Category Archives: Great Tenors

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 254. Holy Week with the Romantics



Once again we have reached the climax of the penitential season of Lent, the most theologically significant week in the Christian calendar, namely Holy Week. Even for those who are not observant Christians, this period, standing as it does on the threshold of spring, the season of rebirth, can be a time of meditation and remembrance. To help support this contemplative moment I have compiled selections from some of the larger oratorios and liturgical works composed during the Romantic era performed by some of the greatest classical vocalists of the last century. Composers include Brahms, Dvořák, Rossini, Schubert, Franck, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Elgar; singers include sopranos Margaret Marshall, Leontyne Price, Pilar Lorengar, Judith Raskin, and Elizabeth Harwood; mezzo-sopranos Betty Allen, Alfreda Hodgson, and Shirley Verrett; tenors David Rendall, Alejandro Ramírez, and Richard Lewis; and bass-baritones Tom Krause and Franz Crass led by conductors Andrew Davis, Eugene Ormandy, James Conlon, George Szell, Rafael Kubelik, Michel Corboz, and Herbert von Karajan. No matter what your faith or belief system, there is an outpouring of beautiful music and singing contained in this episode that will fully engage your mind and spirit.

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 245. Tell It to the World – Germany



Here is the second of a two part series in celebration of David Savran’s new book, Tell It to the World: The Broadway Musical Abroad, a monumental study on transnationalism and the Broadway-style musical. In the first part, David and I spoke about (and played examples from) the rich culture surrounding musicals in South Korea. Today’s episode focuses on Germany and the influx of Broadway musicals since World War II. Although the German-speaking world has a long tradition of popular music theatre, most notably operetta, the arrival of American musicals (beginning in 1955 with Kiss Me, Kate) made a very big splash. In 1961, My Fair Lady opened in West Berlin, became a sensational success, and permanently changed the shape of German musical theatre. Both Kiss Me, Kate and My Fair Lady are part of the first wave of Broadway musicals that have become part of the standard repertoire in state-subsidized theatre (the others include Cabaret, Anatevka (Fiddler on the Roof), West Side Story, La Cage aux Folles, and Hair).

We also look at the development of home-grown Broadway-style musicals in both West and East Germany from the 1960s through the 1980s and their subsequent impact on the work of experimental theatre makers. The next to last chapter of the book studies the musical farces directed by the great theatrical innovator, Herbert Fritsch, since 2011. The last focuses on the work of Barrie Kosky at the Komische Oper Berlin and how he turned that house into the foremost theatre in Germany for innovative re-imaginings of Broadway musicals, with emphasis on iconoclastic stagings by Kosky (and other directors) of the work of Kurt Weill. We play examples from many of the thrilling productions about which David writes which deserve to be known by a much wider audience. Along the way we also listen to nearly a century’s worth of performances by some legendary performers of German operetta and musicals, including Fritzi Massary, Olive Moorefield, Gisela May, Max Hansen, Dagmar Manzel, Horst Schulze, Ruth Rosenfeld, Julia Migenes, Julia Koci, and the late Rainer Luhn.

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 242. Damon Evans Introduces George Shirley (Listeners’ Favorites IX)



This week I present a Countermelody mini-series paying tribute to three great African American artists who were born in Baltimore. First up is the eclectic, versatile, and prodigiously talented Damon Evans, who introduces the latest Listeners’ Favorites episode, a tribute to an idol we both treasure, the phenomenal and pathbreaking George Shirley, who on April 18 will celebrate his 90th birthday. Damon chose to do his introduction as an interview, so as a prelude to the main episode, my listeners get to hear one amazing tenor sing the praises of another one!

George Shirley is one of the most versatile tenors of the second half of the twentieth century, and a pathbreaker as the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I first encountered him through his matchless portrayal of Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande opposite Elisabeth Söderström. But his Mozart is equally celebrated: the podcast also features live and studio recordings of George Shirley as Tamino (opposite Judith Raskin), Don Ottavio, Ferrando (opposite Leontyne Price), as well as his extraordinary Idomeneo. Extant live performances of George Shirley including assumptions of roles as diverse as Don José (opposite Shirley Verrett), David in Die Meistersinger, Pinkerton (opposite the late Renata Scotto in an incandescent early performance of one of her greatest roles), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare recordings of art songs and spirituals from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley and join me in thanking him for having shared so generously with us his extraordinary artistic gifts!


