Category Archives: Interview

Episode 258. Frank Lopardo



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

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


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



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

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


Episode 253. Randall Scarlata Introduces Gérard Souzay (Listeners’ Favorites)



The French baritone Gérard Souzay was born Gérard Tisserand on 8 December 1918 and died in Antibes on 17 August 2004. This episode was one of my first episodes, originally posted in honor of his then 101st birthday. It has been chosen by my friend Randall Scarlata as his Listeners’ Favorite episode in the last of this month’s Great Baritones series, and this is particularly appropriate and moving, because from the age of 19 until Souzay’s death, Randall had a close association with Souzay as both teacher and mentor. He tells some wonderful stories about their work together, shares some of Souzay’s bon mots and also presents with great compassion some of the personal challenges that Souzay faced. He also discusses some of Souzay’s other artistic pursuits, one in particular of which may surprise you! The episode itself explores Souzay’s recorded legacy, with particular emphasis on his earliest recordings. Repertoire ranges from Jaime Ovalle to César Franck, and Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert to Maurice Ravel, Henry Purcell, and Claude Debussy (including an excerpt from his 1955 radio performance of Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande), many of them accompanied by Souzay’s musical and personal partner Dalton Baldwin. We also hear performances by his teachers and mentors Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Pierre Bernac, and Lotte Lehmann, as well as his sister, Geneviève Touraine. And Randall’s jewel of an introduction is a testimonial and tribute you’ll want to turn to again and again. I am proud to present again for your listening pleasure a singer who means as much to me as any other who has ever lived.

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 251. Jeremy Osborne Introduces Igor Gorin (Listeners’ Favorites)



Today’s segment in the Great Baritones division of my Listeners’ Favorites series is introduced by my friend, baritone Jeremy Osborne, like me an American expat in Berlin. In the nearly ten years that I have known him, Jeremy has developed into a fine singer of both opera and art song. Through talent, determination, and hard work, Jeremy is forging a well-deserved place for himself in the music world. The singer he has chosen to introduce on this episode is the the great Ukranian-American baritone Igor Gorin (1904-1982). Jeremy shares with us the story of how he first became acquainted with Gorin’s exceptional talent. and the context in which he, like me, was bowled over by the sheer beauty of his voice. If one made such ranking lists, in fact, we would probably both place him near the top of a “Most Beautiful Baritone Voices Ever” list. Gorin’s is a fascinating life story, beginning in pre-Soviet Ukraine and moving back and forth from Vienna to the United States until finally, with forged documents, he emigrated to the US and became a naturalized citizen. Through a series of happy circumstances, he became one of the top US radio stars of the 1930s and 1940s and eventually appeared as well on early television broadcasts. A career in regional opera resulted, which reached its apex with starring roles at Lyric Opera of Chicago and a single appearance at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 59. This episode features live, radio, and studio performances by Gorin in opera, operetta, Broadway, and folk and art songs over a period of nearly 40 years, including a  live late career performance of Ernest Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh, in which he returned to his cantorial roots. Whether you, like Jeremy, are already a passionate devotee of this artist, or if this is your first encounter with him, you are in for a treat.

A bonus episode on Igor Gorin on my Patreon page, produced at the time this episode was first heard more than three years ago, includes complete performances of two constrasting song cycles by Modest Mussorgsky, The Nursery and the Songs and Dances of Death.

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 250. Julian Long Introduces Jorma Hynninen (Listeners’ Favorites)



(Leavin’ on a jet plane this afternoon, so posting a day or so early!)

It is a wonderful thing when friends share a favorite singer. Such is the case with my friend of long-standing, Julian Long (once one reaches a certain age, one no longer uses the term “old friend”). As part of this month’s series of Listeners’ Favorites episodes, Julian has been kind enough to record a new intro for a Countermelody episode that I posted three years ago as a birthday tribute to the marvelous Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen, who on April 3 will celebrate his 83rd birthday. Unlike me, Julian heard Hynninen many times in both opera and, especially, recital. This episode focuses on Hynninen’s prowess as a singer of art song, beginning with some choice German Lieder recordings, but ultimately focusing on the songs of his 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, there are a surprising number of fascinating composers in this magisterial country whose work also rewards exploration. If the music of Oskar Merikanto, Yrjö Kilpinen, Erik Bergman, Selim Palmgren, Fredrik Pacius, Väino 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 Hynninen in an excerpt from the cantata Der Ochs und sein Hirte by Hynninen’s multi-talented pianist Rolf Gothóni, who is heard in many of the selections. The program concludes with Hynninen’s perusal of both pop standards and tango, both sung in Finnish. Don’t mind Julian and me as we go off to individually nurse our mutual crush!

