Category Archives: Twentieth Century Opera

Episode 242. Damon Evans Introduces George Shirley (Listeners’ Favorites IX)



This week I present a Countermelody mini-series paying tribute to three great African American artists who were born in Baltimore. First up is the eclectic, versatile, and prodigiously talented Damon Evans, who introduces the latest Listeners’ Favorites episode, a tribute to an idol we both treasure, the phenomenal and pathbreaking George Shirley, who on April 18 will celebrate his 90th birthday. Damon chose to do his introduction as an interview, so as a prelude to the main episode, my listeners get to hear one amazing tenor sing the praises of another one!

George Shirley is 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 the late Renata Scotto in an incandescent early performance of one of her greatest roles), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare recordings of art songs and spirituals from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley and join me in thanking him for having shared so generously with us his extraordinary artistic gifts!


Episode 240. Annabelle Bernard (BHM 2024)



Last week we celebrated the 97th birthday of our Ur-Diva, Leontyne Price. And today, continuing my Black History Month 2024 theme of “Forgotten Divas,” I present to you a Verdi soprano of similar repertoire and voice to Miss Price, Annabelle Bernard (1935-2005), whose career, unlike Price’s, was centered primarily in Europe, specifically at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, where she was a member of the company for nearly forty years. Born in New Orleans, she received her early musical training from Earl Hogan (uncle of the famous composer and conductor Moses Hogan) and Sister Mary Elise Sisson, whom Bernard herself credited with being her formative and primary musical inspiration. With the patronage of Edith Rosenwald Stern, an heiress to the Sears-Roebuck fortune, Bernard found early success in Europe, winning second prize in the Munich ARD Competition in 1960, settling in Berlin in 1962. Annabelle Bernard was married to the German tenor Karl-Ernst Mercker (1933-2021), who in addition to appearing alongside her in many performances and productions, was also a fierce advocate for his wife during her tenure in Berlin, when she would encounter racism. The two of them retired to New Orleans in 1998, where Bernard became a voice teacher at Xavier University, her alma mater. This episode includes rare live clips of the soprano in works by Verdi, Mercadante, and Dallapiccola, as well as from her sole commercial recording, excerpts from Porgy and Bess in German alongside the iconic African American baritone Lawrence Winters, released in 1964, the year before Winters’s untimely death. Mercker’s strong lyric tenor is also featured in a few brief excerpts, but the main focus is on the radiant voice and artistry of Annabelle Bernard. Believe me when I tell you that I remain on the lookout for further recordings 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.” 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.


Episode 239. Gwendolyn Killebrew (BHM 2024)



This week’s “Forgotten Diva” is the mezzo-soprano / contralto Gwendolyn Killebrew (26 August 1941 – 24 December 2021), who made an indelible contribution to opera in particular during the active years of her career (1965 – 2009). Though the majority of her career was centered at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, she sang the world over with some of the most important opera companies (including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Bayreuth, Washington Opera, Santa Fe Opera, La Monnaie, and the Bayerische Staatsoper), conductors (Pierre Boulez, Gary Bertini, Michael Gielen, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Georg Solti), and stage directors (Patrice Chéreau, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, August Everding, Giancarlo del Monaco, Christof Loy, and John Dew). She had an enormous repertoire from Monteverdi and Handel to Henze and Fortner, excelling in particular in various Wagner roles. She was also a superb actor, who, through the use minimal gestures and stage business, made an enormous impact. This episode presents her in a wide range of material, including both live and commercial recordings ranging from Cavalieri to Zimmermann, alongside such fellow singers as Teresa Stratas, Carlo Bergonzi, Hermann Prey, Stuart Burrows, Sherrill Milnes, and Gail Gilmore led by conductors Leonard Bernstein, Gary Bertini, Bohumil Gregor, Berislav Klobučar, James Levine, Heinz Wallberg, and Eve Queler. Of special interest is a rare live recording of her prize-winning performance of “Asie” from Ravel’s Shéhérazade at the 1967 International Voice Competition in Montréal. The episode opens with brief memorial tributes to soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez and pianist Thomas Muraco.

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.


Episode 238. Delcina Stevenson (BHM2024)



I am so grateful to all the listeners who did introductions to their favorite episodes last month. It provided me with a little bit of needed breathing space and now I am back raring to go with my first new episode for 2024, just in time for Black History Month 2024! There is a secondary theme for this month which is “Forgotten Divas,” a favorite topic of mine at any time of year. The term “forgotten” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because these women are anything but forgotten among those who experienced their singing, teaching, or friendship live and in person. Nevertheless, for want of a better term (Divas Who Deserve to Be As Well-Remembered as Any of Their More Famous Counterparts seems a little wordy), I’ll stick with the designation I chose.

