Category Archives: Richard Wagner

Episode 89. The Radiant Heather Harper



I have dreamed of doing an episode on the great Irish soprano Heather Harper (1930 – 2019) since before I began the podcast. As we we find ourselves in close proximity to both the anniversary of her birth on 8 May 1930 and her death on 22 April 2019, I feel compelled to bring that dream to life. A peerless artist, probably most renowned today for her close collaboration with Benjamin Britten, whose War Requiem she learned ten days before the premiere when the scheduled artist, Galina Vishnevskaya, was refused by the Soviet government to participate in the performance. Her crackerjack musicianship is heard to full advantage in 20th century works by Michael Tippett, Leif Segerstam, Anton Webern, Luigi Dallapiccola, Francis Poulenc, William Walton, and Alban Berg. But her focused, flexible instrument also made her an ideal performer of the Baroque repertoire (we hear her in Purcell, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Bach and Handel). And the surprising stores of power she could summon made her a vital and sympathetic heroine in the operas of Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, and Gounod, as well Britten’s Ellen Orford, of which she was the definitive interpreter. She also excelled in the intimate medium of the Lieder recital. Vocal guest stars include Jessye Norman, Helen Donath, Nicolai Gedda, John Shirley-Quirk, Norman Mittelmann, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and others. Conductors heard include Pierre Boulez, Rudolf Kempe, Colin Davis, Raymond Leppard, Gary Bertini, Meredith Davies, Horst Stein, Anthony Lewis, Carlos Païta, Bernard Haitink, Steuart Bedford, Hans Swarowsky, David Atherton, and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Fasten your seat belts and settle for an overdue tribute to the dazzling versatility and artistry of the great Heather Harper.

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 87. Christa Ludwig In Memoriam



The world of singing sustained an enormous loss a week ago: the death of the great German singer Christa Ludwig on April 24 at the age of 93. A singer whose repertoire centered around the great German composers but who also sang Verdi and French repertoire with often stunning results; a mezzo-soprano who was unparalleled in Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms, but who also sang the great soprano heroines of Richard Strauss; a Lieder singer of great perception and textual acuity whose supple technique nonetheless centered on legato singing: the greatness of this artist simply cannot be overestimated. In this, the first of several episodes that, over the next few months, I will devote to one of my favorite singers, I focus on the key composers (Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Wagner) and conductors (Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, and Leonard Bernstein) with whom she was most closely associated, while also examining some roles that might surprise you: Cenerentola, Amneris and Marie in Wozzeck. Vocal guest stars include Gloria Davy, Victoria de los Ángeles, Reri Grist, Gundula Janowitz, Gwyneth Jones, and Ludwig’s one-time husband Walter Berry. A bonus Patreon episode published concurrently with this one explores Ludwig’s mastery in the field of Lieder.

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


Episode 85. George Shirley @ 87



Today I finally get to pay tribute to one of the singers who was a formative influence on me as a budding opera and vocal aficionado. George Shirley, born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, was one of the most versatile tenors of the second half of the twentieth century, and a pathbreaker as the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I first encountered him through his matchless portrayal of Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande opposite Elisabeth Söderström. But his Mozart is equally celebrated: the podcast also features live and studio recordings of George Shirley as Tamino (opposite Judith Raskin), Don Ottavio, Ferrando (opposite Leontyne Price),  as well as his extraordinary Idomeneo. Extant live performances of George Shirley including assumptions of roles as diverse as Don José (opposite Shirley Verrett), David in Die Meistersinger, Pinkerton (opposite an incandescent young Renata Scotto), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare song recordings from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley, and join me in thanking him for having shared his extraordinary artistic gift with us for all these years!

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


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



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

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


Episode 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.