Category Archives: Mezzo Madness

Episode 95. Queer Blues and Beyond (Pride 2021)



For my second Queer Pride episode this month, I offer you a panoply of blues and other popular music sung by women of color over the past 100 years and over a wide range of the LGBTQ spectrum. The focus is on the queer and bisexual women of color who enlivened the Harlem blues scene in the 1920s, including the newly popular and celebrated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as other vital and iconoclastic singers of that era, including Bricktop, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Hegamin, and the fascinating Gladys Bentley. The net is further extended to include jazz (Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington), pop, rock ‘n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton), gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Joséphine Baker), soul (Carolyn Franklin) and folk (Joan Armatrading, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, and Laura Love). Of course in this episode the musical categories are as flexible as are the sexual and gender boundaries, so expect to see a lot of genre-hopping as well among these subversive, innovative, and pathbreaking women of color.

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 94. Odetta (Juneteenth 2021)



In honor of the first commemoration of Juneteenth as a national holiday, there is no artist more worthy of celebration than the great Odetta (1930-2008). The breadth of her influence and the scope of her accomplishment should be trumpeted from the rooftops. From her first appearance on primetime national television opposite Harry Belafonte, to her prominence as the artist at the forefront of the folk music revival, to the importance of her music as a centerpiece to the Civil Rights Movement, to her additional contributions to blues and gospel music (and even, less expectedly, jazz and soul), Odetta Felious Holmes remains one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century. From her first recording in 1954, to one of her final live performances, I present a wide-ranging portrait highlighting the significance of an artist who, for once, merits the designation “cultural icon.”

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 92. Blessed Memory (In Memoriam III)



The final episode (for now) in my series commemorating recent deaths in the musical community, this one presents a further group of treasurable (and often less well-known) musical artists, refracted through the lens of memory: personal memory, collective memory, eternal memory, blessed memory. Prepare to make or renew acquaintance with Adele Stolte, Silvano Carroli, Inés Rivadeneira, Eugenia Ratti, Caroline Kaart, Galina Savova, Bernard Ładysz, Cora Canne Meijer, Arthur Woodley, Jolanda Meneguzzer, Eldar Aliev, Sophie Boulin, and Edith Thallaug, among many others. Some were “voiceless wonders,” relatively speaking, others were gifted with enormous vocal gifts. All were artists and human beings who each made their mark in their own distinctive way. Guest stars include Vasile Moldoveanu, Cesare Siepi, Aimé Doniat, and Ralf Gothóni.

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 90. Gone But Not Forgotten (In Memoriam I)



Christa Ludwig, celebrated two weeks ago, is not the only great singer and musician to have departed this earthly realm in recent months. This episode presents a wide cross-section of great musicians we have lost, not just singers, and not just classical musicians. Included are many opera singers who today are less well-known, including Sándor Sólyom Nagy, Libuše Domanínská, Margherita Roberti, Tamara Sorokina, Angelo Mori, Marcella Reale, Biserka Cvejić, and Michel Trempont. A wide range of composers including Ennio Morricone, Elias Rahbani, and Harold Budd, also receive a nod, as do instrumentalists Leon Fleisher, Osian Ellis, and Julian Bream, and non-classical artists such as Anne Feeney, Charley Pride, Gerry Marsden, Jimmie Rodgers, and SOPHIE. Only once before on the podcast have I presented such a kaleidoscopic memorial episode; it is good to be reminded of the full range of expression pursued by great musicians of all stripes. Guest stars today include Barbara Hendricks, Muriel Smith, and John Shirley-Quirk. The tributes continue next 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.

Pictured: Biserka Cvejić as Amneris


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.