Today’s artist is the only “Forgotten Diva” who is still with us, soprano Delcina Stevenson, born 29 September 1933, so this enables me to also “give flowers” (to coin a present-day term I actually like) to her directly. She was born in Kansas and graduated from Kansas University. After moving to California in 1960, she coached and studied with Lotte Lehmann, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Martial Singher, and William Vennard, and was a protégée early in her career of Kurt Herbert Adler at the San Francisco Opera. She has lived and performed around the world, primarily in California, New York, and Germany. She possessed one of the most exquisite lyric soprano voices I have ever heard, one which never aged, but simply grew more lush and voluminous. The musical excerpts I have compiled feature her in live and studio recordings from over the course of more than 30 years, ranging Mozart to Sondheim to Rossini, in which that voice is on shimmering display. I am thrilled to introduce (or reintroduce) her to you.

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.


Episode 234. David Savran Introduces Carol Brice (Listeners’ Favorites V)



This Listeners’ Favorites episode serves a dual purpose: first it is a celebration the publication this week of my partner David Savran’s new book, Tell It to the World: The Broadway Musical Abroad, by Oxford University Press. (I’ll be doing two episodes with David on this book in March in conjunction with the book launch.) Second, David introduces us to one of his favorite Countermelody episodes, a 2021 Black History Month celebration of the life, voice, and career of the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985), whose career encompassed both Broadway and opera. It’s that very versatility that most attracted David to Brice’s work. He describes to us his first exposure to a variety of her recordings, from Falla to Finian’s Rainbow. I myself first heard Carol Brice in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. Brice’s second husband, the baritone Thomas Carey is also featured in a pair of recordings. Thank you, David, for re-introducing my listeners to this great artist, and congratulations on your monumental new book!

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.

 


Episode 233 – Dusty Pörn Introduces Eleanor Steber (Listeners’ Favorites IV)



Today’s subject is Eleanor Steber, certainly one of the greatest and most versatile of American sopranos. She is introduced by one of the most recent (and most colorful) of all of my listeners, the San Francisco-based drag artiste (and vocalist extraordinaire) Dusty Pörn. In this very special episode, which I first posted in the summer of 2022 in honor of Steber’s 108th birthday, musical selections from across the duration of Steber’s long career, are supplemented by the generous and loving commentary of my friend, singer and conductor Michelle Oesterle, who was Eleanor’s stepdaughter. As such Michelle spent time (especially in the summer months) with her father and Eleanor at Melody Hill, Eleanor’s estate on Long Island. She provides us with an unparalleled intimate portrait of Eleanor as woman and as singer and describes the profound influence that Eleanor had in her life, as well as the characteristics that combined to make her the profoundly appealing and moving interpreter that she was. She also addresses the white elephant in the room, that is, Eleanor’s alcoholism, and makes a plea for tolerance and understanding vis-à-vis this serious disease. Many thanks to both Dusty and Michelle for their loving and perceptive tributes to this greatest of singers and artists.

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.

 


Episode 232. Janet Williams and Paul Padillo Introduce Maria Ewing (Listeners’ Favorites III)



January 9 is already the second anniversary of the death of the iconoclastic (and iconic) Maria Ewing, who died of cancer in her home outside of her native Detroit on January 9, 2022. She was an artist both admired and derided during her lifetime, whose importance since her death has only become more apparent. It so happens that two of my most faithful listeners, Janet Williams and Paul Padillo, chose the episode that I published in her honor as their favorite episode. Paul is a passionate opera advocate who maintains a blog as well as a Facebook page in which he writes with extraordinary eloquence about the musical genre we all adore. Janet is celebrated throughout the world as one of the finest singers of her generation who has gone on to become one of the most important voice teachers in the world today, teaching, with compassion and common sense, a technique grounded in the essentials of bel canto. Their spoken introductions to the episode highlight different aspects of what made Ewing so special. For Paul, he became a lifelong fan after hearing her performance of Blanche de la Force in Poulenc’s operatic masterpiece, The Dialogues of the Carmelites. For Janet, it was a shared provenance (both were natives of Detroit) as well as a common mentor, the late David Di Chiera, who founded and ran Michigan Opera Theatre, the company featured both Maria and Janet in some of their first operatic appearances. Maria’s passing hit me particularly hard because at the time of her death, I was in the midst of creating a special episode in her honor and had been immersing myself in her fascinating performances, finding myself more and more in awe of her one-of-a-kind artistry. This tribute episode is simply not to be missed.