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 249. Gavin Carr Introduces Heinrich Rehkemper (Listeners’ Favorites)



This month’s series of Listeners’ Favorites continues with the baritone Heinrich Rehkemper (1894-1949), presented to you today by my dear friend, the esteemed conductor Gavin Carr, who is the very person that first introduced him to me many years ago now. Rehkemper is one of a number of exceptional German baritones of that era who represent a very different kind of singing than we are accustomed to today: full-throated voices with an even scale from top to bottom managed with no technical gimmickry or phoniness. Rehkemper brought these traits to whatever music he was singing, whether opera, oratorio, or Lied. He left a small but important cache of discs, including many Lieder recordings, particularly of Franz Schubert. He also made the first complete recording in 1928 of Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder under the baton of none other than the great Mahler conductor Jascha Horenstein. I place Rehkemper in the context of the other significant German baritones of his era, Heinrich Schlusnus, Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Karl Schmitt-Walter, and Gerhard Hüsch, playing examples of each singing the aria of Di Luna from Verdi’s Der Troubadour, each sung in German translation. But it is first and foremost the unique legacy of Rehkemper’s art song recordings that concerns me here, and I discuss what makes his work so important, and what today’s singers can learn through close study of his recordings. My dear friends, just because the name of today’s baritone might not be familiar to you, Gavin and I both implore you not to hesitate in partaking of the vocal and musical riches to be discovered in this episode!

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


Episode 248. Thomas Bagwell Introduces Bernard Kruysen (Listeners’ Favorites)



One of my best and truest friends in the business is the phenomenal pianist, coach, and conductor Thomas Bagwell. Our friendship really developed back in the days when we curated a series of recitals for the Lotte Lehmann Foundation, which Thomas also (brilliantly) accompanied. Since then we are both carving out different lives for ourselves on the other side of the pond, me as your intrepid Berlin-based podcaster, and Thomas as a valued coach and conductor on the music staff of the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Thomas is no doubt remembered by my listeners for his scintillating commentary on my Marni Nixon tribute episode last season. Years ago there was one a peculiar Facebook questionnaire about what would be the last thing you grabbed as you fled your burning home and Thomas answered, “My Bernard Kruysen records.” At that time, I knew the Dutch singer Bernard Kruysen (1933-2000) by name only but I had no clear idea of who he was as an artist. Because of Thomas’s enthusiasm, however, I began my own collection of Bernard Kruysen recordings, from which followed this episode, first heard in 2021, so it is only appropriate that Thomas should be reintroducing this episode today. Bernard Kruysen’s voice exemplifies that now nearly extinct vocal category, the baryton martin. I discuss just what constitutes a baryton martin and why in his prime Kruysen such was an ideal representative. I also discuss the larger question of the performance of the French art song, the mélodie, and why Kruysen was also exceptional in this regard, using as an example his 1960s recorded performances of three complete song cycles by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, and Francis Poulenc. I also feature the artist singing art songs by Schumann and Mussorgsky and works by Bach, Quirinus van Blankenburg, and Jan Mul. Thomas’s introduction is prefaced with a live recording from those Lotte Lehmann Foundation concerts back in 2011, this one featuring our phenomenal friend, spinto soprano Tami Petty.

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


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



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

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


Episode 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 241. Tell It to the World: Korea



