and William Grant Still’s Troubled Island.

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 257. The Marvelous Marvis Martin



I have been juggling a number of brand new episode ideas for the coming weeks, but when I discovered that Sunday April 7 was the birthday of Marvis Martin, one of my favorite sopranos, I put all those ideas on the back burner and eagerly put together this birthday tribute to a singer who not only is celebrated as possessing one of the most beautiful voices of her generation, but who has also had a long, successful, and unconventional career. For whatever arbitrary reason, Marvis Martin made only a handful of major label recording releases, but, for us lucky persons who live in the age of YouTube, there are a growing number of gorgeous live recordings available that feature this artist in her prime. In some ways she reminds me of Veronica Tyler, whose career I charted in a popular episode of the podcast a few months ago. In the case of the highly respected and frankly marvelous Marvis Martin, we are able to personally present her with the flowers that she so richly deserves. I have curated a wonderful setlist today of mostly live material that includes representative selections from each of the platforms on which her career was focused: opera, concert, and recital, everything from Mozart and Handel to Copland, Rorem, and Barber; from selections from Porgy and spirituals, to Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Korngold. My dear friend Jerry Hadley appears as a duet partner in a rare live Idomeneo performance and conductors Georg Solti, Henry Lewis, Vladimir Ashkenazy, James Levine, Charles Mackerras, Eve Queler, and Libor Pešek, among others, support this magnificent singer from the podium.

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 247. Sarah Pillow Introduces Eileen Farrell (Listeners’ Favorites)



My dear friend and colleague soprano Sarah Pillow introduces one of her favorite Countermelody programs, which I repost as the first of this month’s Listeners’ Favorites episodes. Since Sarah is herself an enormously eclectic singer, it’s entirely fitting that she should choose to foreground Eileen Farrell. 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 favorite conductor 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.” 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 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.


Episode 235. Anna Tonna Introduces Teresa Berganza (Listeners’ Favorites VI)



Today’s Listeners’ Favorites episode of Countermelody is introduced by my good friend (and Countermelody fan) the marvelous mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna. In her introduction Anna tells about her first exposure to the podcast and introduces us to one of her favorite episodes: the one I published in May 2022 a week after the beloved singer died at the age of 89. The episode pays tribute to her artistry through the exploration of her operatic roles, from Neris in Medea opposite Maria Callas, through her matchless Mozart and Rossini portrayals, through her fascinating and highly individualized portrait of the title heroine of Bizet’s Carmen. Special emphasis is given to her performance of Spanish music, from the zarzuelas of Ruperto Chapí and Federico Moreno Torroba, to art songs of Manuel de Falla and Fredric Mompou. Vocal guest stars include Mirella Freni, Pilar Lorengar, Lola Rodríguez Aragón, Franco Bonisolli, and the incendiary Callas herself, an early mentor and supporter of Berganza. I began the preparation for this episode with an incomplete appreciation of Berganza’s voice and artistry, but, knowing that she was one of Anna’s most treasured singers and role models, my goal was to see her through Anna’s eyes, and in the end, I was completely won over. This episode perfectly illustrates the podcast as a journey of mutual discovery for both me and my listeners.

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 233 – Dusty Pörn Introduces Eleanor Steber (Listeners’ Favorites IV)



Today’s subject is Eleanor Steber, certainly one of the greatest and most versatile of American sopranos. She is introduced by one of the most recent (and most colorful) of all of my listeners, the San Francisco-based drag artiste (and vocalist extraordinaire) Dusty Pörn. In this very special episode, which I first posted in the summer of 2022 in honor of Steber’s 108th birthday, musical selections from across the duration of Steber’s long career, are supplemented by the generous and loving commentary of my friend, singer and conductor Michelle Oesterle, who was Eleanor’s stepdaughter. As such Michelle spent time (especially in the summer months) with her father and Eleanor at Melodie Hill, Eleanor’s estate on Long Island. She provides us with an unparalleled intimate portrait of Eleanor as woman and as singer and describes the profound influence that Eleanor had in her life, as well as the characteristics that combined to make her the profoundly appealing and moving interpreter that she was. She also addresses the white elephant in the room, that is, Eleanor’s alcoholism, and makes a plea for tolerance and understanding vis-à-vis this serious disease. Many thanks to both Dusty and Michelle for their loving and perceptive tributes to this greatest of singers and artists.

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 231. Elliot Levine Introduces Margaret Marshall (Listeners’ Favorites II)



The second of my Listeners’ Favorites episodes for January is introduced by my dear friend Elliot Levine, a founding member of the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, with whom he sang bass for 47 years. He is also an exceptional composer (who among his many other works has composed material expressly for me which I have sung with great pleasure and joy), He is also a valued choral singer and clinician. He has been a devoted listener to, and supporter of, Countermelody since its inception and among his many favorite episodes, he has chosen one of my very favorites to highlight, my birthday tribute, first published three years ago, to superbissima Margaret Marshall, who celebrates her birthday on January 4th.

Since she burst upon the scene in the late 1970s, Margaret Marshall has been a favorite of lovers of great singing. Her timbre, artistry, and technical facility evoke comparisons with many treasured singers of the past. Though she retired from public performance in 2005, in the year 2020 she launched, in tandem with her daughter Nicola and a group of dedicated supporters, a website called Songbird, which focuses on the early years of her career, and which features many rare soundclips, both live and studio, from that period, many of which have been assembled into a new downloadable release entitled “Margaret Marshall Songbird.” Today’s episode features a wide range of her live and studio recordings, including a few samples from the Songbird release. Included are works by Galuppi, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Gluck, Elgar, Finzi, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg in recordings and performances between 1975 and 1990, with collaborators including conductors Neville Marriner, Riccardo Muti, John Eliot Gardiner, Vittorio Negri, Charles Groves, Antal Doráti, Philip Ledger, and Rafael Kubelik and fellow singers Ann Murray, Francisco Araiza, Alfreda Hodgson, Felicity Palmer, and Sesto Bruscantini. Compiling this episode has provided my ears and spirit with many blissful hours; I wish my listeners the same experience! Many thanks to both Margaret and Nicola for providing advice and guidance in the selection of today’s material, and many happy returns to the “Scottish supersoprano”! Since this episode was published, Margaret has published a second series of rare recordings available via download on her website, as well as Apple and Spotify. Margaret Marshall Songbird 2 includes exquisite performances of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Wolf, and Sacchini, and, like the performances on this recording, simply must be heard to be believed.

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 222. Shirley Verrett, Falcon Sfogatissima



It is hard to believe that it’s already been 13 years since the death of Shirley Verrett on November 5, 2010. It has also already been four years since I did a pair of episodes on this extraordinary and beloved artist, and this anniversary gives me the perfect excuse to revisit the work of this mezzo-soprano turned soprano who more than any other singer in my experiences (even soon-to-be birthday girl Maria Callas) was capable of singing nearly anything. This type of singer is sometimes referred to as a soprano sfogato (or a falcon, after the 19th century French mezzo-cum-soprano Cornélie Falcon. Since Verrett, like Falcon, sang both mezzo and soprano, I instead coin the term falcon sfogatissima to describe her vocal magic. This episode is chock full of examples of Verrett’s impassioned yet technically-grounded vocalism, from art songs by Brahms and Pasatieri to operatic roles by Handel, Gluck, Cherubini, Bellini, Puccini, and Verdi (including both soprano and mezzo roles in Aida and the Messa da Requiem and soprano roles in Ballo in Maschera, Macbeth, Don Carlo, and Otello). I close the episodes with Verrett’s astonishing but limited forays into the German operatic repertoire. Her collaborators on this episode include conductors Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Eve Queler, Georges Prêtre, Sarah Caldwell, and the late Kenneth Montgomery; and fellow operatic greats Sherrill Milnes, Luciano Pavarotti, James McCracken, Robert Massard (last week’s featured artist), and her frenemy the late Grace Bumbry.