Episode 240. Annabelle Bernard (BHM 2024)



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

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


Episode 239. Gwendolyn Killebrew (BHM 2024)



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

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


Episode 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 230. Brian Castles-Onion Introduces Ira Siff: La Gran Scena and Beyond (Listeners’ Favorites I)



Welcome to Season Five of Countermelody! While I indulge in a much-needed break for the month of January (my first in four years!), I have asked a number of Countermelody fans and listeners to provide spoken introductions to some of their favorite episodes from the first three seasons of the podcast. Today conductor Brian Castles-Onion introduces an episode from June 2020, as we neared the height of the pandemic and the panic surrounding it. It is an interview with Ira Siff, artistic director of La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York, alter ego of the beloved “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borszkh, lecturer for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Weekly Commentator on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. So much has changed for everyone since the interview was recorded in January 2020, most poignantly (as relates to this episode) the death of our beloved Chic Walker (who portrayed Dame Emily Post-Morddum and Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi in La Gran Scena) on 11 April 2022; and the passing of Renata Scotto on 16 August 2023.

My association with Ira Siff and La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York goes back more than thirty years, when Ira provided me with my first employment as a professional singer when my alter ego Daniela della Scarpone sang for two years with the renowned travesty opera company. I sat down with Ira in his East Village apartment in January 2020 for a wide-ranging interview in which we discuss his early days as a standee at the old Met (where some of his opera-going experiences included Maria Callas’s final Tosca performances, Renata Scotto’s 1965 debut as Madama Butterfly, and Leonie Rysanek’s wild traversals of Verdi and Wagner). He discusses his first performing experiences in the early 1970s in association with Al Carmines and others, the genesis of La Gran Scena and their development into a worldwide phenomenon, and his subsequent “legitimate” career as lecturer, stage director, vocal coach and voice teacher and commentator all stemmed from in his words, “getting in a dress and singing soprano,” which he dubs “the strangest part.” This is a free-wheeling and extremely Opera Queeny interview, peppered with Ira’s unique anecdotes and snippets from Gran Scena (and other!) performances.

Today’s guest host Brian Castles-Onion is one of Australia’s most exciting and well-known opera conductors. Completing his tertiary studies at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music, his outstanding achievements speak for themselves. He has worked at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Julliard School of Music and the Rossini Festival in Italy, and has held the position of Artistic Director of Canterbury Opera in New Zealand. He currently continues his long run association with Opera Australia. His conducting experience includes well over five hundred opera performances throughout Australia, Asia and New Zealand alone. He was on the podium for Opera Australia’s 40th Anniversary Gala and 60th Anniversary Gala, The Robert Allman Farewell Gala and conducted the Dame Joan Sutherland State Memorial Service – which was broadcast internationally on television and radio. His book Losing the Plot in Opera has been a Best Seller in Australia and the UK. Brian became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2017 Australia Day Honours List.

Today’s interviewee and subject, Ira Siff, is a native New Yorker, who grew up on the standing room line of the old Metropolitan Opera, worshiping the famous singers of the 60’s. A graduate of the Cooper Union, with a degree in Fine Arts, Mr. Siff began to study voice, and made his debut as a tenor in 1970. For the next decade, he performed roles in opera, operetta and musicals in New York, at The New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle in the Square, Playwrights Horizons, and many other venues. Turning to cabaret, Ira created an act using vocal parody of opera, jazz, and other styles of music, gaining critical acclaim, and a loyal following. In 1981, he founded La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York, the internationally acclaimed travesty troupe, whose gifted falsetto “divas” have spoofed opera with great affection for over two decades, in New York annually, and on tours to some of the great festivals, theatres and opera houses of the world.