Last month Oxford University Press published my dear friend David Savran’s Tell It to the World, a monumental study on transnationalism and the Broadway-style musical. The book focuses on two specific markets: South Korea and Germany. To help David get the word out about his book, over the next few weeks I am featuring two different episodes of Countermelody in which David and I discuss the themes and concerns of the book, as well as playing short musical examples to illustrate those points. Today’s episode focuses on South Korea and the influx of US-influenced musical styles to the country from the 1920s through to KPOP. We hear examples of the American influence on Korean popular music, from the first Korean singer to record Western-style music in the 1920s, the tragic Yun Sim-deok, through to the breezier (and occasionally psychedelic) musical stylings of such 60s pop groups as The Kim Sisters and He5, through to the folk-pop of the intense Kim Kwang-Seok and the innovative yet tradition-infused music of fusion groups Ensemble Sinawi and Jambinai. David also explains how Seoul became a center for musicals in Asia, with American musicals like Dreamgirls adapted for a specifically Korean audience, while also discussing a number of popular Korean musicals, most of them with Korean themes: Hero, The Days, Frankenstein, and Seopyeonje. This last work is based on a popular 1993 film; and both works, film and musical, spearheaded the resurgence of interest in the tradition of pansori, a uniquely Korean brand of dramatic solo theatrical performance dating back to the 18th century. Finally, and inevitably, there is a discussion of how KPOP has “infiltrated” the Korean musical, particularly with the brief appearance on Broadway of the musical KPOP.

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 236. Howard Hart Introduces Christa Ludwig (Listeners’ Favorites VII)



My friend and fellow opera podcaster Howard Hart introduces the first of this week’s Listeners’ Favorites episodes, my 2021 tribute to the superb zwischenfach singer Christa Ludwig, who died nearly three years ago. Ludwig was a singer whose repertoire centered around the great German composers but who also sang Verdi and French repertoire with stunning results; a mezzo-soprano who was unparalleled in Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms, but who also sang the great soprano heroines of Richard Strauss; a Lieder singer of great perception and textual acuity whose supple technique nonetheless was centered on legato singing: the greatness of this artist simply cannot be overestimated. I focus on the key composers (Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Wagner) and conductors (Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, and Leonard Bernstein) with whom she was most closely associated, while also examining some roles that might surprise you: Cenerentola, Amneris and Marie in Wozzeck. Vocal guest stars include Gloria Davy, Victoria de los Ángeles, Reri Grist, Gundula Janowitz, Gwyneth Jones, and Ludwig’s one-time husband Walter Berry. Thank you, Howard, for lending your enthusiasm and passion to my podcast in your introduction of one of your (and my) favorite singers.

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 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 225. Joya Sherrill



This week’s episode is the first in what I hope will be a series featuring vocalists who performed with Duke Ellington, Today’s artist is the playful and sophisticated Joya Sherrill (20 August 1924 – 28 June 2010) who, by a series of happy “accidents,” became one of the best-remembered and most enduring of Ellington’s songsters while still a teenager. For she was not only a musically- and vocally-gifted singer, she was also a lyricist and composer. She herself composed the lyrics to the Billy Strayhorn classic “Take the ‘A’ Train,” as well as another Ellington standard, “Kissing Bug,” she also was the first singer to record “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and numerous other Ellington and Strayhorn standards. Though she left the Ellington Orchestra before 1950, she continued to appear with them in various projects, including his 1957 television extravaganza A Drum Is a Woman (alongside soprano Margaret Tynes), and My People, his 1963 extravaganza commemorating the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation. She also performed with the Benny Goodman Orchestra on their 1962 tour of Russia, and was the first African American host of a children’s television program, Time for Joya (later renamed Joya’s Fun School) which began in 1970 and ran in reruns until 1982 on local New York television. In this endeavor she was assisted by another powerhouse Black musician, Luther Henderson, who also arranged and conducted her altogether individual 1959 studio album, Sugar and Spice, which put a sophisticated spin on old Mother Goose rhymes. As late as 1994 she continued to perform and record the music of Duke Ellington and others. Here is an artist whose combination of élan and exuberance is well worth rediscovering and celebrating.

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 189. Marni Nixon



Today, in another of my Women’s History Month episodes, I present to you the extraordinarily versatile, even chameleon-like singer and actor Marni Nixon (22 February 1930 – 24 July 2016), who is no doubt best-known today as the so-called “Ghostess with the Mostest.” Born into a musical family in California, she became involved from an early age with the movies, and by a marvelous set of circumstances became The Voice for a number of Hollywood actresses not known for their singing voices, among them Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Her skill in matching the vocal and speech characteristics of each of these performers is exceptional, but she was so much more than that. She pioneered the work of many 20th century giants, including Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Ives, and Anton Webern. She hosted a local Seattled children’s television program called Boomerang that netted her four Emmy Awards. She performed on opera stages and concert platforms around the world. She recorded widely, everything from Mary Poppins to Pierrot Lunaire, and in the mid-1970s was the first singer to perform and record Schoenberg’s cabaret songs, his so-called Brettl-Lieder, works that are now standard repertoire. She studied with Viennese soprano Vera Schwarz as well as the iconic Lotte Lehmann, and actively performed and recorded for more than 50 years. Her late career saw an extraordinary return to the musical stage, where she starred in both new work and revivals both on and Off-Broadway. Guiding us along the trajectory of her career is my good friend Thomas Bagwell, currently a coach and conductor at The Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen, who was a colleague and good friend of Marni Nixon’s for the last 25 years of her life. His anecdotes and reminscences are interspersed with examples (often familiar, more often rare) of Marni’s vast recorded legacy, which give testament not only to her versatility, but to her flawless musicality and depth of expression.