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 221. Robert Massard



This is an episode I have been planning for years now! This past August 15, the great French baritone Robert Massard turned 98 years old. As many of my listeners know, I have a thing for baritones in general, and I have devoted episodes to artists of the baritone persuasion from world-renowned to virtually unknown to somewhere in-between. Just think of it: Gérard Souzay, Jorma Hynninen, Eugene Holmes, Andrzej Hiolski, Gabriel Bacquier, Will Parker, Gilbert Price: these and many more have already been featured with more (Hugo Hasslo, Eric Sædén) on the horizon for next season. But I would be hard-pressed to think of a baritone who possessed a more beautiful natural voice, a more refined technique, or a more elegant artistry than did Robert Massard, who in his thirty-odd years of career chalked up approximately 2,500 performances, including 1,003 at the Paris Opéra alone (the same number, he himself points out, as Don Giovanni’s conquests)! Massard also sang an incredibly varied (though primarily operatic) repertoire, and this episode presents highlights from both the standard to the more obscure repertoire, from Gluck, Gounod, Verdi, and Massenet; to Reyer, Milhaud, Lalo, and Diaz (who?). These recordings are supplemented by a number of excerpts from French operetta (Planquette, Varney, Messager, and Beydts) which provide unalloyed melodic delight, the Massard voice heard at its absolute peak. And the colleagues who appear opposite Massard are like a Who’s Who of great opera singers (French and otherwise) of the era: Régine Crespin, Mady Mesplé, Denise Duval, Shirley Verrett (subject of next week’s episode!), Andréa Guiot, Jean Giraudeau, André Turp, Marilyn Horne, Renée Doria, Jane Rhodes, Andrée Esposito, Rita Gorr, and the falcon Suzanne Sarroca, who died last month at the age of 96. And if you listen very closely, you will also catch fleeting glimpses of favorites Patricia Neway and George Shirley. I know I say this too often, but if you only listen to one episode of Countermelody, make it this one!

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 213. Julia Varady



A week ago the extraordinary Hungarian-German soprano Julia Varady turned 82. As she is one of my favorite sopranos, I have presented her a few times on the podcast, but never on an episode devoted exclusively to her. There is no time like the present to rectify that situation. Varady had an exceptional and unusual career, centered mostly in Europe, where she was celebrated first as a Mozart soprano, later for her fearless portrayals of the full range of Verdi heroines. Elsewhere in the world, primarily because of her recordings, she was considered mostly a Strauss singer, who also dipped her toe into some of the Wagner jugendlich dramatisch heroines. As today’s traversal proves, she was all that, but also much more: a singer with a gutsy dramatic instinct and a technique that allowed her to take on roles that might have been a few sizes too large for her vocally, but which she portrayed with vigor and fearlessness such as have been matched by only a few of the very greatest sopranos. It is also my objective in this episode to consider her accomplishment independently from that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, her husband from 1977 until his death in 2012, regarded by many as one of the most significant baritones of the last century. But my (perhaps idiosyncratic) view is that, particularly because of their very different artistic personalities, her achievements, especially on the operatic stage, outrank his. See if you agree with me. We also hear contributions from tenors Siegfried Jerusalem and Franco Tagliavini, soprano Arta Florescu (Varady’s teacher), and baritone Raimund Grumbach, along with pianists Elena Bashkirova and Aribert Reimann (whose compositional masterpiece Lear is also sampled), and conductors Wolfgang Sawallisch, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Algis Zhuraitis, Jesús López-Cobos, Neville Marriner, Herbert von Karajan, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, and István Kertész.

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 212. Ian Partridge



Ian Partridge, the quintessential English lyric tenor, celebrated his 85th birthday in June. I may be a few weeks late in celebrating that event, but my enthusiasm and admiration for this singer has remained at a consistent level ever since I first discovered his voice on a recording of songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Partridge, in fact, has left a vast recorded legacy, including work as both a solo concert artist and recitalist and as a member of such distinguished choral groups as Pro Cantione Antiqua, the Wilbye Consort, and the Louis Halsey Singers. His solo repertoire ranged from 11th century plainsong to the thornier musical 20th century idioms of Schoenberg and Britten. This episode samples the vast array of that recorded legacy, including examples from the Baroque period by Bach, Schütz, Handel, and Monteverdi; through art songs by Schubert, Brahms, Fauré, Bax, Gurney, and Warlock. We also hear him live from Covent Garden in his sole operatic role, the Carthaginian poet Iopas in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, and in lute songs and consort music by Campion and Byrd. In all these performances the voice is produced with such ease, the tone so pure and ethereally beautiful, yet never faked or “finessed,” while the interpretations themselves, no matter the musical style, are full of depth, integrity, and subtlety. Here is an enormously satisfying artist who embodies integrity and dedication to his craft. Guest stars include Jill Gomez, Nigel Rogers, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Colin Davis, Ernest Ansermet, Norman Walker, Prunella Scales, and the tenor’s sister, pianist Jennifer Partridge, with whom he gave over 400 song recitals.

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 210. The Mystery of Anita Cerquetti



Anita Cerquetti (13 April 1931 – 11 October 2014), the subject of today’s episode, possessed a one in a million voice, enormous, but with prodigious flexibility, and of an immediately recognizable timbre and style of text projection. She skyrocketed to world fame when she replaced Maria Callas in the title role of Bellini’s Norma in Rome in January 1958. Before that, the young soprano, still in her twenties, had been steadily building a career, primarily in Italy but also internationally, working in Italy’s biggest houses and music festivals with the greatest maestri and fellow singers of the period (including Ettore Bastianini and Franco Corelli, both of whom are heard on the episode). Immediately after those Rome performances, however, Cerquetti canceled a series of subsequent performances of Bellini’s Il Pirata, and her live performances dwindled thereafter to a mere trickle. In the fall of 1960, not yet thirty years of age, she gave what proved to be the final performance of her career, a recording for Dutch radio of Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco. Cerquetti is considered to be one of the great operatic mysteries of the second half of the twentieth century. She made only two commercial recordings, so the majority of her recorded legacy stems from live and radio performances. In this episode, I share some of my favorites among those recordings, and discuss the personal issues that surrounded Cerquetti’s premature disappearance from the world’s opera stages as well as why her still unmatched accomplishments still captivate listeners to this day.

