Category Archives: Queer Pride

Episode 163. Season Four Preview



Today Countermelody is in limbo: balanced between Seasons Three and Four. Over the past few months I’ve been planning the course of the upcoming season and this episode consists of musical tidbits (bocconcini, if you will) of some of the singers and themed series that I am planning for Season Four. Included are retrospectives of singers Judith Raskin, Roberta Alexander, Sammy Davis, Jr., Helen Donath, Hugues Cuénod, Anna Moffo, Denise Duval, and Nicolai Gedda, all of whom are “sampled” today. I’m also planning programs on; “Great Singers We’ve Never Heard Of;” the music of Alec Wilder; the Black male singer as European émigré; “Behind the Iron Curtain;” explorations of both Orchestral Songs and Rare Twentieth-Century Operas; and “Great Singers in Old Age;” as well as, naturally, a closer examination of many of those New York City Opera divas to whom I provided an introduction last week. The new season will also be more interactive, with livestream interviews planned with various fascinating (and legendary!) figures in the world of opera and classical music. Thanks to all for your continued support, friendship, and listenership; see you next week for the debut of Season Four of Countermelody!

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 160. Donald Gramm



Dear ones, I present to you today the extraordinarily versatile bass-baritone and my fellow native Milwaukeean Donald Gramm (1927-1983), one of the central house singers at both the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera from the 1960s through his premature death at the age of 56. Gifted with an intrinsically beautiful voice, an impeccable technique and an expansive range, he also was a crackerjack musician whose repertoire easily encompassed musical styles from florid Baroque music through the thorniest contemporary idioms. He is probably best celebrated these days for his commitment to American art, and this episode features him singing songs by Ned Rorem, John Duke, Richard Cummings, Douglas Moore, and Paul Bowles, with a particular emphasis on texts by Walt Whitman. What is perhaps less well-remembered today is how versatile an opera singer he was, singing roles from Osmin to Scarpia, with a strong emphasis on both bel canto and buffo roles by Rossini and Donizetti. The episode also explores his collaborations with Igor Stravinsky, Glenn Gould, and, perhaps most significantly, Sarah Caldwell, another important musical figure from that era who is strongly deserving of reappraisal.

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 159. Forgotten Broadway II



The follow-up episode to my previous Forgotten Broadway episode is an epic one, chock full of fascinating composers, lyricists, performers and shows. We begin with a tribute to birthday boy Leonard Bernstein, a song from Peter Pan sung by gay Broadway icon Larry Kert. From there we encounter shows by Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Strouse and Adams, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, Schmidt and Jones, Vernon Duke, Mary Rodgers, Sigmund Romberg, Harold Rome and Leroy Anderson, among others, performed by Jane Powell, Pat Suzuki, Melba Moore, Rita Gardner, Jack Cassidy, Rebecca Luker, Cesare Siepi, Susan Johnson, Dody Goodman, Pearl Bailey, Ezio Pinza, Elaine Stritch, Shannon Bolin, and others. Diverse topics discussed include the Broadway revue, queer subjects and performers, and the place of performers of color on Broadway. This is a long episode that I recommend listening to in segments! And please be aware that an equally mammoth third segment on Forgotten Broadway will be published this weekend for my Patreon supporters!

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 158. Russell Oberlin



Hearing the voice of countertenor Russell Oberlin (1928 – 2016) as a soloist with the Robert Shaw Chorale was one of the formative experiences of my early life. I doubt that I would ever have become a countertenor myself had it not been for that beacon of a voice as my shining ideal and example. Many years after his early retirement from singing he extended kindness and generosity to me in a way that has always remained with me. Since I have begun the podcast and with rare exceptions, I generally shy away from discussing other countertenors. Today I break my silence on the topic to present to you the greatest countertenor of them all in all his uniqueness. From his early days as a founding member of the New York Pro Musica and his series of medieval and renaissance music, through his electrifying stage appearances as Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through his standard-setting appearances in Handel and his unexpected but charming expertise as a singer of art song and reciter of poetry: all these aspects of Oberlin’s versatility and artistry are herein represented. A special vocal guest is the tenor Charles Bressler (1926 – 1996), like Oberon a founding member of the New York Pro Musica, who is heard in four duets with Oberlin. Perhaps Oberlin’s greatest achievement lies in the simplicity and nobility of his performances of the music of Henry Purcell, who is also well-represented here. This episode is a must for all lovers of great singing in general and specifically for all who want to hear what well-equalized, technically balanced and secure countertenor singing sounds like.