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


Episode 184. Eugene Holmes (Black History Month 2023)



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

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


Episode 153. Eleanor Steber I



July 17 is the 108th birthday of Eleanor Steber, surely one of the all-time greatest singers that the United States has ever produced (as well as one of the most versatile and technically-accomplished!) In long overdue Countermelody tribute to this exceptional artist, I present the first of two very special episodes honoring Eleanor. After the “usual” career overview featuring mostly live highlights from her operatic appearances all over the world, I turn the stage (or in this case the mic), over to my dear friend Michelle Oesterle, founder and conductor of the Manhattan Girls Chorus, who was also Eleanor Steber’s stepdaughter. As such she spent time (especially in the summer months) with her father and Eleanor at Melody 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. The Steber tribute will continue with a further episode sometime in the next month. For now, let us raise our glasses (of sparkling mineral water), in tribute to this phenomenal artist, the like of which we will never see again. Musical selections range from Victor Herbert to Alban Berg and everything in between. Thank you, Michelle, and evviva Eleanor!

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 149. Music Black and Queer



Over the course of history, for Persons of Color who also happen to be queer, the interface between these two populations is sometimes an enormously challenging one, but one which also frequently produces path-breaking musical artists of enormous courage and originality. In celebration of Juneteenth this coming weekend, and as a follow-up to my Queer Blues episode published last year, I once again pay tribute to an extraordinary array of Black and Queer musical artists across a wide spectrum of popular musical styles, be it Blues, jazz. middle-of-the-road pop, musicals, rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and folk. Artists represented include Billy Strayhorn, Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Tracy Chapman, Mabel Mercer, Joan Armatrading, Nona Hendryx, Sylvester, Joséphine Baker, Jackie Shane, Carmen McRae, Billy Preston, Esquerita, and Carolyn Franklin, Michael R. Jackson, the 2022 Tony Award winner for A Strange Loop, is introduced by my dear friend the theater scholar David Savran, who describes what makes this piece and its creator so daring and original.

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 41. Ira Siff: La Gran Scena and Beyond



Today’s episode is an interview I did 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. My association with Ira and Gran Scena goes back more than thirty years, when he provided me with my first employment as a 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 last this past January 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. There is no better way to celebrate Gay Pride in isolation than to listen to this episode!

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 the 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 Co. 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.

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.

In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his productions of operas ranging from Tosca, Turandot, and La Fanciulla del West to Lakmé, Werther, and La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sarasota Opera, The Caramoor Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he directed productions of Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Ariadne auf Naxos. 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.

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.

La Gran Scena Opera Company was conceived and launched in 1981 by its Artistic Director Ira Siff and performed extensively in New York and around the world for the next twenty years, including seasons and tours in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and The Kennedy Center and at some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals. In New York, the company’s performances at Town Hall, Symphony Space, and (finally in 1998 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall) were enormously popular and earned them a legion of fans, including Renata Scotto, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, James Levine, and Anna Moffo, among many others, whose appearances at live performances of the company were a thrill and delight for all who were in attendance.

The company wound down its activities with a New York Farewell in October 2001 and a week of performances at the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in November 2002, but the company’s prima donna, “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borzkh, (as embodied by Ira Siff), continued to alternately present comeback performances and annual farewell recitals until 2009, when Ira and Madame Vera finally bid farewell to the stage for real. Fortunately, for the joy and amusement of opera lovers everywhere, many of the performances of Vera and other favorite company members, including Philene Wannelle, Sylvia Bills, Fodor Szedan, Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi, and the legendary 105-year-old diva Gabriella Tonnoziti-Casseruola, under the various batons of the company’s various music directors, including Francesco Folinari-Soave-Coglioni, Sergio Zawa, Helmut Maria Dorf, and Lorenzo Costellata-Denaro are available for viewing on Madame Vera’s YouTube channel as well as on DVD’s published by VAI, including the delicious biographical show, Vera: Life of a Diva and The Annual Farewell Recital.