In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his productions of operas at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sarasota Opera, The Caramoor Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival. All in all, he has directed operas for companies in New Jersey to New Zealand, with stops along the way in Puerto Rico, Lima, Peru and Utah. Singers whom he has directed include Sumi Jo, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, Eglise Gutierrez, Krassimira Stoyanova, and the late Marcello Giordani. Conductors with whom he has collaborated as a stage director have included Richard Bonynge, Christoph von Dohnányi, and James Levine.

For the past thirty years, Mr. Siff has been a voice teacher and interpretive coach, teaching in New York, Italy, Israel, Holland and China, giving Master Classes for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and was on the faculty of the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy. Ira was a guest teacher of bel canto technique at The Royal Conservatory in Den Haag in 2008, and then at the Dutch National Opera Academy for five seasons, and at the Amsterdam Conservatory in The Netherlands where he returned annually, and was appointed Permanent Guest Teacher. He has also given master classes in bel canto and verismo for the Metropolitan Opera Guild every season since 2008 and has presented sold-out lectures for the Met Guild as well on a variety of operatic topics. These lectures can be heard on the podcast of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Ira also lectures on opera twenty times a season for two private classes, has been a contributor of reviews and features to Opera News since 1997 and has been Weekly Commentator on the Met Broadcasts since 2007.

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 229. Happy Birthday, John Wustman



Today, Christmas Day 2023, is also the 93rd birthday of my teacher, the great John Wustman. I can think of no better way to conclude Season Four of Countermelody than with a tribute to the man who had the greatest influence on my development as a musician. He’s probably best-known for his work with Luciano Pavarotti and as the accompanist in more than thirty Music Minus One LPs from the early 1960s, as well as for his pioneering teaching of scores of accompanists. He has been called “the dean of American accompanists” and many other things, but to me he is and remains primarily my dear friend and mentor. From the late 1950s through the 1980s and beyond, he appeared with nearly all of the greatest singers on the planet, from Richard Tucker, William Warfield, Eleanor Steber, and Jennie Tourel; to Birgit Nilsson, Carlo Bergonzi, Régine Crespin, Nicolai Gedda, and Renata Scotto. He and Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Arkhipova won the 1973 Gran Prix du Disque for their legendary (and matchless) recording of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, only one of his many commercial recordings. I have been searching the internet for sound documents of his many live recordings and I’m pleased to say that I have found some rare ones to complement my reminiscences of studying with him in the late 1980s. He wrote to me just this past week that he is currently preparing another live performance of Schubert’s Winterreise in early 2024. I am so thrilled to pay tribute to the man who, through his powerful example and influence, forever changed the way I play, sing, talk about, think about, and hear music.

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 228. Song Cycles for Christmas



For my second holiday episode this year, I turn to the music of my “other” country, Germany, the land of my forebears, where I have lived for the last decade. Christmas is celebrated in a different way here than anywhere else in the world in my experience. I have chosen to play music by German composers who in effect created a subgenre, the Christmas song cycle. The most famous of these is no doubt the Weihnachtslieder cycle by the 19th century German composer Peter Cornelius, who set a standard that was furthered by a number of 20th century composers as well: Joseph Haas (Krippenlieder), Richard Trunk (Weihnachtslieder), and Mark Lothar (Kleine Weihnachtsgeschichte). In these works certain interesting tropes recur, both theological (primary among them the inner thoughts and premonitions of Mary) and psychological (experiencing the return of a more innocent time by seeing the joy of the season through the eyes of a child). I have chosen recordings by singers both celebrated (Irmgard Seefried, Peter Schreier) and less well-known (Wolfgang Anheisser, Nikolaus Hillebrand), all of whom give performances that I hope will bring us closer to the spirit of the 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 227. A Golden Age Christmas



In the midst of our recent move, I came across a stash of old “mixtapes” (actually CDs and much other archival material. One such item which particularly moved me was one entitled “A Golden Age Christmas 2003” which I handed out to my colleagues and friends twenty years ago. Looking over the tracklist, I realized that this was a sort of early iteration of Countermelody: me sharing music that I particularly loved with people that I cared about. Today’s podcast uses as its basis that same CD (slightly trimmed in length) and features performances by a glorious group of singers ranging from Olive Fremstad, Charles Gilibert, and Margarete Matzenauer from the early years of the twentieth century to such later favorites as Elly Ameling, Beverly Sills, and Leontyne Price. I can’t guarantee that this episode will put you in the holiday spirit, but I sure hope it does!