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 157. Forgotten Broadway I



Today I begin Forgotten Broadway, a new miniseries within my summer series “Musical Life in New York City 1950-1975.” This wildly eclectic (some might say chaotic) program, the first of three, concerns itself with several different aspects of “forgotten” Broadway: forgotten songs, forgotten shows, and forgotten performers; as well as all imaginable combinations of the above. For instance, many might not remember the show Drat! the Cat! but will remember quite well the song “He [originally She] Touched Me.” Everyone remembers Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury, but I would bet that fewer remember their less successful shows Happy Hunting and Dear World. This episode includes songs by Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, Wright and Forrest, and Comden and Green, as well as lesser known composers and lyricists such as Claibe Richardson, Bill and Patti Jacob, and Ervin Drake, sung by such stalwarts as Leslie Uggams, Barbara Cook, Alfred Drake, and Barbra Streisand, as well as such blazing (but less remembered figures) such as Alice Playten, Dolores Gray, Mimi Hines, and June Carroll. Such recently departed figures as Micki Grant, Kenward Elmslie, Sally Ann Howes, and Donald Pippin also receive airplay. Part II will be published in two weeks, and Part III will soon be available as a bonus episode for my Patreon subscribers.

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 151. Cole Porter [Pride 2022]



Because I’m still on the road, I’m posting an old bonus episode in place of a new one this week, and I’m posting it early. This was originally published about two years ago, in tandem with an episode that did on Cesare Siepi, which highlighted Easy to Love, his 1958 album of Cole Porter songs. Among my listeners, most of whom adored that episode, there were a few naysayers, including my own not-boyfriend, who felt that Siepi did not do justice to Porter’s insouciant wordplay. So I decided, as one of my first bonus episodes, to offer an “antidote” to Siepi’s song stylings. This is the episode that resulted. It features a wide range of performers, from Mabel Mercer to kd lang (many of them coincidentally queer), offering their own distinctive take on Porter’s brilliant output. Many of the songs are offered in contrasting versions, including Fred Astaire singing “Night and Day” in his original recording from the 1930s, followed by his 1950s version with a jazz combo led by Oscar Peterson. Or Ethel Merman singing her original recording of “I Get a Kick out of You” from the time of the original production of Anything Goes, followed by her infamous version decades later from The Ethel Merman Disco Album. Please enjoy and I’ll see you again at the end of 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.” 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 150. Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac [Pride 2022]



Something about this week’s episode has really gotten to me. I guess I’m just madly in love with the melodies of Francis Poulenc, and as a result, increasingly in love with the artistry of Pierre Bernac. These two formed an artistic partnership similar in intensity to that shared by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, except that in the case of the Gallic couple, this alliance did not include a romantic element. In spite of that, the pair achieved an artistic intimacy that is sometimes almost painfully honest. Maybe it’s that part of their story that so moves me: that two gay men, neither one sexually involved with the other, still achieved, on an altogether different plane, the deepest kind of intimacy. This episode features performances of the duo in melodies by Poulenc set to texts by Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Louise de Vilmorin, as well as songs by Chabrier, Debussy, Chausson, and Samuel Barber. We also hear Bernac performing Bach and Schumann in collaboration with Robert Casadesus, Charles Munch, and Roger Désormière; and Poulenc accompanying singers Denise Duval, Hugues Cuénod, Geneviève Touraine, and Bernard Kruysen in both live and studio recordings. The episode features extensive discussion, mostly from Bernac’s book on Poulenc and his songs, of Poulenc’s devotion to poetry and his very particular compositional method of getting to the heart of a poem.