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 206. Jerry Hadley



Jerry Hadley (16 June 1952 – 18 July 2007) is regarded by many as the most gifted American lyric tenor of the late 20th century. Last month he would have celebrated his 71st birthday. And today is the sixteenth anniversary of his untimely death. I knew Jerry well in the early 2000s when he was dating one of my best friends. Our friendship developed separately from that: in those years in which he was working at rebuilding his voice and career we worked together on a cross-section of his old and new repertoire. At the time of his death, he was no longer romantically involved with my friend, so he and I had drifted apart. Nevertheless, it hit me very, very hard, and I mourn his loss to this day. On that front, I have quite a few things to say about singers and mental illness, and the ruthlessness, implacability, and heartlessness of a profession which so often chews up the most vulnerable of us and spits them back out. When Jerry was at his best, his art sustained him, but the challenges ultimately became too much for him to face. But this episode is primarily a celebration: my primary objective is to present my friend at his exceptional best, in performances, both live and studio, which celebrate his voice, artistry, and spirit, performances which provided his public with some of the finest tenor singing they would ever hear, in that, or any other, era.

WARNING: THIS EPISODE CONTAINS A DISCUSSION OF SUICIDE AND SUICIDAL IDEATION.

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 198. Cesare Valletti



Today’s episode celebrates the Italian tenore di grazia Cesare Valletti (18 December 1923 – 13 May 2000), perhaps the last in a lineage of Italian lyric tenors. Valletti studied under his illustrious predecessor Tito Schipa and rapidly conquered first the Italian opera houses, and then the world stages, with his small-scale but superbly produced voice and his spontaneous yet exacting musicianship. From 1953 through 1960 he was a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera and also performed at opera houses and festivals worldwide under some of the greatest conductors and at the side of the greatest singers of his day. We hear a sampling of his greatest operatic roles, including duets with Eleanor Steber, Rosanna Carteri, and Maria Callas, as well as the repertoire in which – nearly unique for an Italian singer – he excelled: art song. The combination of his Italianate timbre with his scrupulous and imaginative musicianship makes for an ineffable and deeply satisfying artistic experience. He made five LPs of recital repertoire, including two live recitals from the stage of Town Hall in New York City, excerpts of which are all offered here. The episode begins with a tribute to the beloved Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Tina Turner, who died on Tuesday at the age of 83.

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 197. Theatre Dreams



I’ve been plotting an episode on the subject of Dreams for a while. Given the profusion of music that references that altered state of consciousness, my challenge was narrowing down the topic. I chose to focus today on theater music (opera, operetta, and musicals) that references actual rather than figurative dreams. Even within these parameters, there was a plethora of material and as usual my repertoire choices are strangely and uniquely my own. So on this episode you’ll hear everything from a 1965 recording of Tevye’s Dream from Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, from the first Israeli production of the musical; Renata Scotto in late career essaying the haunted dreamscapes of Arnold Schoenberg’s monodrama Erwartung; Mattiwilda Dobbs in a rare 1952 recording of “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from Mozart’s Zaide; excerpts from unusual French and German operettas featuring Robert Massard and Charles Kullman, respectively; birthday tributes to Birgit Nilsson and Richard Tauber; and the great Welsh bass Geraint Evans in a live performance of Bottom’s Dream from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And much, much more, including a teaser of next week’s subject the Italian lyric tenor Cesare Valletti; and Janet Baker live in recital in 1966, a preview of the first in a series of bonus episodes that will feature rare LPs from my personal collection. As always, thanks for your support; enjoy!

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 186. Roberta Alexander in Opera



Today it is with the utmost excitement that I bring you an episode devoted to one of my favorite singers of all time, soprano Roberta Alexander, who celebrates her birthday today, March 3rd! I remember first encountering this radiant voice of burnished silver back when I was in graduate school when I discovered her early recordings of art song, including albums devoted to Charles Ives and Richard Strauss. Over the course of a long and successful career she has sung in all major opera houses around the world and in concert halls under the batons of countless distinguished maestri. What is it that makes this voice so special? Alongside a rock-solid vocal technique that has allowed her to sing well into her seventies, she is also gifted with impeccable musicianship and staggering stylistic versatility. For me it is not only the unusual color of the voice, both shimmering and profound (the chiaroscuro!), but even more so, her dedication to communication through clarity of diction and razor-sharp dramatic precision that sends her into the realm of the all-time greats. This episode focuses on Roberta’s versatility and prowess on the operatic stage, featuring live and studio recordings over more than thirty years of works by composers from Handel, Gluck, and Mozart, through twentieth century masters such as Janácek, Gershwin, and Berthold Goldschmidt. We also hear an excerpt from one of Roberta’s favorites among her recordings, a rare 1982 live performance of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. Speaking of Lieder, an upcoming episode this spring will focus on our diva on the concert platform. It was my great honor to meet Roberta in person when she was performing in Berlin in 2022 and therefore it is also to her as a friend that I extend my heartiest good wishes for a happy birthday. I had to remind myself not to fan girl as I was recording the narration for this episode, but I’m not sure I succeeded!

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 184. Eugene Holmes (Black History Month 2023)



Eugene Holmes (1932 – 2007), baritone supreme, should be remembered as one of the most significant voices of the Twentieth Century and a Black singer on a par with the most revered and celebrated. Though he participated in the creation of some important work (including by Gian Carlo Menotti, Gunther Schuller, and Frederick Delius), and performed with San Francisco Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera Regional Company, his career remained centered for more than thirty years at his home company, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The rare recorded documents that we have of Eugene Holmes, including two self-produced LPs of spirituals and three different recordings of Delius’s rare opera Koanga (two of them live), reveal a voice of rare magnitude, range, power, and sensitivity, qualities which made him one of the premier Verdi baritones of his day. But due to a number of factors, including his modesty and his unwillingness to travel far from home, he did not achieve the international recognition that he deserved. I have pulled together all of the recorded material of Eugene Holmes that I could find, and present excerpts from these varied sources. Guest vocalists appearing opposite Holmes include sopranos Claudia Lindsey, Gwyneth Jones, and Barbara Carter, and tenors János B. Nagy and Giorgio Aristo. In the production of this podcast, I was greatly aided by reminiscences provided by his colleagues Bonita Hyman, the German-based African American mezzo-soprano; Stephen Harrison, the retired musical director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein; and Heribert Klein, member of the committee of UNICEF Deutschland, an organization to which Eugene Holmes was deeply committed.

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 183. Martina Arroyo (Black History Month 2023)



Last week on Feburary 2, the beloved African American soprano Martina Arroyo turned 86 years old. Although the Countermelody birthday tribute to Ms. Arroyo is a week late, it is nonetheless profoundly heartfelt. I have always valued the artistry and voice of this artist who often referred to herself as “The Other One” (because she was so frequently confused with today’s birthday diva, Leontyne Price). In preparing this episode, however, I flipped over into fan girl mode: was there anything that Martina Arroyo could not do? Of course she was celebrated as one of the premiere Verdi sopranos of her day (or, indeed, of the twentieth century), and there are ample examples on the episode that give testament to her supremacy in that repertoire. But she was also an intrepid performer of contemporary music, creating important works by both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Samuel Barber. Her performances of baroque music, while very much following an earlier style of performance practice, are vivid and insightful. Her affinity with French grand opera style is off the charts, as evidenced by an excerpt from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. She also could have pursued a path as a Mozart and Strauss singer, and selections by both of these composers prove her mastery of this genre as well. She also had the power to be a full-fledged dramatic soprano, as shown by her live performances of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and the title role in Puccini’s Turandot. And yet her subtlety as a recitalist is shown in live and studio Lieder performances. And the fervor and vigor of her performance of spirituals is a thing of joy. This episode is full of surprises but one thing is not surprising at all: the degree of dedication and commitment of this artist, which continues to this day with the performance and education initiative of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. (The episode begins with a brief tribute to Burt Bacharach, who died yesterday at the age of 94.)