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 226. Maria Callas: Singer of the Century



What is there to say about today’s featured artist, Maria Callas, who was born 100 years ago today? So many of my esteemed colleagues are weighing in with their Callas tributes today (both encyclopedic and deeply perceptive and knowledgeable) and there are all varieties of reconstituted Callas material also suddenly appearing, from newly-colorized films of Callas in action to virtual concerts with Maria as hologram, to some new biopic (goddess forbid!), to audio remasterings both laudable and ridiculous. I have nothing comparably “new” or erudite to add to the mix, so can only offer an episode predicated on my encounters with the voice and artistry of Maria Callas. There is no singer in the history of opera more important to me (and, I daresay, to opera in general) than Callas, who revolutionized bel canto and set completely new standards for every type of role she sang. I have chosen from among my favorite (live) Callas material to supplement my musings, going as far back as her Norma and Macbeth in 1952 and as late as her 1974 comeback and her last recording, made the year before her untimely death. In these musical excerpts, La Divina is joined by tenor colleagues (and Countermelody favorites) Cesare Valletti, Jon Vickers, and Franco Corelli. As I listened to Callas this week, I remarked anew at her creative genius, which sprang primarily from faithfulness to the written score, and a burning need to make every phrase she intoned “say something.” May this episode be as cathartic a listening experience for you as it was for me in preparing it. Maria per sempre!

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 223. Chouxbert vs. Shubertsky (Schubert in French and Russian)



A few weeks ago I finally found a copy of a rare recording by one of my favorite singers, the baryton martin Camille Maurane (1911 – 2010) in which he sings Schubert songs in French. Inspired and fascinated by this record, I began exploring recordings of other native French-language singers (including Ninon Vallin, Charles Panzéra, Georges Thill, Vanni-Marcoux, and Germaine Martinelli) singing the melodies of my favorite composers. Further on, I stumbled across a similarly wide variety of Russian-speaking singers (including Ivan Kozlovsky, Mark Reizen, Pavel Lisitsian, Sergei Lemeshev, Nina Dorliak, and Feodor Chaliapin) also putting their individual stamp on the songs of Schubert in their native tongue. Along the way, we also discuss certain quintessential vocal types in both the French (the baryton martin, the falcon) and Russian (the lyric tenor, the “slavic” soprano and bass) national styles. This episode, far from being a mere “gimmick” allows us also to examine the joys of old-fashioned art song performance, and how all these characteristics combine to provide a new perspective on the music of one of the greatest German-language composers.

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 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 220. La Fiamma (The Haunted Opera House II)



A year ago, I posted an episode entitled “The Haunted Opera House” that featured a wide range of spooky, witchy, Halloween-appropriate 20th century operas from Prokofiev to Penderecki. This year I focus in on one of the works from that episode, Ottorino Respighi’s 1934 masterpiece La Fiamma, based on a 1908 play on witch hunts and witchcraft in 16th century Norway by the novelist and playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen entitled Anna Pedersdotter, the Witch. This work also formed the basis for the Carl Dreyer film Day of Wrath. Respighi and his librettist Claudio Guastalla transferred the action to seventh-century Ravenna in the early days of Christianity. Musically the work combines Respighi’s interest with Gregorian chant, modal scales and harmonies, and the work of Claudio Monteverdi with his penchant for stunning orchestrations. The dramatically potent result was his most famous operatic work, but after an initial succès d’estime, it has only retained the slightest hold on the operatic fringes. Nevertheless, the heroine Silvana in particular is a role that great sopranos have made their own over the years, including Claudia Muzio, Gina Cigna, Giuseppina Cobelli, and Rosa Raisa (none of whom sadly recorded any excerpts) through Montserrat Caballé, Nelly Miricioiu, Ilona Tokody, Stefka Evstatieva, and Mara Coleva. I tell the story of the opera while offering substantial excerpts, which, in addition to the sopranos mentioned above, also include such operatic heavyweights as James McCracken, Carlo Tagliabue, Deborah Voigt, Giacinto Prandelli, Delcina Stevenson, Felicity Palmer, Juan Pons, Anna Moffo, and Mignon Dunn, among others. Just the thing to scare you out of your skin this Halloween!