Episode 149. Music Black and Queer



Over the course of history, for Persons of Color who also happen to be queer, the interface between these two populations is sometimes an enormously challenging one, but one which also frequently produces path-breaking musical artists of enormous courage and originality. In celebration of Juneteenth this coming weekend, and as a follow-up to my Queer Blues episode published last year, I once again pay tribute to an extraordinary array of Black and Queer musical artists across a wide spectrum of popular musical styles, be it Blues, jazz. middle-of-the-road pop, musicals, rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and folk. Artists represented include Billy Strayhorn, Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Tracy Chapman, Mabel Mercer, Joan Armatrading, Nona Hendryx, Sylvester, Joséphine Baker, Jackie Shane, Carmen McRae, Billy Preston, Esquerita, and Carolyn Franklin, Michael R. Jackson, the 2022 Tony Award winner for A Strange Loop, is introduced by my dear friend the theater scholar David Savran, who describes what makes this piece and its creator so daring and original.

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 148. Judy Garland @ 100



On Friday 10 June 2022, Judy Garland celebrates her 100th birthday. My Pride 2022 series kicks off with a close examination of Judy’s status as gay icon, as well as my claim that Garland was, is, and remains the world’s greatest entertainer of all time. As always with Countermelody, the proof is in the performances, and I share a generous sampling of recordings, primarily from the final years of Judy’s life, that bolster that claim. Included are performances of songs by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Ted Koehler, Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Jule Styne, Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner, Cole Porter, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, Gilbert Bécaud, Wright and Forrest, Schwartz and Dietz, Charles Chaplin, and others, in live recordings from The Judy Garland Show, which ran for a single season in 1963-64; live concert performances from New York, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Philadelphia, and Copenhagen; and a smattering of rare studio recordings. I also discuss the impact of Judy’s enormous talent impact on my own life, as well as her still-substantial numbers of worldwide fans. Vocal guest stars include two other classic gay icons, Barbra Streisand, and Judy’s own daughter, Liza Minnelli.

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 138. Cabaret Risqué: Broadway Edition



At Countermelody, this April Fool’s Day begins with a dirty musical joke, and a great one! The episode continues with nearly a century’s worth of performances of risqué songs, most but not all of them from musicals. Among the composers and lyricists, the great Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Brecht and Weill, Comden and Green, Carolyn Leigh, Alec Wilder, Stephen Sondheim, Bolcom and Weinstein, Fred Barton, the late Francesca Blumenthal, my friends Richard Pearson Thomas and Lawrence Rush, and the mysterious Durwood Douché. Among the performers, who really let their raunchy side out, Pearl Bailey, Eddie Cantor, Judy Holliday, Mabel Mercer, Gertrude Lawrence, Ann Miller, Vivienne Segal, Marlene Dietrich, Elisabeth Welch, Martha Wright, Raul Julia, Gertrude Niesen, Chita Rivera, Nina Hagen, Mary Martin, Julie Wilson, and Lea DeLaria, among many others. Fasten your seat belts: this is a long episode, but a beautifully down and dirty one!

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 134. Legacy (Black History Month 2022 Postlude)



This is the second part of my final episode of Black History Month 2022, continuing the exploration of the legacies of more than two dozen mostly underrecorded African American artists. Each piece of this aural mosaic fills in gaps in the recorded history of these artists. After opening memorial tributes to Josephine Veasey, Antonietta Stella, and Betty Davis, the episode is broken into several sections: first, recordings of Baroque music by Aubrey Pankey, Carmen Balthrop, Adele Addison, Betty Allen, Seth McCoy, Marvin Hayes, and a rare live recording by Marian Anderson, whose 125th birthday was observed this past week. There follow recordings of concert repertoire sung by Dorothy Maynor, Louise Parker, and Grace de la Cruz, with William Pearson and Julius Eastman leading us briefly into the bizarre world of the extended vocal techniques of the 1960s. There follow recorded performances of art song by Helen Colbert, Rhea Jackson, John Riley, Clamma Dale, Ellabelle Davis, Marvis Martin, and Cynthia Haymon, whereupon the episode concludes with some rare performances of operatic repertoire with Gwendolyn Killebrew, Claudia Lindsey, Dagmar Průšová, and Gwendolyn Walters, capped by an exquisite a cappella performance of “A City Called Heaven” by the great Mattiwilda Dobbs.

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 130. Hutch (Black History Month 2022)



Leslie Hutchinson (1900-1969), known universally as Hutch, rose from his beginnings in Grenada, to become the biggest music star in London in the 1930s. Though he is but little remembered today, he personified class and élan with his smooth, supple baritone and his relaxed yet buoyant pianistic stylings. His career spanned the years from 1923 to his death, and this episode samples recordings ranging over that entire period. His musical importance is overridden today by the many sexual exploits with both women and men that remain even today, legendary. This episode highlights not just the music of Cole Porter, Hutch’s mentor and lover, but covers the entire gamut of the Great American Songbook and beyond, including many near-definitive performances of works by Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Schwartz and Dietz, and Jerome Kern, as well as some classic British standards.