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 182. Dorothy Maynor (Black History Month 2023)



I lead off my new episodes for Black History Month 2023 with one of the most glorious voices ever captured on recordings, Dorothy Maynor (03 September 1910 – 19 February 1996), one of the most glorious lyric soprano voices ever captured on recording. Discovered by Serge Koussevitzky in the late 1930s and championed by him and a host of other conductors (including Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy), she became renowned as a recitalist but, because of restrictions of the era placed upon Black singers, never sang on any operatic stage. Nevertheless, her studio recordings of arias by Mozart, Debussy, and Charpentier are legendary. Our appreciation of Maynor the singer is greatly enhanced by the presence of live radio recordings as well as a recently-issued live 1940 song recital from the Library of Congress. It is one of the great injustices of musical history that gifted Black singers of Maynor’s caliber from that era were outrightly denied the opportunity to perform in staged opera performances at venues like the Metropolitan Opera. Dorothy Maynor nonetheless persevered and left an incredible legacy, and not just a vocal one: in 1963, the year of her retirement from singing, she founded the Harlem School of the Arts, for which, before she stepped down as President in 1979, she raised more than $2 million dollars for the construction of a new facility for the institution. She also was the first African American singer to perform at a presidential inaugural (both for Harry S. Truman in 1949 and Dwight D. Eisenhower four years later), as well as the first African American to sit on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera. This episode features Maynor in live, studio, and radio recordings of repertoire by Bach, Handel, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, as well as some of the finest recordings of spirituals ever made. Also heard are the songs of three Black composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Cecil Cohen, and R. Nathaniel Dett, the latter of which Maynor studied with at the Hampton Institute, whose work Maynor frequently programmed on her recitals. The episode opens with a joyous birthday tribute to next week’s subject, Martina Arroyo, whose 1974 album of spirituals was backed by the Choir of the Harlem School of the Arts conducted by Maynor herself.

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 180. Anna Moffo Reappraised



The Italian-American lyric coloratura soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) is, for many, one of the great singers of the past century. My first exposure to this artist was one of two, frankly, disastrous recordings released in the mid-1970s, in which the voice was a mere shadow of its former self, and in which her vocal defects and mannerisms had overtaken the intrinsic beauty of her voice. But there are so many exceptional qualities to Moffo as an artist, musician, and media star, that I felt compelled to do a frank reappraisal of her contribution to the lyric art. And am I glad that I did! I discovered an artist of great integrity who, in her best work, attained a similar level to any of the other great singers performing during that period. Unlike any other opera singer that I can think of, she conquered three distinct markets with equal success: first in Italy (where she rose to overnight stardom in the late 1950s and went on in the 1960s to become the star of her own eponymous television series); then in the United States throughout the 1960s; and finally, in the late 1960s and 70s, in Germany. But hers is also a cautionary tale of “too much, too soon” and the potentially destructive power of the media which has significance also in today’s opera world. Throughout the episode, live and studio examples of Moffo’s work, both bad and (mostly) good over the course of more than twenty years, are offered to support my discussion of her importance and influence as an artist, one that continues to this day. Vocal guest stars include tenors Carlo Bergonzi, Rudolf Schock, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Sergio Franchi, and musical collaborators include Tullio Serafin, Gerald Moore, Lorin Maazel, Hans Rosbaud, Fernando Previtali, Lehman Engel, Oliviero de Fabritiis, René Leibowitz, Kurt Eichhorn, Berislav Klobučar, and Franco Ferrara. For those who love Moffo, for those who hate her, and for those who find themselves somewhere in between, this episode is (dare I say it?) required listening.

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 177. Great Singers at Twilight



For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.

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 176. Helen Donath



Today’s episode is a celebration of the Texas-born, German-assimilated soprano Helen Donath. Very few singers can boast of a career lasting more than 50 years which yielded such consistently superb vocalism and artistry. Donath began as a soubrette with lyric-coloratura capabilities which blossomed into a jugendlich dramatisch voice capable of successfully assuming roles in Wagner, Strauss, and Weber. Today’s episode has two “gimmicks,” the first of which is that all of the selections are sung in German, even if they were originally set in French or Italian. The second gimmick is that strewn in amongst the other selections, there is a smattering of holiday-related material including works by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Humperdinck, and Pfitzner. Other composers heard include Otto Nicolai, Friedrich von Flotow, Paul Hindemith, as well as numerous examples of Donath’s peerless Mozart singing and a generous helping of operettas by Lehár, Millöcker, and Johann Strauss II. Vocal guest stars are legion, and include Julia Varady, Siegfried Jerusalem, Anna Moffo, Peter Schreier, Edda Moser, Theo Adam, Werner Hollweg, and Günther Leib in performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Kurt Eichhorn, Rafael Kubelik, Herbert Blomstedt, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bernhard Klee, Otmar Suitner, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Gerd Albrecht, and Willi Boskovsky, as well as Klaus Donath, Helen’s husband since 1965.

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 171. November Birthday Gals



Tomorrow morning I leave for three weeks and I’ve been desperately trying to come up with topics that would be a bit easier to produce while I’m away. What could be easier than birthdays for this month and next? Well… leave it to your intrepid producer to make that as complicated as it could be. But there’s a good reason: so many exceptional singers have birthdays this month and next! In fact, November is so chock full of such artists that I decided to focus exclusively on the Birthday Girls. And what a lineup! Iconic divas like Joan Sutherland and Victoria de los Ángeles; tragically short-lived singers like Saramae Endich and the beloved Lucia Popp; forgotten artists like Kjerstin Dellert, Caterina Mancini, and Geneviève Touraine; exceptional Black artists like Barbara Hendricks and Marietta Simpson: all are represented. And let’s not forget the pop divas, both celebrated (Tina Turner, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt), and less well-remembered (Chi Coltrane, Bonnie Bramlett). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So lift a glass, cut a piece of Geburtstagkuchen, and tune in to Countermelody in celebration of these exceptional women! [n.b. This episode was posted before the death of Ned Rorem, who will be properly commemorated in next week’s episode.]