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.


Episode 221. Robert Massard



This is an episode I have been planning for years now! This past August 15, the great French baritone Robert Massard turned 98 years old. As many of my listeners know, I have a thing for baritones in general, and I have devoted episodes to artists of the baritone persuasion from world-renowned to virtually unknown to somewhere in-between. Just think of it: Gérard Souzay, Jorma Hynninen, Eugene Holmes, Andrzej Hiolski, Gabriel Bacquier, Will Parker, Gilbert Price: these and many more have already been featured with more (Hugo Hasslo, Eric Sædén) on the horizon for next season. But I would be hard-pressed to think of a baritone who possessed a more beautiful natural voice, a more refined technique, or a more elegant artistry than did Robert Massard, who in his thirty-odd years of career chalked up approximately 2,500 performances, including 1,003 at the Paris Opéra alone (the same number, he himself points out, as Don Giovanni’s conquests)! Massard also sang an incredibly varied (though primarily operatic) repertoire, and this episode presents highlights from both the standard to the more obscure repertoire, from Gluck, Gounod, Verdi, and Massenet; to Reyer, Milhaud, Lalo, and Diaz (who?). These recordings are supplemented by a number of excerpts from French operetta (Planquette, Varney, Messager, and Beydts) which provide unalloyed melodic delight, the Massard voice heard at its absolute peak. And the colleagues who appear opposite Massard are like a Who’s Who of great opera singers (French and otherwise) of the era: Régine Crespin, Mady Mesplé, Denise Duval, Shirley Verrett (subject of next week’s episode!), Andréa Guiot, Jean Giraudeau, André Turp, Marilyn Horne, Renée Doria, Jane Rhodes, Andrée Esposito, Rita Gorr, and the falcon Suzanne Sarroca, who died last month at the age of 96. And if you listen very closely, you will also catch fleeting glimpses of favorites Patricia Neway and George Shirley. I know I say this too often, but if you only listen to one episode of Countermelody, make it this 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 220. La Fiamma (The Haunted Opera House II)



A year ago, I posted an episode entitled “The Haunted Opera House” that featured a wide range of spooky, witchy, Halloween-appropriate 20th century operas from Prokofiev to Penderecki. This year I focus in on one of the works from that episode, Ottorino Respighi’s 1934 masterpiece La Fiamma, based on a 1908 play on witch hunts and witchcraft in 16th century Norway by the novelist and playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen entitled Anna Pedersdotter, the Witch. This work also formed the basis for the Carl Dreyer film Day of Wrath. Respighi and his librettist Claudio Guastalla transferred the action to seventh-century Ravenna in the early days of Christianity. Musically the work combines Respighi’s interest with Gregorian chant, modal scales and harmonies, and the work of Claudio Monteverdi with his penchant for stunning orchestrations. The dramatically potent result was his most famous operatic work, but after an initial succès d’estime, it has only retained the slightest hold on the operatic fringes. Nevertheless, the heroine Silvana in particular is a role that great sopranos have made their own over the years, including Claudia Muzio, Gina Cigna, Giuseppina Cobelli, and Rosa Raisa (none of whom sadly recorded any excerpts) through Montserrat Caballé, Nelly Miricioiu, Ilona Tokody, Stefka Evstatieva, and Mara Coleva. I tell the story of the opera while offering substantial excerpts, which, in addition to the sopranos mentioned above, also include such operatic heavyweights as James McCracken, Carlo Tagliabue, Deborah Voigt, Giacinto Prandelli, Delcina Stevenson, Felicity Palmer, Juan Pons, Anna Moffo, and Mignon Dunn, among others. Just the thing to scare you out of your skin this Halloween!