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 124. Dave’s Picks



Today’s special episode is in honor of my best friend, partner-in-crime and Corona-lockdown buddy, the distinguished theater scholar and author David Savran, who this week once again celebrated another journey around the sun. I invited him to be the first guest in a new series I will be presenting on Countermelody featuring colleagues and friends speaking about the music (and the singers!) that have most deeply affected and inspired them. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the nearly two decades that we have known each other, that David’s taste in music and singers often falls neatly in step with mine. But there are many other musical paths and byways that he has explored that have taken him in quite different directions. Our spirited dialogue is punctuated by music that spoke to him most deeply in the first 25 years of his life. We hear samples of everything and everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to Grace Slick, from Cathy Berberian to Joni Mitchell, from Lisa della Casa to Nina Hagen, from Alfred Drake to Frank Zappa. The episode also constitutes a fascinating exploration of the role that memory and nostalgia play in the creation of musical tastes and preferences. Happy Birthday, Davey, and thanks for being my guest!

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 122. Auld Acquaintance II



Part Two of my “Auld Acquaintance” mini-series on Countermelody continues the exploitation of even more artists who have already been featured on the podcast, but in rare recordings that have only recently come into my collection. Today’s episode begins with a tribute to the German-based African American mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 80. Featured artists in the main episode include Paul Robeson, Magda Olivero, Edda Moser, Ileana Cotrubas, Carol Brice, Margaret Price, Igor Gorin, Josephine Baker, Eidé Noréna, Alberta Hunter, Thomas Carey, Christa Ludwig, Sylvia Sass, Francisco Araiza, William Warfield, and many, many more singing everything from reggae to Rigoletto. 2021 gets a better send-off than it deserves, what with these singers and this music that will certainly help us all to approach the upcoming New Year “keeping the song in our hearts!”

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 118. Stephen Sondheim & Joséphine Baker



Two titans of culture were in the news this past week for very different reasons. Just as I was publishing last week’s episode came the news that Stephen Sondheim had died at the age of 91 a few hours earlier. Today’s episode begins with a by-no-means-exhaustive tribute to the composer-lyricist, whose work completely changed the face of the so-called Broadway and who is responsible for two of my very favorite stage works of all time, Follies and Sweeney Todd. Second, the great French-American artiste Joséphine Baker was inducted this week into the Panthéon in Paris, the first American and the first person of color to be afforded this honor. I have been an undying fan of La Baker since I first encountered her during my childhood, first in the pages of Time magazine and second, nearly fifteen years later, on an astonishing PBS television special. While I touch, as one must, upon her enormous cultural importance and significance, the focus today is on her prowess as musician, singer, and showperson. I feature excerpts from her first recording session in 1926 through her final stage appearance in April 1975, just days before her death. Though these two icons shared little common ground, their individual importance simply cannot be overestimated.

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 115. Jules Bledsoe



This week I present an important African American artist who has been nearly forgotten by history: the bass-baritone Jules Bledsoe (1897-1943). He is most remembered for creating the role of Joe in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, but he was equally celebrated in his time for his memorable concerts, which took place both here and in Europe, and for his operatic portrayals, most significantly, the title role in Louis Gruenberg’s opera The Emperor Jones, based on the play by Eugene O’Neill, which he portrayed both in the United States and in Europe. When this opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1933, the legendary baritone Lawrence Tibbett created the title role (in blackface). Barred from singing at the Met because of his race, Bledsoe took his portrayal of Brutus Jones on the road, performing it in a triumphant European tour, but also subsequently in New York in 1934 under the aegis of the short-lived Aeolian Opera Company, which was intended to provide performing opportunities for Black opera singers, but which folded almost immediately. Jules Bledsoe was also a composer who wrote many songs and arrangements of spirituals, as well as a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin entitled Bondage, as well as his own operatic setting of O’Neill’s Emperor Jones, which may or may not have been performed at the time. Even less well-known and acknowledged is that Jules Bledsoe was a gay man in a relationship with a Dutch white man named Freddy Huygens who at the time of Bledsoe’s premature death was referred to as either his “manager” or his “closest friend.” I present examples of all the extant recorded material I could find by Jules Bledsoe, alongside recorded examples of work by his collaborators Abbie Mitchell, Irene Dunne, Anne Roselle, Marie Powers, Todd Duncan and excerpts from the work of composers W. Franke Harling, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and Louis Gruenberg performed by Jeanette MacDonald, Valaida Snow, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and Lawrence Tibbett. Billie Holiday even puts in a special appearance! The episode also includes tributes to the recently departed British soprano Joan Carlyle and the US-American bass-baritone Jake Gardner.