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 170. Oralia Domínguez



Earlier this year, in an episode entitled “Women of Color Sing Mahler,” I provided many of my listeners to their first exposure to the Mexican contralto Oralia Domínguez (25 October 1925 – 25 November 2013). Domínguez is famed for her collaborations with such musical giants as Maria Callas and Herbert von Karajan, but on her own terms, she ranks alongside those monumental true contraltos like Marian Anderson and Kathleen Ferrier. Though there is no question that she was underrecorded, she left a handful of classic commercial recordings, and a plethora of recorded live performances which an artist both technically grounded and fearless in expression, one whose legato singing exuded repose just as her phenomenal coloratura singing generates genuine excitement. I cannot say enough about this artist, who has rapidly become one of my very favorites! The episode features Domínguez in a wide range of material, from Monteverdi, Handel, and Vivaldi to the meat and potatoes roles in the standard operatic repertoire (Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Ponchielli, Saint-Saëns, Massenet) as well as less familiar fare by Michael Tippett and Mexican composers Silvestre Revueltas and Salvador Moreno. Along the way our Earth Goddess is joined by fellow singers Joan Sutherland, Martina Arroyo, Mirella Freni, József Simándy, Monica Sinclair, and, of course, Maria Callas. A bonus episode published concurrently on Patreon presents Domínguez in extended operatic scenes and further rare song material.

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 169. Grace Bumbry



Though the great diva Grace Bumbry has often been featured on Countermelody, I have not yet done a full episode on this incomparable artist. Today’s episode seeks to remedy that, and to celebrate a singer whose contribution and influence extends back many decades and continues to this very day. Normally when I consider an artist so well-renowned, I try to offer a perspective that sheds different light on that singer. So today’s Bumbry celebration considers three aspects of her artistry that have received somewhat less attention. While her successes in a wide range of mezzo soprano repertoire are well-known and well-documented, her soprano assumptions have been somewhat more controversial. I highlight numerous scenes and arias, including from Macbeth, Salome, Turandot, and Nabucco, in both live and studio performances, that shed light on the enormous prowess and fearlessness with which she confronted these roles. Alongside such larger-than-life impersonations are Bumbry’s intimate and detailed performances as a Lieder singer, a tribute to her training under that matchless singer and teacher Lotte Lehmann, with whom Bumbry studied at the Music Academy of the West. Recordings of art song by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss, Liszt, and Berlioz, made over the course of 45 years are also a testament to Bumbry’s vocal longevity and technical prowess. In recent years, Grace Bumbry has devoted her time to the care, nurturing, and training of young singers under the aegis of a program she has named “The Bumbry Way.” The episode closes with a definitive performance of the song “My Way,” which incorporates and encapsulates all the colors of this extraordinary singer in all her fearlessness, self-assurance, determination, vulnerability, and strength. Evviva “The Bumbry Way!”

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 167. Denise Duval



Denise Duval, whose 101st birthday we posthumously commemorate on October 23, will forever be associated with the music of Francis Poulenc, and specifically his operas, in which the lead soprano roles were either created by her, or were written with her in mind. This episode not only presents Duval in excerpts, in live concert and stage performances, of all three roles: Thérèse in Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Blanche de la Force in Les Dialogues des Carmélites, and the unnamed heroine in his searing 1959 monodrama La voix humaine, alongside her performance in the world premiere of her final creation for Poulenc: the brief 1961 monologue La Dame de Monte-Carlo. But Duval was a versatile singer whose many and varied roles may surprise you. I present her also in both French and Viennese operettas by Lehár, Kálmán, Planquette, Messager, and Hervé, as well as operatic roles by Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saëns, concert works by Florent Schmitt and Louis Durey, and, from a joint recital with Poulenc, a breathtaking excerpt from Debussy’s Proses lyriques. Duval’s unusual voice and artistic profile defy classification, but this episode seeks to present as full a portrait as possible of this great singer and actor. Heard alongside Duval are tenors Jean Giraudeau, Alain Vanzo, Michel Hamel, and Jean Pomarez; baritones Jacques Jansen, Robert Massard, and Hans Wilbrink; and in an amusing turn, Francis Poulenc himself.


Episode 166. Dan’s Picks



This week I celebrated my birthday, so today is the second of this month’s birthday celebrations. A number of my listeners have been asking me for a while to post an episode featuring my favorite singers and recordings. So here it is! We lead off with a brief memorial tribute to Angela Lansbury, who died in the early California morning of my birthday. The rest of the episode features many recordings that I first got to know as I began exploring the world of great singing on records. Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Alexander Kipnis, Elisabeth Söderström, Richard Lewis, Renata Scotto, Adele Addison, Gundula Janowitz, Margaret Price, Teresa Stratas, Gérard Souzay: all of these artists were formative figures in my early listening experience. My appreciation of some others came later: Hina Spani, Brigitte Fassbaender, Georges Thill, Sylvia Sass, Nicolai Gedda, Kirsten Flagstad. By this late date, all of them have been favorite artists of mine for decades and are represented on the episode by some of their greatest recordings. The episode concludes with a brief tribute to the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams on the occasion of his 150th birthday, also celebrated this week.

P.S. Two years ago I did another Happy Birthday To Me episode, which featured performances by some of my favorite pop divas. The episode can be found for a limited time at the top of my LinkTree chain.

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 163. Season Four Preview



Today Countermelody is in limbo: balanced between Seasons Three and Four. Over the past few months I’ve been planning the course of the upcoming season and this episode consists of musical tidbits (bocconcini, if you will) of some of the singers and themed series that I am planning for Season Four. Included are retrospectives of singers Judith Raskin, Roberta Alexander, Sammy Davis, Jr., Helen Donath, Hugues Cuénod, Anna Moffo, Denise Duval, and Nicolai Gedda, all of whom are “sampled” today. I’m also planning programs on; “Great Singers We’ve Never Heard Of;” the music of Alec Wilder; the Black male singer as European émigré; “Behind the Iron Curtain;” explorations of both Orchestral Songs and Rare Twentieth-Century Operas; and “Great Singers in Old Age;” as well as, naturally, a closer examination of many of those New York City Opera divas to whom I provided an introduction last week. The new season will also be more interactive, with livestream interviews planned with various fascinating (and legendary!) figures in the world of opera and classical music. Thanks to all for your continued support, friendship, and listenership; see you next week for the debut of Season Four of Countermelody!

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 162. NYCO Divas: An Introduction



Today is the final regular episode of Season Three of Countermelody, as well as the last of my summer series documenting musical life in New York City during the years 1950 through 1975. I am thrilled to start what I hope will be an occasional series of episodes that will drop throughout Season Four, which begins in two weeks. I present to you a small sampling of the extraordinary singing actors that peopled the stage of New York City Opera during the years in question. The most famous of these, of course, is Beverly Sills, and she is aptly represented in her most radiant early prime. But there are many other singers as well, including African American divas Carol Brice and Veronica Tyler, preceded by Camilla Williams (the first Black singer to be awarded a standing contract with a major US opera company… in 1946!). City Opera was celebrated for presenting an absolute slew of new American work in its heyday, and we hear works by Carlilse Floyd, Robert Ward, Douglas Moore, Marc Blitzstein, and Jack Beeson in performances by Phyllis Curtin, Frances Bible, Brenda Lewis, and Ellen Faull. Other divas strutting their stuff include Olivia Stapp, Johanna Meier, and the three mesdames Patricia: Brooks, Wells, and Wise. The episode is capped by some of the rarest live recordings from the stage of City Opera by three singers who made their mark during their heyday, and would be the biggest stars in the world were they singing today: Gilda Cruz-Romo, Maralin Niska, and Carol Neblett, all of whom will be featured in her own episode during Countermelody’s upcoming season. A fitting way to end Season Three, as well as a harbinger of vocal delights to come! (Next week will be a preview of the upcoming season!)