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 216. The Lieder of Joseph Marx



This week (inspired by an 10-inch LP in my collection of his songs performed by Anton Dermota and Wilma Lipp, both stalwarts of the Wiener Staatsoper in the 1950s) I present an introduction to the Lieder of Austrian composer Joseph Marx (1882 – 1964). His songs are most frequently compared to Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf and are distinctly post-Romantic in style and harmony, but they also exhibit traits unique to their composer. As with so many figures from this period in European history, his legacy is shadowed in controversy, which I discuss at length. In the end, I believe it is his contribution as an inspired composer, particularly of song, for which he should be most remembered. Alongside Lipp and Dermota, some of the other singers heard in the episode include Ljuba Welitsch, Irmgard Seefried, Angelika Kirchschlager, Leontyne Price, Lotte Lehmann, Waldemar Kmentt, John Charles Thomas, Florence Easton, and Arleen Augér. Pianists include Marx himself, as well as Erik Werba and Paul Ulanowsky, both of whom studied with him. If you only know one or two of Marx’s songs (or if you don’t know his work at all), you are in for a glorious surprise!

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 215. Trauer und Trost



This week’s episode offers music of both mourning and consolation performed by treasured artists, many of whom celebrate significant anniversaries this fall, and all of whom died before their time. Thus we hear singers Maria Callas, Jessye Norman, Fritz Wunderlich, Kathleen Ferrier, Judith Raskin, Arleen Augér, and Lucia Popp, and pianist Dinu Lipatti performing music of Bach, Schubert, Fauré, Bellini, and others. This episode may conform to my new streamlined format, but it packs an emotional wallop nonetheless. A bonus episode to be published later in the week will feature Tatiana Troyanos, Judy Garland, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Dusty Springfield, Renata Scotto and others in music designed, as in this episode, to console and comfort.

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 208. Happy Birthday, Gundula Janowitz!



From a very young age I was interested in today’s birthday celebrant, the great Gundula Janowitz, at least partially because of a similarity between her first name and my last name! But even more than that, I was drawn to the ethereal purity of her voice, possessed of an immediately identifiable timbre unlike that of any other singer. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Janowitz was the reigning queen of the jugendlich dramatisch soprano repertoire, excelling in the roles of Mozart, Strauss and Wagner (the so-called wagneriennes blanches heroines), as well as being a Bach singer of the highest order and an exceptional Lieder singer. What is there not to love? Janowitz was also a frequent visitor to the recording studio, and to this day her recordings form a cornerstone of the Deutsche Grammophon catalog. On today’s episode, however, I stick firmly to her live and radio recordings, some of them quite rare, of the repertoire for which she was so justly celebrated. We sample live recordings of her Arabella, Fiordiligi, Agathe, and Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, as well as a more surprising Elisabetta, the conflicted queen in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Also highlighted is her exceptional and career-defining performance of the role of Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, in a rare live 1977 from the Orange Festival. Guest vocalists include Lucia Popp and Franco Corelli. This is a mouthful, so I’ll say it for all of us: Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag an eine der gefeiertsten und verehrtesten Sopranistinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts!