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 112. Barry McDaniel



This past week would have been the 91st birthday of Barry McDaniel (1930-2018), the great US-American Berlin-based lyric baritone whose artistry encompassed opera, oratorio (particularly the music of Bach), art song (particularly Lieder), and contemporary music, as well as delicious forays into operetta. This episode celebrates all aspects of this exceptionally fine singer, whose immediately recognizable voice, allied to a firm technique, superb diction, superior musicianship, and devotion to his craft yielded finely-hewn, distinctively inflected performances in a career which spanned nearly fifty years. The episode features him singing music of Strauss, Bach, Rossini, Schubert, Reimann, Ravel, Henze, Rossini, Mozart, Debussy, Millöcker and more. Vocal guest stars include Alfredo Kraus, Agnes Giebel, Kurt Böhme, Arlene Saunders, Mack Harrell (who was McDaniel’s teacher), and Edita Gruberová, to whom we pay especial tribute after her tragic death early last 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.” 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 103. Gilbert Price



Never heard of Gilbert Price? This episode will remedy that situation. With a voice that was easily produced, full-ranged, tonally refulgent, technically poised, the three-time Tony nominee Gilbert Price (1942-1991) deserves to be more fully remembered today for his deeply expressive portrayals, including a starring role in Leonard Bernstein’s failed Bicentennial musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He also starred in Timbuktu!, Promenade, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, and Langston Hughes’s 1964 musical pageant Jerico-Jim Crow, which also featured the recently deceased Micki Grant in one of her first featured roles. I feature Gilbert Price in numerous live performances, both on stage and on television, as well as four obscure singles he made for Columbia Records, in addition to considering his tragic demise. The episode also features an 88th birthday tribute to Janet Baker as well as commemorations of Grant and other recently departed musicians.

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 102. John Reardon



Here’s another great baritone to help get us through another week: the extraordinarily versatile and talented John Reardon (1930-1988). Possessed of a voice of extraordinary beauty and flexibility, as well as deeply intuitive interpretive powers and a profound musicality and dramatic sensibility, he had everything it took to make his mark in the fields of musicals, operetta, and opera (the latter in both standard, and, even more significantly, contemporary repertoire). I have several rare live recordings as well as some uncommon studio recordings to share with my listeners. Guest stars include Leontyne Price, Judith Raskin, Jo Sullivan, Lisa Della Casa, Alexander Young, Ragnar Ulfung, Evelyn Lear, and Bliss Hebert, in a rare outing as a pianist accompanying Reardon in a 1967 recording of American art songs. I also pay homage to his television appearances, both on NBC Opera and, especially, between 1968 and 1986, as the character “Reardon” in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which served to introduce countless multitudes of children to the glories of opera.

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 96. Great Baritones Sing Charles Ives



To help me and all my American friends celebrate the Fourth of July, I bring you a gorgeous bevy of great low-voiced singers performing songs by that emblematic US-American composer Charles Ives. I offer thirty of his songs which display a wide range of compositional, musical, and literary styles. Some of the greatest Ives interpreters are on display here, including Thomas Stewart, Samuel Ramey, Donald Gramm, Sanford Sylvan, Kurt Ollmann, Gerald Finley, William Sharp, and William Parker, accompanied by Alan Mandel, Dalton Baldwin, Alan Feinberg, Warren Jones, Steven Blier, Craig Rutenberg, and others. I finish the program with late Jerry Hadley performing that most celebratory of Ives’s songs, “The Circus Band.”

