Category Archives: Opera in Translation

Episode 75. Lenora Lafayette (BHM2021 III)



Every so often I discover a singer who had previously not come under my radar, but who simply blows me away with their voice, artistry, and communicative powers. Such an artist is the Baton Rouge-born African American soprano Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975), historically important as the first Black artist to perform at Covent Garden. Relocating to Basel shortly after finishing her training under Dusolina Giannini at Juilliard, Lafayette encountered early career success in Switzerland, winning the Geneva Competition and making a highly successful debut at the Basel Opera as Aida, a role which, along with Madama Butterfly, she performed hundreds of times. And yet, despite enormous career success in Europe, she was never able to establish herself in her native country. Her recorded legacy is slim but revelatory: an Aida in German under Clemens Krauss; a 1958 BBC recording of Frederick Delius’s opera Koanga; and a single commercial recording of Puccini duets with Welsh tenor Richard Lewis under the baton of John Barbirolli, who also led her Covent Garden debut. All of these precious documents are sampled on this episode. She was struck down with cancer in her early forties and died prematurely at the age of 49. And yet listening to her recordings, one is struck by the emotional power of her utterance, the firmness of her vocal technique, and the bloom of her exquisite voice. Lenora Lafayette deserves a place among the greatest singers of her generation.

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 71. Eidé Noréna



Kaja Eidé Noréna (1884-1968, née Karoline Hansen), the Norwegian lyric-coloratura soprano, is one of the greatest singers of her generation, and nearly forgotten today. She made her concert debut at the age of 19 and in 1907 began her operatic career as Amor in Orfeo ed Euridice. In 1909 she married the actor Egil Eide, through whose coaching she became celebrated for her dramatic portrayals. Under her married name Kaja Eide she became one of the Norway’s most famous singers, though her career was essentially a provincial one until, mid-career, she restudied her technique and rebuilt her voice, which led to her La Scala debut as Gilda under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (and under her new professional name, Eide Norena). She went on to an international career, performing in the world’s most celebrated opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, and, particularly, the Paris Opéra. Her repertoire was a wide one, ranging from Ophélie to Desdemona, and her vocal technique was solid to the point of near-perfection, her legato singing being particularly remarkable. What sets her apart, and what makes her one of my favorite singers, is her profoundly musical interpretations allied to her keen dramatic sense. The majority of the recordings featured on the episode are from the 1930s. Noréna retired in 1938 and spent the remainder of her life in Switzerland, where she died in 1968. Noréna is, for me, everything that a great singer should be, and it is a particular honor for me to feature her on the podcast.

A bonus episode posted today on my Patreon page (www.patreon.com/countermelody) features Noréna in the role of Juliette in Gounod’s opera, including both live and studio recordings of duets with Charles Hackett and Gaston Micheletti.

And a link to the article about Noréna that I wrote in 2007 for my long-defunct blog: www.counterleben.blogspot.com/2007/07/fairy-from-ice.html

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 63. Polyglot Wagner (Opera in Translation I)



Something a little different today: Wagner sung in a variety of languages, none of them German. Throughout much of the 20th Century, it was not at all unusual for Wagner’s operas to be performed in the vernacular. I have chosen to present this phenomenon in recordings and live performances over nearly six decades (1903-1962) and in four different languages (French, Italian, Swedish, and Russian). We examine how the language being sung influences phrasing and expression, even characterization. Operas represented include Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal. Singers include Germaine Lubin, Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Söderström, Mafalda Favero, Marjorie Lawrence, Ninon Vallin, Marcella Pobbe, Karin Branzell, Aureliano Pertile, Georges Thill, Leonid Sobinov, Miguel Fleta, Paul Franz, Ivan Ershov, Sergei Lemeshev, César Vezzani, Set Svanholm, Martial Singher, Bernhard Sönnerstedt, Rolando Panerai, Sigurd Björling, Boris Christoff, and Mark Reizen. Hop aboard the Wagner Express for a most unusual journey!

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.