Category Archives: Mirella Freni

Episode 147. The Young Gabriel Bacquier



Two years ago last month, the great French (bass-)baritone Gabriel Bacquier died just four days short of his 96th birthday. At that time I offered a brief memorial tribute which opened my eyes to aspects of his artistry and voice with which I had been previously unfamiliar. Like his near-contemporary, the Italian baritone Tito Gobbi, Bacquier was one of the supreme actors of the operatic stage, whose voice coarsened somewhat over the course of his long career, even as his mastery as an actor and interpreter increased. By the time he retired, his repertoire consisted almost entirely of buffo parts. But in the earliest years of his career (and also like Gobbi), he possessed a baritone of velvety beauty that might surprise those who know only his later comic roles. This episode, which commemorates the second anniversary of Bacquier’s death as well as his (posthumous) 98th birthday, focuses on the three different musical genres in which, in those early years, from 1953 through 1968, he excelled in equal measure: opera, of course, but also mélodie and operetta. The operatic portrayals represented include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Orphée et Eurydice; Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de perles; the Count in Le nozze di Figaro; Iago in Otello; Golaud; and his incomparable Scarpia, which he sang opposite every great Tosca of the 1960s with the exception of Callas. Complementing these live and studio recordings are recordings of melodies by Duparc, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc; and operetta arias by Sigmund Romberg, Franz Lehár, Johann Strauss II, and Reynaldo Hahn, all deliciously sung in French. Vocal guest stars include Mirella Freni; Alain Vanzo; Bernard Demigny; Janine Ervil; Yvonne Gall, with whom Bacquier studied at the Conservatoire de Paris; and the late Renate Holm, the renowned German soubrette who died in April at the age of 90. In all this repertoire, Bacquier, who insisted on the appellation “acting singer” rather than “singing actor,” displays his commitment to clear yet full projection of text, which serves as a mirror into the music and not the other way around.

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 145. Teresa Berganza In Memoriam



A week ago today the beloved and revered Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza, died at the age of 89. This episode pays tribute to her artistry through the exploration of her operatic roles, from Neris in Medea opposite Maria Callas, through her matchless Mozart and Rossini portrayals, through her fascinating and highly individualized portrait of the title heroine of Bizet’s Carmen. Special emphasis is given to her performance of Spanish music, from the zarzuelas of Ruperto Chapí and Federico Moreno Torroba, to art songs of Manuel de Falla and Fredric Mompou. Vocal guest stars include Mirella Freni, Pilar Lorengar, Lola Rodríguez Aragón, Franco Bonisolli, and the incendiary Callas herself, an early mentor and supporter of Berganza. I began the preparation for this episode with an incomplete appreciation of Berganza’s voice and artistry, but she won me over and I am now, even if belatedly, a huge fan.

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 121. Auld Acquaintance I



This special episode, the first of two year-end celebrations, presents artists who have already been featured on Countermelody in rare recordings that have recently become available to me. A few of the artists heard include George Shirley, Heather Harper, Lawrence Winters, Elisabeth Söderström, Camilla Williams, Julia Migenes, John Raitt, Gloria Davy, Rosanna Carteri, Mirella Freni, Robert McFerrin, Margaret Marshall, Yi-Kwei Sze, Eileen Farrell, Shirley Verrett, Cathy Berberian, and many, many others in recordings, most from my personal collection, which you may not have heard before. This is a gift of love and gratitude from me to my listeners and supporters, a backward glance at all of the great singers who have been heard on the podcast over the past two and a half years, a theme which will continue next week. I look forward to continuing with new topics and new singers as we move into 2022.

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 91. Unforgotten (In Memoriam II)



We continue our memorial tributes this week with the second of (at least) three episodes commemorating the recent deaths of singers and musicians who have helped make our existence a little more manageable, our world a bit more beautiful. From Milva to Rudolf Kelterborn, from Yevgeny Nesterenko to Mary Wilson, from Jane Manning to Antoine Hodge, may they all rest in peace and power. Above all, this episode is dedicated to George Floyd on the first anniversary of his murder.

The two Countermelody episodes from a year ago devoted to music of protest and emancipation:

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-37-no-more-slavery-chains

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-38-something-in-the-air

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 67. Good Bye 2020 (and Good Riddance!)



