Category Archives: Mezzo Madness

Episode 87. Christa Ludwig In Memoriam



The world of singing sustained an enormous loss a week ago: the death of the great German singer Christa Ludwig on April 24 at the age of 93. A singer whose repertoire centered around the great German composers but who also sang Verdi and French repertoire with often 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 centered on legato singing: the greatness of this artist simply cannot be overestimated. In this, the first of several episodes that, over the next few months, I will devote to one of my favorite singers, 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. A bonus Patreon episode published concurrently with this one explores Ludwig’s mastery in the field of Lieder.

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


Episode 86. Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs



I return to Cathy Berberian, Prima Donna of the Avant Garde (or “The Divine Miss B” as she was sometimes called in the mid-seventies) for a further exploration of her career and influence on vocalism in the twentieth century and beyond. This time around I consider her explorations outside of the avant garde, specifically the recital. Based on her 1967 recording of Beatles Arias, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt invited Cathy Berberian to take part in his groundbreaking 1969 period instrument recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1969 Cathy Berberian began to perform recitals that exploited her entire stylistic and vocal range, a program which eventually became known as “From Monteverdi to The Beatles.” In 1971 her ex-husband Luciano Berio wrote a theater piece for her called Recital I (For Cathy), in which she portrayed an increasingly deranged performer who eventually descends into madness. Her interest in Reynaldo Hahn and Marcel Proust eventually led her to create a program entitled À la recherche de la musique perdue. Additional late-career recitals were called Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs and Cathy Sings America. This episode features excerpts from all of those works, as well as a smattering of folk music and a recorded excerpt of her singing the title role of Carmen, a tantalizing prospect which never came to be. The episode also includes a tribute to Kathleen Ferrier, whose 109th birthday was observed this past week.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” 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 84. Cathy Berberian, Part I: MagnifiCathy



This episode is the first part of a tribute I have been wanting to create for quite some time. It honors the extraordinary artist and musician Cathy Berberian (1925-1983), the cosmopolitan Armenian-American vocalist who made an indelible mark on contemporary classical music and the public recital. Possessed of an extraordinarily flexible intelligence and sensibility, she influenced an entire generation of composers, including John Cage, Sylvano Bussotti, Henri Pousseur, and, in particular, her one-time husband Luciano Berio. Each of these composers wrote music with Berberian specifically in mind, and Berberian’s input strongly influenced the shape and form that these works assumed. Divorcing Berio in 1964 freed her to pursue her own musical interests, which included her own compositions, a musical friendship with Igor Stravinsky, a burgeoning interest in folk music, and the music of the Beatles. Her 1967 recording of so-called Beatles Arias (titled Revolution in its US release) is a unique document, which both explores the hidden depths of this material, at the same time poking fun at the entire crossover genre. Her daring theatricality and vibrant personality continue to exert an indelible influence that extends far beyond the avant garde. In two weeks I will explore the directions that she pursued in her later career.

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.

Cathy Berberian resources:

Music is the Air I Breathe, a 1994 documentary on Cathy Berberian by the late filmmaker Carrie de Swaan:

Links to audio interviews and performances on CathyBerberian.com.


Episode 83: Frühlingslieder [Spring Songs]



Dear listeners, it is Easter Sunday. While we are strictly non-sectarian at Countermelody, I did want to offer a program of spring favorites to welcome in the earth’s rebirth. (I also had to scramble to create a “filler” episode due to having lost two days of work this week after receiving my first jab on Wednesday.) Hence today’s offering: a Blumenstrauss of songs celebrating the beloved season of spring. I decided to limit today’s selections exclusively to song, omitting opera, operetta, and oratorio, but somewhat arbitrarily including songs from musicals amidst the classical and pop offerings. Even so, what a lineup of stars today: everyone from Mabel Mercer to Jan DeGaetani, from Hans Hotter to Dionne Warwick, from Georgia Brown to Roberta Alexander, from Kirsten Flagstad to Gordon MacRae. We hear composers ranging from Alec Wilder to Franz Schubert, from Milton Babbitt to Burt Bacharach, and from Hugo Wolf to Tom Lehrer. May these songs and songsters help us to welcome in the long-awaited spring!