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 classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please 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.


Episode 11. Janet Williams Interview III: Der ganze Unterschied



In the third and final part of our interview, recorded in July 2019, Janet Williams and I discuss how we reunited in 2004 (several years after our Merola connection); about her vocal studies with Régine Crespin, Denise Duplex, and David Jones; about some of the roles she sang during the illustrious career which took her around the world; and about her current activities with her newly-formed Leistung & Performance Vokal Akademie here in Berlin, where singers gain invaluable professional training in all aspects of what she calls “this illustrious but very difficult profession.” As always, the interview is interspersed with musical interludes and commentary, which are all cited on the Show Notes page (http://countermelodypodcast.com/episode-11-janet-williams-iii/).

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 9. Janet Williams Interview Part II: Serendipity @ Merola



In this episode, Janet relives her early career experiences, including time that both she and Daniel spent at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. She describes the continuing influence and tutelage of Camilla Williams; tells about her study in Paris with the great Régine Crespin, the mentorship of Marilyn Horne, and the inspiration of Harolyn Blackwell and Kathleen Battle; and elucidates how she was hired for a two-year Festvertrag at the Berliner Staatsoper and how, 27 years later, she still calls Berlin home. The episode is peppered throughout with musical examples.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 7: Janet Williams, Part I. No Accidents



I am particularly excited to present the first of a three-part interview with the distinguished American soprano and pedagogue Janet Williams, who also happens to be one of my dearest friends. We met when we were both apprentice artists at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. Since then Janet established herself as one of the premiere lyric coloratura sopranos of her generation and is now highly respected as a pedagogue, clinician, and mentor. In this portion of our discussion, we speak about Janet’s formative years in Detroit and how she found her way into the opera world, despite an early interest in gospel singing and the desire of becoming a backup singer à la The Supremes. Particular attention is paid to her tutelage under the distinguished African American soprano and civil rights icon Camilla Williams (as Janet points out, no relation!) As usual, copious musical excerpts are sprinkled throughout the interview.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 4. Jessye and Her Forebears



Due to a last minute change of plans, I have decided to bring you the first in what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to excerpts from LP recordings in my collection which have either never been reissued on CD or have had only limited availability. This first episode includes a tribute to the late Jessye Norman, with a nod to some of the great African American singers who paved the way for her in her career. In addition, my special guest the theatre scholar David Savran speaks about the significance of her collaborations with director Robert Wilson. Other singers heard include Gérard Souzay, Elisabeth Söderström, Dorothy Maynor, Camilla Williams, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, and Leontyne Price, none of which have received widespread release beyond their initial appearance on LP. I conclude the episode with a special greeting from the balcony of my Air B&B in Napoli, where I am celebrating my birthday.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 3. Creating Magic, Interview with Nicholas Tamagna, Part 2



In the second part of our interview Nicholas discusses his early experiences with music, names three of his favorite singers, and riffs further on the themes of language and communication. Musical excerpts include a performance by Leather and Lace, the rock group that featured Nicholas’s mother and aunts, and Nicholas’s youthful stage performances as Oliver and Fagin in the musical Oliver! Nicholas is also featured in recordings of Henry Purcell and Philip Glass and we also include performances by Maria Vitale, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Jussi Björling, and Nina Simone.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 2. A Countertenor for the 21st Century: An Interview with Nicholas Tamagna (Part 1)



Nicholas sat down with me this past June to discuss many different aspects of countertenordom, including in-depth discussions of several recent productions of Handel and Monteverdi operas in which he has recently been involved and the challenges in performing a range of musical styles and dramatic contexts. We also discuss the circuitous path by which Nicholas discovered his countertenor voice, the joys of playing comic roles, villains, and flawed heroes, as well as his childhood fascination with language, and how that has served him in good stead in his performing career. This episode, which also features numerous recent live clips of Nicholas singing, concludes with the discovery of our mutual love for an iconic French film. Please join us next week for the conclusion of this interview.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com