Category Archives: Happy Birthday

Episode 110. Black Crooners



Season Three of Countermelody begins with a potpourri episode of some of my favorite crooners of color. I begin with an example of Bert Williams, the first African-American superstar, and offer a few other examples of important precursors, but I focus on the heyday of the crooner, from the 1940s through the early 1960s, including such honey-voiced singers as Billy Eckstine, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Hartman, Lou Rawls, Brook Benton, and Arthur Prysock. Since I apply the term “crooner” fairly loosely, I am also able to present singers from outside the traditional repertoire of the standard crooner, including Josh White, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, Harry Belafonte, Barry White, Bobby Short, and Lamont Dozier. The episode concludes with a tribute to Broadway baritones of color and with a stunning live performance of Jackie Wilson singing “Danny Boy” in honor of my birthday. Vocal guest stars include Miriam Makeba, Linda Ronstadt, and Mabel Mercer.

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 104. Nicolae Herlea



Yesterday, August 28, would have been the 94th birthday of the great Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea (1927 – 2014). I continue my great baritone series with a salute to this extraordinary singer, who, unlike many of his fellow Romanian artists during this era, was able to pursue an active career in the rest of Europe and the United States. For many fans of great singing, Herlea is the Verdi baritone of choice. With this tribute, I begin a series examining great singers whose careers originated on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain. I present examples from one of Herlea’s first recordings, a 1959 recording of arias made in Moscow with the great Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting. I follow this with three excerpts from his two albums of Neapolitan songs, and conclude with extended excerpts from four of his recordings, made in Romania, of complete operas, which introduce us to a number of Herlea’s Romanian colleagues from the era, including Virginia Zeani, Arta Florescu, Ion Buzea, Ludovic Spiess, Ludovic Konya, and Magda Ianculescu. This episode also includes brief tributes to two of my favorite singers, recently deceased, who represented completely different genres: the folk singer and songwriter Nanci Griffith, who died on August 13 at the age of 68, and the exquisite Polish soprano, Teresa Żylis-Gara, who died yesterday at the age of 91.

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


Episode 103. Gilbert Price



Never heard of Gilbert Price? This episode will remedy that situation. With a voice that was easily produced, full-ranged, tonally refulgent, technically poised, the three-time Tony nominee Gilbert Price (1942-1991) deserves to be more fully remembered today for his deeply expressive portrayals, including a starring role in Leonard Bernstein’s failed Bicentennial musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He also starred in Timbuktu!, Promenade, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, and Langston Hughes’s 1964 musical pageant Jerico-Jim Crow, which also featured the recently deceased Micki Grant in one of her first featured roles. I feature Gilbert Price in numerous live performances, both on stage and on television, as well as four obscure singles he made for Columbia Records, in addition to considering his tragic demise. The episode also features an 88th birthday tribute to Janet Baker as well as commemorations of Grant and other recently departed musicians.

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


Episode 89. The Radiant Heather Harper



I have dreamed of doing an episode on the great Irish soprano Heather Harper (1930 – 2019) since before I began the podcast. As we we find ourselves in close proximity to both the anniversary of her birth on 8 May 1930 and her death on 22 April 2019, I feel compelled to bring that dream to life. A peerless artist, probably most renowned today for her close collaboration with Benjamin Britten, whose War Requiem she learned ten days before the premiere when the scheduled artist, Galina Vishnevskaya, was refused by the Soviet government to participate in the performance. Her crackerjack musicianship is heard to full advantage in 20th century works by Michael Tippett, Leif Segerstam, Anton Webern, Luigi Dallapiccola, Francis Poulenc, William Walton, and Alban Berg. But her focused, flexible instrument also made her an ideal performer of the Baroque repertoire (we hear her in Purcell, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Bach and Handel). And the surprising stores of power she could summon made her a vital and sympathetic heroine in the operas of Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, and Gounod, as well Britten’s Ellen Orford, of which she was the definitive interpreter. She also excelled in the intimate medium of the Lieder recital. Vocal guest stars include Jessye Norman, Helen Donath, Nicolai Gedda, John Shirley-Quirk, Norman Mittelmann, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and others. Conductors heard include Pierre Boulez, Rudolf Kempe, Colin Davis, Raymond Leppard, Gary Bertini, Meredith Davies, Horst Stein, Anthony Lewis, Carlos Païta, Bernard Haitink, Steuart Bedford, Hans Swarowsky, David Atherton, and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Fasten your seat belts and settle for an overdue tribute to the dazzling versatility and artistry of the great Heather Harper.

