Category Archives: Giacomo Puccini

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 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 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 124. Dave’s Picks



Today’s special episode is in honor of my best friend, partner-in-crime and Corona-lockdown buddy, the distinguished theater scholar and author David Savran, who this week once again celebrated another journey around the sun. I invited him to be the first guest in a new series I will be presenting on Countermelody featuring colleagues and friends speaking about the music (and the singers!) that have most deeply affected and inspired them. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the nearly two decades that we have known each other, that David’s taste in music and singers often falls neatly in step with mine. But there are many other musical paths and byways that he has explored that have taken him in quite different directions. Our spirited dialogue is punctuated by music that spoke to him most deeply in the first 25 years of his life. We hear samples of everything and everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to Grace Slick, from Cathy Berberian to Joni Mitchell, from Lisa della Casa to Nina Hagen, from Alfred Drake to Frank Zappa. The episode also constitutes a fascinating exploration of the role that memory and nostalgia play in the creation of musical tastes and preferences. Happy Birthday, Davey, and thanks for being my guest!

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 123. Lois Marshall (Great Canadian Singers)



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 114. James King



This week I turn my attention once again to the tenors, who have been getting rather short shrift of late. This week I feature the US-American jugendlicher heldentenor James King, who died 16 years ago this month. Trained as a baritone, he “converted” to tenor in his early thirties under the tutelage of the great French baritone and teacher Martial Singher. In the very early 1960s, he ended up in the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he quickly established himself as a talent to be reckoned with. He sang countless performances of a relatively small number of roles, beginning with Florestan in Fidelio and including Wagner (Lohengrin, Walther in Meistersinger, Parsifal, Siegmund), Strauss (the Kaiser in Frau ohne Schatten, Bacchus, Apollo, Aegisth, and Herodes), Verdi (Otello, Don Carlo, Radames) Puccini (Cavaradossi, Calaf, Rodolfo), and a select number of French roles (Don José, Samson). I am letting Mr. King do the heavy lifting today: I have four LPs in my collection that have never been reissued since their original release in the 1960s: two operatic recital recordings, an operetta album, and a volume of songs by Schubert and Strauss. I feature generous excerpts from each of these, as well as an excerpt from his recording with the late Bernard Haitink of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. It is my joy to bring this exceptional singer to your attention: a superb technician who combines powerful utterance with interpretive sensitivity and musical nuance.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 105. Teresa Żylis-Gara In Memoriam



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Twenty-five exclusive bonus episodes are currently available to Patreon supporters.


Episode 24. Freni in Duet (Mirella In Memoriam I)



Today, in the first of two consecutive episodes. I pay tribute to the great Mirella Freni, who died on February 7 and who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on February 27th. Celebrated for the freshness of her timbre, her musical integrity and commitment, her vocal prowess and longevity, and her expressivity, Freni sang a repertoire which covered a wide range of styles and languages. Today’s selections, from over the course of her entire career, feature her exclusively in duet, and include selections from Gianni Schicchi, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Le nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Don Carlo, Le due illustri rivali, Don Giovanni, and La Traviata with Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Dvorsky, Luis Lima, Renata Scotto, and her husband Nicolai Ghiaurov. Three selections from a rare 1977 LP of Puccini and Verdi duets with the superlative (and notorious!) Italian tenor Franco form the centerpiece of this loving tribute.

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 10: Régine Crespin. Un doux privilège



Régine Crespin, whose Metropolitan Opera debut as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier occurred exactly 57 years ago this week, is featured on this week’s episode. I give an overview of her major roles, with a few surprises, both monumental and insouciante, tossed in. Because of her enormous range and versatility, I will have to return to my subject in the near future in order to do full justice to this great artist.

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