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 161. Janet Baker: Subject of the Queen



The world changed yesterday with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, whose subjects in the United Kingdom just this summer celebrated the 70th year of her reign. How do I, as a progressive (and non-British) person, neither a royalist nor an imperialist, commemorate her passing with the respect that she deserves? I found my answer, as I so often do in other of life’s conundrums, in the artistry of Janet Baker, who celebrated her 89th birthday on 17 August, and who, in her day was often known as “the English Rose.” There is something about Baker’s artistic personality: her nobility of utterance, her gravitas, her humanity, that made her a particularly striking interpreter of various queens in the operatic literature, from Alceste and Dido to Mary Stuart. And because, from the time of her Carnegie Hall debut in 1966 until her final appearance there in 1989, seven years after her official retirement from the operatic scene, she was a fixture of the New York concert scene, she also fits quite comfortably into the framework of this summer’s celebration of musical life in New York between the years 1950 and 1975. Her towering operatic performances of roles by Gluck, Donizetti, Berlioz, and Purcell, are balanced with her profoundly moving performances of music by Bach, Gurney, and Schubert. Queen Elizabeth II is further memorialized by an excerpt from the world premiere performance of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, composed for, and premiered six days after, her coronation in 1953.

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 160. Donald Gramm



Dear ones, I present to you today the extraordinarily versatile bass-baritone and my fellow native Milwaukeean Donald Gramm (1927-1983), one of the central house singers at both the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera from the 1960s through his premature death at the age of 56. Gifted with an intrinsically beautiful voice, an impeccable technique and an expansive range, he also was a crackerjack musician whose repertoire easily encompassed musical styles from florid Baroque music through the thorniest contemporary idioms. He is probably best celebrated these days for his commitment to American art, and this episode features him singing songs by Ned Rorem, John Duke, Richard Cummings, Douglas Moore, and Paul Bowles, with a particular emphasis on texts by Walt Whitman. What is perhaps less well-remembered today is how versatile an opera singer he was, singing roles from Osmin to Scarpia, with a strong emphasis on both bel canto and buffo roles by Rossini and Donizetti. The episode also explores his collaborations with Igor Stravinsky, Glenn Gould, and, perhaps most significantly, Sarah Caldwell, another important musical figure from that era who is strongly deserving of reappraisal.

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 156. Barely Sang at the Met II



This week is the conclusion of my presentation on world-class singers who made a minimal number of appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. My arbitrary parameters for this episode were singers who appeared (approximately) between the years 1950 and 1975 and sang fewer than ten performances in total at that venerable institution. Among the artists featured are the British singers Josephine Veasey and Anne Howells (both of whom we lost earlier this year), as well as Stafford Dean and Alberto Remedios; the French-Canadian tenors Léopold Simoneau and Richard Verreau; the Romanians Ludovic Spiess and Marina Krilovici; the US-American dramatic coloratura Margherita Roberti; the Australian super-soprano Joan Carden; the Italian sopranos Maria Chiara and Luisa Malagrida; the French falcon Jane Rhodes; the Austrians Eberhard Wächter and Otto Wiener; the Finnish heldentenor Pekka Nuotio; and the Germans Josef Greindl, Walburga Wegner, Erna Schlüter and Christel Goltz. Met stalwarts Monserrat Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Ramón Vinay, and Jorma Hynninen are featured as vocal guest stars; conductors include such greats as Dimitri Mitroupoulos, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Thomas Beecham, Carlo Felice Cillario, and Arthur Rodziński..

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 152. Patricia Neway



Today begins a new summer series on Countermelody, celebrating mid-century music-making in New York City between the years 1950 and 1975. We begin with a celebration of Patricia Neway (1919-2012), one of the towering figures of the operatic – and Broadway – stages. Two of her greatest assumptions, in fact, took place on the Broadway stage: Magda Sorel in Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul, which premiered on Broadway in 1950, and the Mother Abbess in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final stage music, The Sound of Music, for which Neway was awarded the 1960 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Neway combined an unusual voice of startling, sometimes raw, power, with an acting ability rarely seen, especially on the operatic stage. Neway’s range easily encompassed contralto roles as well as dramatic soprano parts. This episode features audio excerpts from rare kinescopes of her performances of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites as Menotti’s Maria Golovin, as well as her galvanizing portrayal of Magda Sorel from a 1960 film. She also displays her stunning musical versatility in music by Buxtehude, Barber, Gluck, and the late Carlisle Floyd, as well as settings by Israel Citkowitz, John Gruen, and Thomas de Hartmann of texts by James Joyce from a rare 1959 recording. In addition, I dispel forever the fake news, all pervasive claims to the contrary, that Patricia Neway and someone named Frances Breeze, an exact contemporary of Neway’s, are one and the same person.

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 147. The Young Gabriel Bacquier



Two years ago last month, the great French (bass-)baritone Gabriel Bacquier died just four days short of his 96th birthday. At that time I offered a brief memorial tribute which opened my eyes to aspects of his artistry and voice with which I had been previously unfamiliar. Like his near-contemporary, the Italian baritone Tito Gobbi, Bacquier was one of the supreme actors of the operatic stage, whose voice coarsened somewhat over the course of his long career, even as his mastery as an actor and interpreter increased. By the time he retired, his repertoire consisted almost entirely of buffo parts. But in the earliest years of his career (and also like Gobbi), he possessed a baritone of velvety beauty that might surprise those who know only his later comic roles. This episode, which commemorates the second anniversary of Bacquier’s death as well as his (posthumous) 98th birthday, focuses on the three different musical genres in which, in those early years, from 1953 through 1968, he excelled in equal measure: opera, of course, but also mélodie and operetta. The operatic portrayals represented include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Orphée et Eurydice; Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de perles; the Count in Le nozze di Figaro; Iago in Otello; Golaud; and his incomparable Scarpia, which he sang opposite every great Tosca of the 1960s with the exception of Callas. Complementing these live and studio recordings are recordings of melodies by Duparc, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc; and operetta arias by Sigmund Romberg, Franz Lehár, Johann Strauss II, and Reynaldo Hahn, all deliciously sung in French. Vocal guest stars include Mirella Freni; Alain Vanzo; Bernard Demigny; Janine Ervil; Yvonne Gall, with whom Bacquier studied at the Conservatoire de Paris; and the late Renate Holm, the renowned German soubrette who died in April at the age of 90. In all this repertoire, Bacquier, who insisted on the appellation “acting singer” rather than “singing actor,” displays his commitment to clear yet full projection of text, which serves as a mirror into the music and not the other way around.