Is there anyone out there who will not be relieved to bid farewell to 2020, this annus horribilis? I know I’ll be delighted to kick its ass out the door. How to make any sense of this year of pandemic, panic, political shenanigans, poverty, racial injustice, climate disaster and general global upheaval? I have no answers, except to return to music. The episode begins with a mini-tribute to Broadway great Rebecca Luker, who lost her hard-fought against ALS on December 23rd. Then I return to the year 1935, since, as I discovered as I was preparing my mom’s birthday episode a couple weeks ago, so many interesting musicians were born in that year. Some of those artists are still with us, others died some time ago, while still others were among the many casualties of 2020. I take a journey through the composers (Arvo Pärt, Aulis Sallinen, Nicholas Maw, Peter Schat, Josep Soler, Giya Kancheli, and Peter Schickele [aka P.D.Q. Bach]) and singers (Helga Pilarczyk, Sherrill Milnes, Dominic Cossa, Arlene Saunders, Albert Remedios, and Teresa Berganza) born in that year, and conclude with those beloved artists Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti (both of whom were also born in 1935) in an extended excerpt from a live 1975 performance of La bohème, that exemplifies near-perfection, operatically speaking. Let’s “tak a cup o’ kindness yet” at the passing of this challenging year as we also look forward to a new year better in every imaginable way than its predecessor!

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

Links to related Countermelody episodes:

Episode 64: Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Features the baritone in several operas by Aulis Sallinen): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-64-jorma-hynninen-in-opera

Two episodes in memory of Mirella Freni:

Episode 25: Freni on the Fringe (Freni sings unexpected repertoire): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-25-freni-on-the-fringe-mirella-in-memoriam-ii

Episode 24: Freni in Duet (Freni with various distinguished partners): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-24-freni-in-duet

And three episodes devoted to great artists that we have lost recently:

Episode 59: In Memoriam Rosanna Carteri: www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-59-rosanna-carteri

Bonus Episode 5: In Memoriam Christiane Eda-Pierre (available to my Patreon subscribers at any level of support): www.patreon.com/posts/42459803

Episode 15: Hail and Farewell (a tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2019): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-15-hail-and-farewell

 


Episode 64. Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Great Baritones I)



This is the first of two episodes I have planned in honor of the great Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen, who turns 80 in 2021. The focus today is on his work in opera. His stylistic range was unusually large: during the years in which he appeared internationally he triumphed in roles ranging from Mozart to Verdi to the title role in Eugene Onegin in opera houses around the world. What is perhaps less well-remembered is that he also was a phenomenal Pelléas and also a distinguished Wagnerian, singing Wolfram, Amfortas, and Kurwenal, among other parts. All of these are featured in today’s episode, as well as arias and scenes from operas by Strauss, Dallapiccola, and Hindemith. Jorma Hynninen made his greatest contribution to the field, however, in his legendary creations in the world of Finnish opera. The second portion of the program features excerpts of his performances in works by pioneers Leevi Madetoja and Aarre Merikanto and continues with roles he created in operas by Aulis Sallinen and Einojuhani Rautavaara. Though he retired from opera in 2012, he continues to concertize in Finland; in the fall of 2019 he embarked on a brief concert tour with a voice nearly untouched by the years. Mirella Freni, Hildegard Behrens, and Victoria de los Ángeles are also featured in the episode. Join me in an exploration of the operatic career of this extraordinary singer.

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


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

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 25. Freni on the Fringe (Mirella in Memoriam II)



Episode 25 – Freni on the Fringe (Mirella in Memoriam II)

Today’s episode continues last week’s homage to the late, great Mirella Freni. This time around, I explore some her performances of operas and works which she performed only rarely, or to which she turned later in her career. Featured works include excerpts from Handel’s Serse, Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (in which Freni sings the Countess rather than her usual Susanna), the title role in Gounod’s Mireille, Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, and Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. The Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen, one of my favorite singers, is heard as Onegin. Conductors include Claudio Abbado, Bruno Bartoletti, Michel Plasson, and Václav Smetáček. The episode concludes with a relatively obscure 1977 studio recording of Freni singing “Signore, ascolta” from Turandot which represents the absolute pinnacle of her vocal art.

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 24. Freni in Duet (Mirella In Memoriam I)



Today, in the first of two consecutive episodes. I pay tribute to the great Mirella Freni, who died on February 7 and who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on February 27th. Celebrated for the freshness of her timbre, her musical integrity and commitment, her vocal prowess and longevity, and her expressivity, Freni sang a repertoire which covered a wide range of styles and languages. Today’s selections, from over the course of her entire career, feature her exclusively in duet, and include selections from Gianni Schicchi, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Le nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Don Carlo, Le due illustri rivali, Don Giovanni, and La Traviata with Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Dvorsky, Luis Lima, Renata Scotto, and her husband Nicolai Ghiaurov. Three selections from a rare 1977 LP of Puccini and Verdi duets with the superlative (and notorious!) Italian tenor Franco form the centerpiece of this loving tribute.

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