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 201. Britten – Pears (Pride 2023)



Today’s episode explores the lives and loves of two of the most significant figures in twentieth century music: Benjamin Britten, the dean of British composers and the tenor Peter Pears, his partner, lover, inspiration and muse for nearly forty years. When as a lost young gay boy I first encountered their music-making I intuited that these two men were lovers, that they represented a way forward for me out of a lonely and forlorn childhood. Whether in the many songs and cycles that Britten fashioned for him or the operatic roles, beginning with the title role of Peter Grimes, that were tailor-made for him, Pears remains the ideal interpreter of his partner’s music, possessed as he was of a distinctive (some would say peculiar) voice, supple, reedy yet surprisingly powerful, along with pinpoint musical precision, plangent expressivity and dramatic aptitude. The episode features excerpts from many of Britten’s most explicitly gay compositions, surprising for a man living in Britain while sex between men was still illegal, including the operas Peter Grimes, Curlew River, Billy Budd, and Death in Venice and his settings of poetry by Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Auden, and Francis Quarles. We also hear Pears and Britten in live and recorded performance of songs and arias by other composers, including composers Britten revered (Schumann, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Frank Bridge), and those of whose music he was much less fond (including Vaughan Williams and Brahms). The episode contains more biographical information than your typical Countermelody episode, and does not shy away from some of the thorniest questions that one must confront when discussing these two controversial figures. But in the end it is first and foremost a celebration of the music Britten and Pears made together and the love they shared for 40 years. The episode begins with a heartfelt (and heartbroken) tribute to the great Glenda Jackson, who died this week at the age of 87.

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 195. Forgotten Broadway III



Last summer, I produced a miniseries of episodes on Countermelody entitled “Forgotten Broadway,” the third and final segment of which was originally published as a bonus episode for my Patreon supporters. This week, my last one for the moment in New York City, is a busy one, so I have decided to pay tribute to the city by publishing that third Forgotten Broadway episode for all of my listeners. As I was preparing the series last summer, I enlisted the input and expertise of my dear pal John Coughlan. Like the first two episodes in the sequence, this one is once again, a veritable potpourri of delights, vocal, interpretive, and musical. It begins with a tribute to birthday icon Carol Burnett, who, at the beginning of her career, appeared in two different Broadway musicals, the second of which, 1964’s Fade Out Fade In, is featured. Additional shows presented include, among many others, Salvation, Raisin, Mack and Mabel, Redhead, I Had a Ball, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Baker Street, performed by such favorites as Lisa Kirk, Melba Moore, Gwen Verdon, Robert Weede, Mary Tyler Moore, Rosemary Clooney, Liz Callaway, and Peggy Lee, alongside such lesser-known lights as Diana Davila, Walter Willison, Salena Jones, and Gilbert Price. In addition, there is the “added plus” [sic] of Bea Arthur delivering a comic monologue from the 1955 Shoestring Revue that will have you in absolute stitches. And just for the gays (and all those with equally good taste), Judy and Liza each stop by, Judy to deliver a Frank Loesser show-stopper, while Liza offers more of “A Quiet Thing,” from her first Broadway show Flora the Red Menace.

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 194. Great Mozart Tenors



Today’s is a mammoth episode, one of my longest ever, so I suggest you listen to it in easily digestible segments. It’s mammoth because it’s a gigantic subject: great Mozart tenors of the 20th century, covering more than 100 years of recorded documents of the finest examples of tenorial interpretations of the big Mozart operas as well as some of his lesser-known works, including his concert arias. You will be dazzled (and that is a promise and a guarantee) by performances by Fritz Wunderlich (for many of us, the ne plus ultra of lyric tenors), George Shirley, Richard Tauber, Anton Dermota, Léopold Simoneau, Nicolai Gedda, Gösta Winbergh, John McCormack, David Rendall, Peter Schreier, and countless others, including lesser-known figures such as John van Kesteren, Kálmán Pataky, and Wiesław Ochman, and duets featuring Pilar Lorengar, Leontyne Price, Roberta Alexander, and Margaret Price. I also feature a peek into the future with a special salute to the young tenor Alex Banfield, whose work has impressed me enormously. The entire episode is dedicated to the memory of my friend Jerry Hadley, one of the supreme Mozart tenors of all time.

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.