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 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 81. Happy Songs (straight up)



This week I offset the gloom of last week’s music with straight-up joy. No gimmicks, no goofiness, no weird accents. Whether the composer is Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Benatzky, Aaron Copland, Oleta Adams, or Harold Arlen, and whether sung by Nancy Wilson, Dorothy Maynor, Tina Turner, Maria Callas, Max Hansen, Conchita Supervia, Barbra Streisand, Mahalia Jackson, Lisa Della Casa, or the Pointer Sisters, all today’s selections are guaranteed to make you feel a little lighter, a little more joyous. And in today’s continuing climate of pandemic uncertainty, who doesn’t need a little more of that?

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 79. Dusty Springfield Sings Carole King



How exciting to go straight from Black History Month to Women’s History Month! Over the course of this coming month, I am going to feature programs on my favoritest singers of all time! For the first episode, I break with normal Countermelody protocol and feature the quintessential pop singer, Dusty Springfield, whose career spanned the early 1960s through the mid-1990s. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to do an all-Dusty episode and since this past week was the 22nd anniversary of her premature death at the age of 59 of cancer, the time seemed right to present her to my listeners in all her eclectic glory. Because we are celebrating women this month, I decided to present Dusty singing material exclusively by female composers and lyricists, including all of extant recordings of songs by the great Carole King, most in collaboration with her longtime songwriting partner, the late Gerry Goffin. Other songwriters represented include Janis Ian, Karla Bonoff, Scherrie Payne, Norma Tanega, and Carole Pope; lyricists include Dorothy Fields and Marilyn Bergman, and vocal guest stars include Tom Jones and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. This week’s bonus episode, available to Patreon subscribers, features further Dusty performances, both live and studio. Come and let me guide you through the glory of All Things Dusty!

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.


Episode 56. Happy Birthday to moi! (A festive playlist)



I was born this very day a specific number of years ago. My friends know exactly whe this landmark event took place. Today also marks the rollout of Season Two of Countermelody complete with a brand new theme song, once again sung by my girl Claudia Muzio. In celebration of these events, I’ve decided to give you a playlist of a few of my favorite pop divas, my association of some of whom stretches all the way back to my childhood. And what a motley assortment it is! Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, the recently deceased Juliette Gréco, ABBA, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Raitt, Billie Holiday, Eurythmics, Jackie DeShannon, Dolly Parton, Laura Lee, Yma Sumac, Nicole Croisille, Linda Ronstadt, Freda Payne, Joey Heatherton, Dinah Washington, Dalida, Aretha, and of course my beloved Dusty. I’ve even thrown a few guys into the mix! This is a playlist worthy of any diva-loving late-middle aged homosexual that any lover of sometimes good music and mostly fantastic singing can enjoy. And you will enjoy it, dagnabbit. Cuz it’s my birthday and I said so!

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!

 


Episode 49. Eileen Farrell (Crossover Classics V)



The American dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell (1920–2002) was one of the finest and most versatile singers the United States has ever produced. Her singing career lasted more than fifty years, and this episode covers the entire chronological range of that career, from her early work as a radio singer in the 1940s to her final pop albums in the 1990s. While the episode focuses on her crossover work (and includes work by, among others, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, as heard on two of her lesser-known pop albums with Percy Faith and the late André Previn), we also sample her opera and concert work, with examples from Verdi and Wagner, to Debussy and Charpentier, to Barber and Menotti. A late reunion with her frequent collaborator Leonard Bernstein caps the episode. In all her singing Farrell combines ease of delivery and a relaxed, insouciant response to the words and music with a vocal and interpretive precision that inevitably strikes a bullseye. Bow down to the Queen of Crossover, nay, the Queen of Song!

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!


Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)



For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

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 41. Ira Siff: La Gran Scena and Beyond



Today’s episode is an interview I did with Ira Siff, artistic director of La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York, alter ego of the beloved “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borszkh, lecturer for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Weekly Commentator on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. My association with Ira and Gran Scena goes back more than thirty years, when he provided me with my first employment as a singer when my alter ego Daniela della Scarpone sang for two years with the renowned travesty opera company. I sat down with Ira in his East Village apartment last this past January for a wide-ranging interview in which we discuss his early days as a standee at the old Met (where some of his opera-going experiences included Maria Callas’s final Tosca performances, Renata Scotto’s 1965 debut as Madama Butterfly, and Leonie Rysanek’s wild traversals of Verdi and Wagner). He discusses his first performing experiences in the early 1970s in association with Al Carmines and others, the genesis of La Gran Scena and their development into a worldwide phenomenon, and his subsequent “legitimate” career as lecturer, stage director, vocal coach and voice teacher and commentator all stemmed from in his words, “getting in a dress and singing soprano,” which he dubs “the strangest part.” This is a free-wheeling and extremely Opera Queeny interview, peppered with Ira’s unique anecdotes and snippets from Gran Scena (and other!) performances. There is no better way to celebrate Gay Pride in isolation than to listen to this episode!