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 213. Julia Varady



A week ago the extraordinary Hungarian-German soprano Julia Varady turned 82. As she is one of my favorite sopranos, I have presented her a few times on the podcast, but never on an episode devoted exclusively to her. There is no time like the present to rectify that situation. Varady had an exceptional and unusual career, centered mostly in Europe, where she was celebrated first as a Mozart soprano, later for her fearless portrayals of the full range of Verdi heroines. Elsewhere in the world, primarily because of her recordings, she was considered mostly a Strauss singer, who also dipped her toe into some of the Wagner jugendlich dramatisch heroines. As today’s traversal proves, she was all that, but also much more: a singer with a gutsy dramatic instinct and a technique that allowed her to take on roles that might have been a few sizes too large for her vocally, but which she portrayed with vigor and fearlessness such as have been matched by only a few of the very greatest sopranos. It is also my objective in this episode to consider her accomplishment independently from that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, her husband from 1977 until his death in 2012, regarded by many as one of the most significant baritones of the last century. But my (perhaps idiosyncratic) view is that, particularly because of their very different artistic personalities, her achievements, especially on the operatic stage, outrank his. See if you agree with me. We also hear contributions from tenors Siegfried Jerusalem and Franco Tagliavini, soprano Arta Florescu (Varady’s teacher), and baritone Raimund Grumbach, along with pianists Elena Bashkirova and Aribert Reimann (whose compositional masterpiece Lear is also sampled), and conductors Wolfgang Sawallisch, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Algis Zhuraitis, Jesús López-Cobos, Neville Marriner, Herbert von Karajan, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, and István Kertész.

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 208. Happy Birthday, Gundula Janowitz!



From a very young age I was interested in today’s birthday celebrant, the great Gundula Janowitz, at least partially because of a similarity between her first name and my last name! But even more than that, I was drawn to the ethereal purity of her voice, possessed of an immediately identifiable timbre unlike that of any other singer. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Janowitz was the reigning queen of the jugendlich dramatisch soprano repertoire, excelling in the roles of Mozart, Strauss and Wagner (the so-called wagneriennes blanches heroines), as well as being a Bach singer of the highest order and an exceptional Lieder singer. What is there not to love? Janowitz was also a frequent visitor to the recording studio, and to this day her recordings form a cornerstone of the Deutsche Grammophon catalog. On today’s episode, however, I stick firmly to her live and radio recordings, some of them quite rare, of the repertoire for which she was so justly celebrated. We sample live recordings of her Arabella, Fiordiligi, Agathe, and Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, as well as a more surprising Elisabetta, the conflicted queen in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Also highlighted is her exceptional and career-defining performance of the role of Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, in a rare live 1977 from the Orange Festival. Guest vocalists include Lucia Popp and Franco Corelli. This is a mouthful, so I’ll say it for all of us: Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag an eine der gefeiertsten und verehrtesten Sopranistinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts!

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 206. Jerry Hadley



Jerry Hadley (16 June 1952 – 18 July 2007) is regarded by many as the most gifted American lyric tenor of the late 20th century. Last month he would have celebrated his 71st birthday. And today is the sixteenth anniversary of his untimely death. I knew Jerry well in the early 2000s when he was dating one of my best friends. Our friendship developed separately from that: in those years in which he was working at rebuilding his voice and career we worked together on a cross-section of his old and new repertoire. At the time of his death, he was no longer romantically involved with my friend, so he and I had drifted apart. Nevertheless, it hit me very, very hard, and I mourn his loss to this day. On that front, I have quite a few things to say about singers and mental illness, and the ruthlessness, implacability, and heartlessness of a profession which so often chews up the most vulnerable of us and spits them back out. When Jerry was at his best, his art sustained him, but the challenges ultimately became too much for him to face. But this episode is primarily a celebration: my primary objective is to present my friend at his exceptional best, in performances, both live and studio, which celebrate his voice, artistry, and spirit, performances which provided his public with some of the finest tenor singing they would ever hear, in that, or any other, era.

WARNING: THIS EPISODE CONTAINS A DISCUSSION OF SUICIDE AND SUICIDAL IDEATION.

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 204. Roberta Alexander Sings America



Posting a few days early in celebration of the Fourth of July and in further recognition of the beloved American soprano Roberta Alexander, whose birthday we celebrated on Countermelody last March. Ms. Alexander has made a number of exquisite recordings over the years, many of them for the small Dutch label Etcetera. Many of these releases feature songs by the greatest American composers: Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Samuel Barber, as well as two releases featuring light classical and Broadway songs. The recordings range in date from 1976 (a live performance of Ives at the Holland Festival, in honor of the American Bicentennial) through 2009 (a live performance of Roberta as Maria in Porgy and Bess conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt). We also hear material by Berlin, Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Alec Wilder, Bock and Harnick, John Jacob Niles, and Tom Lehrer, accompanied by pianists Reinbert de Leeuw, Roger Vignoles, Alfred Heller, Brian Masuda, Tan Crone, and David Triestram and conductors Kees Bakels and Edo de Waart. Throughout, Roberta Alexander’s approach to this material is perfectly on target, revealing both pathos and a crackling sense of (often sardonic) humor, all grounded in a love of the music of her native country and wrapped in a red, white, and blue bow.