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 80. Sad Songs (with a twist)



It’s been a year since the pandemic sent us all into various degrees of lockdown, panic, and depression. In certain parts of the world there is no end in sight, while in other parts, medical expertise is being blatantly defied as lockdown measures are carelessly lifted. I did a survey of my friends and listeners this week regarding their favorite sad songs, and I got hit with an avalanche of a wide range of not-happy music. In this episode I am limiting myself to so-called “classical” music. Because the music itself is so heavy, I impersonate (at the top of the episode) a radio announcer for WOKE-FM, a fictional Milwaukee “Top 40 Classical Radio Station,” who is taking calls from all over the world from listeners requesting their favorite sad music. These spurious callers have invariably good taste, and request some glorious music, albeit very sad indeed, by some transcendent performers, including Irmgard Seefried, Maria Callas, Janet Baker, Pierre Bernac, Nan Merriman, Lois Marshall, Peter Pears, and two beautiful French sopranos, Renée Doria and Andréa Guiot, who, at extremely advanced ages, each recently departed this earth. Composers from Dowland, Rameau, and Monteverdi are represented, alongside Poulenc, Schubert, Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky. The episode also includes guest vocal appearances by singers, including Cathy Berberian, Magda Olivero, Charles Panzéra, Jorma Hynninen, and Bethany Beardslee, who will receive full-episode treatment in the near future. Ultimately, we return to the atmosphere of a normal Countermelody episode, and are deeply moved by the singers, composers, and music represented.

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 78. Twentieth Century Pioneers (Black History Month 2021 VI)



To round off #BlackHistoryMonth2021, I bring you an array of artists singing a wide range of 20th Century repertoire. Included are singers who have previously been featured in full episodes (including Lawrence Winters, Gloria Davy, Charles Holland, and Carol Brice), legendary favorites (including Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Roberta Alexander, and Barbara Hendricks), important concert singers (including Adele Addison and Betty Allen), lesser-known artists (including Helen Thipgen, Martha Flowers, William Pearson, Mareda Gaither, and Olive Moorefield), and iconic singers (including Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Christiane Eda-Pierre) for whom important new work was created by Judith Weir, André Previn, and Charles Chaynes. The range of composers represented is equally vast and includes Leonard Bernstein, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Virgil Thomson, Michael Tippett, Lee Hoiby, Shulamit Ran, Gian Carlo Menotti, Judith Weir, Paul Bowles, Lukas Foss, and David Del Tredici. with special attention given to African American composers Margaret Bonds, Howard Swanson, William Grant Still, Hall Johnson, and Robert Nathaniel Dett. In other words: something for everyone and just a foretaste of future Countermelody programs that will continue to celebrate the contributions of African American 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.” 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 74. Lucretia West (Black History Month 2021 II)



The great African American contralto Lucretia West, born on 13 November 1922, is one of the great singers of German Lieder in general and of the music of Gustav Mahler in particular. Though she occasionally appeared in her native country, the majority of her life and career was spent in Germany. She was a favorite of some of the greatest conductors of the 1950s and 1960s, including Hans Knappertsbusch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Carl Schuricht, and Hermann Scherchen. Her collaborations with them are all featured in this episode. Her recorded legacy is not large, but it is impressive, and includes releases of Schubert Lieder and two albums of spirituals which are among the most significant contributions to that genre. Though she did not sing much opera, I did uncover a 1958 recording with Ferdinand Leitner of Carl Orff’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheus, in which she sings the role of La Messaggera (Die Botin in Orff’s German-language version). All of her work reveals a singer of enormous expressivity and makes an interesting contrast with that of her near-contemporary, Carol Brice.

I had originally intended to post this extra episode as a bonus for my Patreon supporters, but I decided that all of my Black History Month episodes should be available to all interested listeners, whether they are Patreon subscribers or not. Please enjoy, and please pass on the word to all persons who might enjoy learning more about some of the lesser-known African American singers of past generations. And, if you are so inspired, please do consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. I’m so happy that you are here to join in the celebration of this magnificent artist!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” 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 73. Carol Brice (Black History Month 2021 I)



Countermelody’s Black History Month celebration for 2021 begins with the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985) who had a distinguished and varied career singing everything from Bach to Harold Arlen. I first heard Carol Brice many years ago in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. I also feature her husband, the baritone Thomas Carey in a pair of recordings. I hope you will be as moved by Carol Brice’s singing as I am every time I hear this radiant artist.

This week’s bonus episode for my Patreon supporters features another great African American contralto, Lucretia West, who spent a significant portion of her life and career in Germany, where she was celebrated for her performances of Mahler and Lieder in particular.

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.