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 144. Mad about Mesplé



Two years ago this month, the world lost the great French soprano Mady Mesplé at the age of 89. Celebrated as the finest French coloratura of her era (and one of the best examples ever of that dying breed), Mesplé was officially diagnosed in 1996 with Parkinson’s, which had already gravely affected her health for years. For me there is a personal connection here, as next week it is eleven years since my own father died of the same disease. The focus this week, however, is on not on Mesplé’s disease, but her extraordinary vocalism, musicianship, and versatility. Not only was she unmatched in the operatic repertoire for which she was justly celebrated, she was also a mistress of the mélodie, a charming interpreter of French operetta, and a fearless interpreter of contemporary repertoire. This episode examines her contributions in all of those genres, as well as celebrating her delicious expressions of musical humor, and her surprising depth, even profundity, in examining the darker recesses of human experience. On this episode, Mesplé is aided by fellow singers Gabriel Bacquier, Michel Dens, Jane Berbié, Alain Vanzo, and Michel Trempont; pianists Aldo Ciccolini, Jeanine Reiss, Dalton Baldwin, Gabriel Tacchino, and Michel Legrand; and conductors Georges Prêtre, Pierre Dervaux, Michel Plasson, Jean-Pierre Marty, Gilbert Amy, and Jean-Claude Hartemann.

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 143. Pelléas Part Deux



Today I conclude my examination of my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, with an expanded roster of singers which includes return visits from some of last week’s interpreters (Camille Maurane, Gabriel Bacquier, Gérard Souzay, Françoise Ogéas, Jacques Jansen, and Michèle Command) alongside other, equally magnificent singers (George Shirley, Janine Micheau, George London, Elisabeth Söderström, Henri-Bertrand Etcheverry, Irène Joachim, André Vessières, and others) under the batons of Jean Fournet, Pierre Boulez, Armin Jordan, as well as last week’s master helmsmen Roger Désormière and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. I also foreground the young lyric baritone Huw Montague Rendall, who just last season sang his first Pelléas and who has already earned a place for himself among these other great artists. My further discussion of the opera includes discussions of Wagner, Mussorgsky, Edgar Allan Poe, and toxic masculinity, as each pertains to this piece. So many listeners wrote to tell me how last week’s episode changed their mind about this opera. Evidently I’ve done my job well. We need fewer Pelléas haters out there, and more, many more, Pelléas lovers!

 


Episode 142. The Thrill of Pelléas



In (relative) relief over the recent French election result, I kick off my miniseries devoted to French singers and French music. Today’s episode will be the first of two devoted to my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which has enchanted, fascinated, and, yes, thrilled me since I was ten years old. If, like me, you adore this opera, then this episode is obviously for you. If you are among the many naysayers out there who find Pelléas to be boring, this episode is even more for you, because it puts the lie to the old saw that this masterpiece is static and motionless. Going back to near the dawn of recorded sound, I offer extant examples of the creators of the principal roles, Mary Garden, Hector Dufranne, Jean Périer, Jeanne Gerville-Réache, and Félix Vieuille. I also feature performances by other figures associated with the opera in its first decades of performance: Maggie Teyte, Charles Panzéra, Germaine Cernay, Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Jacques Jansen, Paul Cabanel, and Armand Narçon, most of whom are featured on early recordings of the opera from the 1920s, and from its first complete recording led by Roger Désormière in war-torn Paris in 1941. From the next generation of great Debussy interpreters, I also present Suzanne Danco, Camille Maurane, Françoise Ogéas, Gérard Souzay, and Jean-Paul Jeannotte in various live performances led by the legendary conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, and from more recent decades, performances by José van Dam, Michèle Command and the late Maria Ewing and Gabriel Bacquier led by Claudio Abbado and Serge Baudo. These artists all are keenly connected to both the words and drama, and wring out the passion, playfulness, and despair to be found in this work, which represents to me the perfect fusion of words, music and drama. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged as I step into the world of Pelléas, that dramatic fusion of sunlight and shadow, which will continue next week with recorded performances by even more great singers and conductors.

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 136. Puccini en Français



This week’s episode is a counterpart to my ongoing exploration of the practice of performing opera in translation which includes the “Verdi auf Deutsch” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2021/10/17/episode-111-verdi-auf-deutsch] and “Polyglot Wagner” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2020/11/29/episode-63-polyglot-wagner] episodes. With its soaring cantilena lines, Puccini’s music lends itself quite naturally to performance in French. The characteristics of the so-called “French school” of singing, with its frequent focus on bright-timbred, slightly nasal tonal production, lends Puccini’s music a peculiarly French quality when performed in that language. This episode features arias and duets from Madame Butterfly, La Vie de Bohème, and La Tosca, as they are known in French, supplemented by arias from Manon Lescaut and Turandot. These are sung by some of the most famous singers of the twentieth century (including Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Régine Crespin, Germaine Lubin, Gabriel Bacquier, Alain Vanzo, and Lily Pons) with contributions by equally impressive but less celebrated French, Corsican, and Belgian artists (including Yvonne Brothier, Berthe Monmart, César Vezzani, José Liccioni, Marthe Nespoulous, Paul Finel, Michèle Le Bris, Martha Angelici, Germaine Martinelli, Jane Rhodes, Georges Jouatte, and the long-lived Géori-Boué [1918-2017], Renée Doria [1921-2021], Suzanne Sarroca [b. 1927], and Robert Massard [b. 1925]). Also heard are foreign singers whose singing nevertheless defines the French method (the Australian Albert Lance, the Canadian Raoul Jobin, the US-American Arthur Endrèze, and the Ukrainian Joseph Rogatchewsky). This episode is a foretaste of a mini-series coming in May on great French lyric artists, including Mady Mesplé, Martial Singher, and Gabriel Bacquier.

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 134. Legacy (Black History Month 2022 Postlude)



This is the second part of my final episode of Black History Month 2022, continuing the exploration of the legacies of more than two dozen mostly underrecorded African American artists. Each piece of this aural mosaic fills in gaps in the recorded history of these artists. After opening memorial tributes to Josephine Veasey, Antonietta Stella, and Betty Davis, the episode is broken into several sections: first, recordings of Baroque music by Aubrey Pankey, Carmen Balthrop, Adele Addison, Betty Allen, Seth McCoy, Marvin Hayes, and a rare live recording by Marian Anderson, whose 125th birthday was observed this past week. There follow recordings of concert repertoire sung by Dorothy Maynor, Louise Parker, and Grace de la Cruz, with William Pearson and Julius Eastman leading us briefly into the bizarre world of the extended vocal techniques of the 1960s. There follow recorded performances of art song by Helen Colbert, Rhea Jackson, John Riley, Clamma Dale, Ellabelle Davis, Marvis Martin, and Cynthia Haymon, whereupon the episode concludes with some rare performances of operatic repertoire with Gwendolyn Killebrew, Claudia Lindsey, Dagmar Průšová, and Gwendolyn Walters, capped by an exquisite a cappella performance of “A City Called Heaven” by the great Mattiwilda Dobbs.

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 131. Happy Birthday, Reri Grist! (Black History Month 2022)



The great African American coloratura Reri Grist was born on leap year 1932. We celebrate her upcoming 90th birthday with a tribute featuring many of her greatest roles and recordings. After appearing as Consuelo in the 1957 Broadway premiere of West Side Story, and encouraged by Leonard Bernstein, Grist began a career in opera that took her around the world to all of the greatest opera houses. Reri Grist was the perfect exemplar of the so-called “-ina” roles: soubrette parts in Mozart and Strauss operas (Blondchen, Susanna, Despina, Zerlina, Zerbinetta, and Sophie), as well as the comic operas of Donizetti and Rossini (including Adina, Norina, and Rosina). This episode features her in most of these roles and concludes with the glorious finale of the second act of Richard Strauss’s 1935 comedy Die schweigsame Frau, one of her most notable successes. Vocal guest stars today include Christa Ludwig, Luciano Pavarotti, Sena Jurinac, Nicolai Gedda, Gwyneth Jones, Luigi Alva, Judith Raskin, Donald Grobe, and Richard Lewis. Whether you are celebrating 90 years or 22-and-a-half leap years, we celebrate you, Frau Grist, and offer heartfelt thanks for the joys that you have offered us.

