Category Archives: Music

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 42. Battle Hymn of the Scotto



On the weekend that my benighted nation celebrates its birthday, I turn for real leadership to Renata Scotto, specifically her portrayal of the Druid priestess Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s eponymous cornerstone of the bel canto repertoire. Scotto began her career as a charming lyric-coloratura, lending her distinctive voice and artistic personality to roles from such country damsels as Amina in La Sonnambula and Adina in L’elisir d’amore to the more substantial title roles in Lucia di Lammermoor and La Traviata. With Butterfly, she moved into heavier repertoire and eventually, in 1974, first took on Norma. Singing this role for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera season in 1981 was a risk that took a toll on her reputation. But, I contend, even with its flaws, her Norma is one of the greatest post-Callas assumptions of the role. Scotto’s occasional vocal vulnerabilities in the role contrast with her continuing fearlessness in coloratura. And her insights into the varying aspects of Norma’s persona: her wisdom, her compassion, her conflict between love and duty, and finally, her ability to admit wrongdoing and accept the consequences, show all the characteristics of a true leader. In 1978, at the peak of her achievement, Renata Scotto sang the role of Norma in at least three different productions: in Philadelphia (with the gleaming John Alexander); in Houston (with the glorious Tatiana Troyanos); and in Firenze (conducted by the stern but compelling Riccardo Muti). I offer extended excerpts from each of these performances as well as a beguiling performance of “Casta diva” from her first assumption of the role in Torino in 1974. I also offer John Alexander and another podcast favorite, Shirley Verrett, in the Adalgisa-Pollione duet. Finally, I top off the episode with Scotto’s oh-so-wrong yet oh-so-right performance of “Send in the Clowns,” which serves as the perfect commentary for the current political situation in the USA.

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 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

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 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)



Today we examine the fascinating and somewhat frustrating career of Gloria Davy (1931-2012). Yet another African American singer who found greater opportunity abroad than in the United States, Davy has the distinction of being the first Black singer to perform the title role of Verdi’s Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, which role served as her debut in 1958. Another early career success came when she replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of Porgy and Bess. Her earliest recordings, both live and studio, reveal a voice of uncommon beauty with an interpretive sensitivity to match. A superb musician, Davy also sang contemporary music throughout her career, including important premieres by Hans Werner Henze and Karlheinz Stockhausen. One must ask the question, however, if her voice would have been better served had she not turned to sung Bess and Aida so early in her career, but had instead had access to roles such as Anna Bolena, which she sang brilliantly at Town Hall in New York in 1957. The episode includes a rare airing of Davy’s 1956 album of Spirituals, in arrangements by the lesser-known African American composer Julia Perry and excerpts from her recordings of Shulamit Ran’s O the Chimneys, on poems by Nelly Sachs, and the 1972 revision of Stockhausen’s momentous Momente.

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 14. Christmas Potpourri II: Hard/Try



Another week of Christmas music! The first part of the episode is a continuation of last week’s All-Tenor Extravaganza. We hear from Farrold Stephens, Luther Saxon, Roland Hayes, James Melton, Brian Sullivan, Richard Crooks, Raoul Jobin, Jussi Björling, Richard Verreau, Fritz Wunderlich (with an assist from Hermann Prey), Rudolf Schock, René Kollo, John McCormack, Peter Schreier, and Mel Tormé (with an assist from Judy herself!) And for those who have ambivalent feelings about this holiday, the second half of the program foregrounds six of my most favoritest Depressing Christmas Pop Songs, sung by Eileen Farrell, Rita Gardner, Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and (in memory of the recently deceased Marie Fredriksson), Roxette. A line from Judy’s song “After the Holidays” (by John Meyer) provides the inspiration to the episode title: “I know it’s hard, but try.”

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 12. Gérard Souzay @ 101: A modern-day troubadour



The French baritone Gérard Souzay was born Gérard Tisserand on 8 December 1918 and died in Antibes on 17 August 2004. This episode celebrates his 101st birthday by exploring his recorded legacy, with particular emphasis on his earliest recordings. Repertoire by Jaime Ovalle, César Franck, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Henry Purcell, and Claude Debussy (including an excerpt from his 1955 radio performance of Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande). 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. I make my best effort to argue the case of Souzay’s artistic importance, his continuing significance, and the unique qualities of his artistry.

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 1: Welcome to Countermelody



Episode 1: Welcome to Countermelody, or Claudia and Zazà. Our first episode answers the question on everyone’s lips: “Where did the logo and the theme music come from?” We discuss the legendary Italian diva Claudia Muzio whose series of iconic recordings, particularly those recorded shortly before her premature death in 1936, are so extraordinary that they have kept her reputation intact to this day. We consider in particular her November 1920 recording of an aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s little-remembered verismo opera Zazà, in which her extraordinary artistry is on full display.

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