Ira Siff is a native New Yorker, who grew up on the standing room line of the old Metropolitan Opera, worshiping the famous singers of the 60’s.

A graduate of the Cooper Union, with a degree in Fine Arts, Mr. Siff began to study voice, and made his debut as a tenor in 1970. For the next decade, he performed roles in opera, operetta and musicals in the New York, at The New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle in the Square, Playwrights Horizons, and many other venues. Turning to cabaret, Ira created an act using vocal parody of opera, jazz, and other styles of music, gaining critical acclaim, and a loyal following.

In 1981, he founded La Gran Scena Opera Co. di New York, the internationally acclaimed travesty troupe, whose gifted falsetto “divas” have spoofed opera with great affection for over two decades, in New York annually, and on tours to some of the great festivals, theatres and opera houses of the world.

For the past thirty years, Mr. Siff has been a voice teacher and interpretive coach, teaching in New York, Italy, Israel, Holland and China, giving Master Classes for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and was on the faculty of the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy. Ira was a guest teacher of bel canto technique at The Royal Conservatory in Den Haag in 2008, and then at the Dutch National Opera Academy for five seasons, and at the Amsterdam Conservatory in The Netherlands where he returned annually, and was appointed Permanent Guest Teacher.

In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his productions of operas ranging from Tosca, Turandot, and La Fanciulla del West to Lakmé, Werther, and La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sarasota Opera, The Caramoor Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he directed productions of Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Ariadne auf Naxos. All in all, he has directed operas for companies in New Jersey to New Zealand, with stops along the way in Puerto Rico, Lima, Peru and Utah. Singers whom he has directed include Sumi Jo, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, Eglise Gutierrez, Krassimira Stoyanova, and the late Marcello Giordani. Conductors with whom he has collaborated as a stage director have included Richard Bonynge, Christoph von Dohnányi, and James Levine.

He has also given master classes in bel canto and verismo for the Metropolitan Opera Guild every season since 2008 and has presented sold-out lectures for the Met Guild as well on a variety of operatic topics. These lectures can be heard on the podcast of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Ira also lectures on opera twenty times a season for two private classes, has been a contributor of reviews and features to Opera News since 1997 and has been Weekly Commentator on the Met Broadcasts since 2007.

La Gran Scena Opera Company was conceived and launched in 1981 by its Artistic Director Ira Siff and performed extensively in New York and around the world for the next twenty years, including seasons and tours in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and The Kennedy Center and at some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals. In New York, the company’s performances at Town Hall, Symphony Space, and (finally in 1998 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall) were enormously popular and earned them a legion of fans, including Renata Scotto, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, James Levine, and Anna Moffo, among many others, whose appearances at live performances of the company were a thrill and delight for all who were in attendance.

The company wound down its activities with a New York Farewell in October 2001 and a week of performances at the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in November 2002, but the company’s prima donna, “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borzkh, (as embodied by Ira Siff), continued to alternately present comeback performances and annual farewell recitals until 2009, when Ira and Madame Vera finally bid farewell to the stage for real. Fortunately, for the joy and amusement of opera lovers everywhere, many of the performances of Vera and other favorite company members, including Philene Wannelle, Sylvia Bills, Fodor Szedan, Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi, and the legendary 105-year-old diva Gabriella Tonnoziti-Casseruola, under the various batons of the company’s various music directors, including Francesco Folinari-Soave-Coglioni, Sergio Zawa, Helmut Maria Dorf, and Lorenzo Costellata-Denaro are available for viewing on Madame Vera’s YouTube channel as well as on DVD’s published by VAI, including the delicious biographical show, Vera: Life of a Diva and The Annual Farewell Recital.

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.