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 127. Maria Ewing in Memoriam (Black History Month 2022)



The exceptional, distinctive Maria Ewing died of cancer on January 9 at her home outside of her native Detroit at the age of 71. Even before her death, I had been planning an episode on Maria Ewing, who last fall received an enormous amount of press as the mother of actor and director Rebecca Hall, whose latest film, Passing, was hitting the screens in a big way. The film is about two light-skinned Black friends in the 1920s, one of whom makes the conscious decision to present as white. The implication in much of the press was that Maria Ewing had done the same and was being taken to task for having done so. In actuality, Maria Ewing spoke frequently about her father’s apparent African American roots, and never actively tried to hide her (at times murky) family history. But, I submit to you, this is not the real story. In this episode, the first of my Black History Month 2022 series, I attempt to present as full a musical portrait of the artist as possible, allowing listeners to experience the unique musical and dramatic genius (and I use the term advisedly) of this fascinating artist. Few singers can survive comparison with Maria Callas. Maria Ewing, for all her demonstrable flaws, was one of the few artists that merit such a comparison. In this episode we hear Ewing in a wide range of material, from Purcell’s Dido to Puccini’s Tosca, with a nod to her two most famous roles, Carmen and Salome; an emphasis on both her Mozart portrayals and a focus on her aplomb with French music; and a sampling of her flair for pop music and jazz. I also discuss her sometimes controversial vocalism and role assumptions which in turn led to her blanket dismissal by her detractors. But in the end, it is her fascinating combination of carnality and innocence which made her unique. I remain, as I always have been, a devoted member of Club Ewing. This is a long-overdue Countermelody tribute to a unique and irreplaceable singer.

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 125. Jon Vickers (Great Canadian Singers)



Our series saluting great Canadian singers continues with a tribute to one of the greatest singers I have ever seen in performance, the Saskatchewan-born tenor Jon Vickers. Not only was he a profoundly imaginative and creative singing actor, he was also one of the most problematic personalities to appear on the operatic stage in the second half of the twentieth century. I discuss many of the controversies surrounding Vickers the man, in particular his virulent homophobia and sexism, while still giving full attention to his unmatched artistry. I feature both live and studio recordings over the course of his entire career, encompassing both opera and art song, focusing on what are probably his four greatest operatic roles: Florestan, Otello, Peter Grimes, and Tristan. Vocal guest stars include Maria Callas, Eileen Farrell, Joan Carlyle, Leonie Rysanek, and Renata Scotto; conductors include Colin Davis, Otto Klemperer, Tullio Serafin, Rudolf Kempe, Nicola Rescigno, William Steinberg, and Herbert von Karajan.

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 113. Edda Moser



On 27 October the great German dramatic coloratura Edda Moser celebrated her 83rd birthday. Celebrated as the greatest Queen of the Night ever, Edda Moser’s operatic career was centered on the music of Mozart but also included so much more. I present, it is true, two rare live examples of her singing the music of Mozart, but I also include her performances of music by Henze, Lehár, Verdi, Handel, Gluck, Johann and Richard Strauss, Offenbach, and Boris Blacher, as well as precious examples of her singing of Lieder, including songs by Brahms, Schubert, and Clara Schumann. I conclude with her reading of a beloved poem in tribute to her ongoing commitment to German language and culture. Vocal guest stars this week include Kostas Paskalis, Alfredo Kraus, José van Dam, Arleen Augér, and Theo Adam. Geliebte Frau Moser, wir erfreuen uns an Ihrer Kunstfertigkeit als begnadete Sängerin und Ihrem Vorbild als kulturelle Fahnenträgerin.

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 112. Barry McDaniel



This past week would have been the 91st birthday of Barry McDaniel (1930-2018), the great US-American Berlin-based lyric baritone whose artistry encompassed opera, oratorio (particularly the music of Bach), art song (particularly Lieder), and contemporary music, as well as delicious forays into operetta. This episode celebrates all aspects of this exceptionally fine singer, whose immediately recognizable voice, allied to a firm technique, superb diction, superior musicianship, and devotion to his craft yielded finely-hewn, distinctively inflected performances in a career which spanned nearly fifty years. The episode features him singing music of Strauss, Bach, Rossini, Schubert, Reimann, Ravel, Henze, Rossini, Mozart, Debussy, Millöcker and more. Vocal guest stars include Alfredo Kraus, Agnes Giebel, Kurt Böhme, Arlene Saunders, Mack Harrell (who was McDaniel’s teacher), and Edita Gruberová, to whom we pay especial tribute after her tragic death early last 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 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 108. Christiane Eda-Pierre



Today’s episode is a memorial tribute to the great Martinique-born French soprano Christiane Eda-Pierre on the first anniversary of her death. When this artist died on 6 September 2020 at the age of 88, I posted this episode as a bonus exclusively for my Patreon subscribers. Because a number of my listeners have inquired if I have ever devoted an episode to this artist, I have decided to release this episode to the general public. Researching Christiane Eda-Pierre was a journey of discovery for me, as I only knew the soprano’s commercial recordings and live performances from the Met. But believe me, there is so much more to this singer than this. From the French baroque repertoire through contemporary works dedicated specifically to her, Christiane Eda-Pierre brought extraordinary gifts: a voice of beauty and clarity, well-modulated from top to bottom, a near-perfect technique capped by a flawless trill, a profound musical sensibility, and a searing dramatic intensity that surprised me. I present excerpts from the full range of her repertoire, from Rameau and Handel in the Baroque period through the bel canto of Rossini and Bellini, to the glories of 19th century French opera, a genre that, in my opinion, represents her at her absolute best, to contemporary masterpieces written expressly for her by Charles Chaynes and Olivier Messiaen. It is my fervent wish that you find as much delight in this great artist as I have.

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 exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 21. Charles Holland (Black History Month II)



Today’s episode, the second in my Black History Month series, is a tribute to the extraordinary African American tenor Charles Holland (1909-1987) whose career spanned more than four decades. Early appearances as a vocalist with the band of Luther Henderson and the Hall Johnson Negro Choir led to his Hollywood film debut and to appearances on the Broadway stage. In 1949, frustrated with the lack of career opportunities for an African American tenor, Charles Holland departed for Europe, where he enjoyed a distinguished career. Late in his life he experienced an extraordinary career resurgence through an association with American conductor Dennis Russell Davies, which led to his belated Carnegie Hall solo recital debut in 1982 at the age of 73, as well as serving as the inspiration for Laurie Anderson’s surprise 1981 pop hit, O Superman. Musical excerpts include live and studio recordings over more than 40 years and a wide swath of genres.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 8. Williams and Williams



As a supplement to the first part of my interview last week with Janet Williams, 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. Among other material featured 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.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com