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


Episode 88. Jorma Hynninen @ 80: A Celebration in Song



A month ago the great Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen turned 80, and on May 2, his closest collaborator, the Finnish pianist Ralf Gothóni turned 75. We celebrate these two birthdays somewhat belatedly, but no less enthusiastically, with a program comprised primarily of art song, beginning with some choice German Lieder recordings, but ultimately focusing on the songs of their native Finland. We hear Hynninen in performances across the span of his entire career, from 1968 through 2015. Needless to say, their great compatriot Jean Sibelius is foregrounded, but, as is often the case in this country, there are a surprising number of fascinating composers whose work in this genre rewards further exploration. If the music of Oskar Merikanto, Yrjö Kilpinen, Erik Bergman, Selim Palmgren, Fredrik Pacius, Väinö Hannikainen, Taneli Kuusisto, or Toivo Kuula is not familiar to you, prepare to be delighted, surprised, and moved by the depth and variety of their creation. Soile Isokoski also joins the gentlemen in an excerpt from Gothóni’s cantata Der Ochs und sein Hirte. And Hynninen gives further evidence of his versatility with performances of pop standards and tango. Hyvää myöhästynyttä syntymäpäivää, Maestri!

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


Episode 85. George Shirley @ 87



Today I finally get to pay tribute to one of the singers who was a formative influence on me as a budding opera and vocal aficionado. George Shirley, born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, was 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 an incandescent young Renata Scotto), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare song recordings from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley, and join me in thanking him for having shared his extraordinary artistic gift with us for all these years!

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


Episode 82. Magda Olivero: La Verissima



This week we celebrate the recent 111th birthday of the great Italian verista Magda Olivero. An extraordinary artist whose unusual career saw her taking a ten-year hiatus just as her career was gaining steam, to return in 1950 at the express request of the composer Francesco Cilea, who felt that her portrayal of the title role of his Adriana Lecouvreur was definitive (and of course he was right!) Olivero made a Metropolitan Opera debut as Tosca at the advanced age of 65; even after her official retirement, she continued to make occasional appearances in concert, including her final one at the age of 99! She began with a modest but capable voice and developed it into a finely-tuned instrument capable of taking on the most dramatic repertoire, including Cherubini’s Medea and Minnie in La fanciulla del West, but always capable of the finest pianissimo shadings. Her voice displays an extraordinary range of color and her dramatic acumen has never been matched. This week’s episode features a number of her live appearances in Amsterdam, including an extraordinary Adriana Lecouvreur from 1965 which features her at her artistic and vocal peak. The episode also features excerpts from an extraordinary live concert at the Church of San Jacopino in Firenze on 28 March 1969 which includes nearly superhuman displays of vocal skill and dramatic insight. Magda Olivero lived to the age of 104; though she is no longer with us on earth, her artistry continues to inspire and delight lovers of opera and singing.

This episode was prepared with the kind assistance and input of Denis Robert, who maintains the Magda Olivero Archives page on YouTube. He was a personal friend of the artist and has done much to meticulously preserve her artistry and keep her legacy alive. He has provided me with high-quality masterings of many of the recordings featured on today’s episode and also regaled me with wonderful personal anecdotes and reminiscences of this great 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.

 


Episode 81. Happy Songs (straight up)



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

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


Episode 69. Voiceless Wonders: An Introduction



Some of the greatest singers in history are not necessarily the most vocally-gifted. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to such artists. I consider singers across many genres: recitalists (Pierre Bernac, Madeleine Grey, Povla Frijsh, Jane Bathori), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Noël Coward, Julie Wilson, Barbara, Lotte Lenya), musicals (Fred and Adele Astaire, Chita Rivera), pop music (Bob Dylan, Lou Reed), jazz (Billie Holiday, Alberta Hunter), actors (Audrey Hepburn, Melina Mercouri, Judi Dench, Hildegard Knef, Divine), and even comedians (Dody Goodman, Bourvil), with special focus on a few of the voiceless tenors who hold a special place in my heart (Hugues Cuenod, Karl Erb, Helmut Krebs, Julius Patzak). At the end, I feature two aging icons (Marlene Dietrich and Joséphine Baker) in unforgettable live performances of two protest songs that are painfully relevant at this moment in time. Composers include Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert, Stephen Sondheim, Francis Poulenc, Abel Meeropol, Claude Debussy, Kander and Ebb, Pete Seeger, Carl Orff, Manos Hadzidakis, Fats Waller, Maurice Ravel, and Rudolf Sieczyński. Please join me for this very special episode. But prepare yourselves for an emotional wallop.

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


Episode 68. Margaret Marshall, Songbird



Welcome to 2021 chez Countermelody! Today’s episode is a birthday tribute to the splendid Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall, who was born on 4 January. Since she burst upon the scene in the late 1970s, she 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, this past year, in tandem with her daughter Nicola and a group of dedicated supporters, she launched 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, 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”!

Link to the Margaret Marshall Songbird website: www.margaretmarshallsongbird.com

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