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 202. William Parker (Pride 2023)



Today’s episode celebrates the life and legacy of lyric baritone William Parker (05 August 1943 – 29 March 1993), the finest American recitalist of the late twentieth century and one of the most beautiful baritone voices I have ever heard. His mastery of the German, American (and, especially for me, French) song repertoire sends one scrambling back to the earlier days of recorded sound to find suitable parallels. Though we had many friends and colleagues in common, I never met him personally. But this week, at my request as I was preparing this episode, many who loved him have been in touch with me: family, friends, colleagues, lovers, and they have provided me with a wealth of beautiful reminiscences and memories of their beloved Will. I have also compiled a setlist for the episode which displays the full breadth and depth of his artistry. At the end of his life, Will, dying of AIDS, created an initiative called the AIDS Quilt Songbook, to which some of the greatest composers and poets of the day provided songs and texts. Like the AIDS Quilt itself, this is a living legacy which continues to expand and grow. There are numerous works from the Songbook in its various iterations, performed not just by Will, but also by Kurt Ollmann and Anthony Dean Griffey, which serve not only as a painful reminder of an entire generation lost to AIDS, but also as a moving reminder of the LGBTQ+ community’s ability to face down ignorance, hatred, prejudice, even death, and in the end not only to triumph, but to provide an example for present and future generations of our resilience.

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 201. Britten – Pears (Pride 2023)



Today’s episode explores the lives and loves of two of the most significant figures in twentieth century music: Benjamin Britten, the dean of British composers and the tenor Peter Pears, his partner, lover, inspiration and muse for nearly forty years. When as a lost young gay boy I first encountered their music-making I intuited that these two men were lovers, that they represented a way forward for me out of a lonely and forlorn childhood. Whether in the many songs and cycles that Britten fashioned for him or the operatic roles, beginning with the title role of Peter Grimes, that were tailor-made for him, Pears remains the ideal interpreter of his partner’s music, possessed as he was of a distinctive (some would say peculiar) voice, supple, reedy yet surprisingly powerful, along with pinpoint musical precision, plangent expressivity and dramatic aptitude. The episode features excerpts from many of Britten’s most explicitly gay compositions, surprising for a man living in Britain while sex between men was still illegal, including the operas Peter Grimes, Curlew River, Billy Budd, and Death in Venice and his settings of poetry by Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Auden, and Francis Quarles. We also hear Pears and Britten in live and recorded performance of songs and arias by other composers, including composers Britten revered (Schumann, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Frank Bridge), and those of whose music he was much less fond (including Vaughan Williams and Brahms). The episode contains more biographical information than your typical Countermelody episode, and does not shy away from some of the thorniest questions that one must confront when discussing these two controversial figures. But in the end it is first and foremost a celebration of the music Britten and Pears made together and the love they shared for 40 years. The episode begins with a heartfelt (and heartbroken) tribute to the great Glenda Jackson, who died this week at the age of 87.

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 200. Whole Lotta Lotte (Lehmann!)



Today we observe a significant event in the history of Countermelody, namely, our 200th episode! I decided that there was no better way to celebrate than to devote a full episode to the great Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976), who vies with Claudia Muzio as one of my two favorite singers of all time. Lehmann was originally a conservatory flunkie, but somehow got her act together to become one of the most expressive and imaginative singers, both of opera and of art song, that ever lived. From the first time I heard this warm, enveloping voice allied to a theatrical, emotional style of delivery, I was in love. Though I have frequently featured her in individual cuts on the podcast, this is the first time she has been featured on her own episode. She is heard in live, studio, and radio recordings made between the years 1916 and 1958, all of which reveal her in all aspects of her sublime artistry and in the company of some of the greatest artists of her era, from Arturo Toscanini to Richard Tauber to George Szell, to her preferred accompanist, Paul Ulanowsky. Choosing the selections for this week’s program was like reencountering an old friend. The episode begins with a brief tribute to the late Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, who died a week ago at the age of 70 and to the evocative singer Astrud Gilberto, who died this past week at the age of 83.

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 197. Theatre Dreams



I’ve been plotting an episode on the subject of Dreams for a while. Given the profusion of music that references that altered state of consciousness, my challenge was narrowing down the topic. I chose to focus today on theater music (opera, operetta, and musicals) that references actual rather than figurative dreams. Even within these parameters, there was a plethora of material and as usual my repertoire choices are strangely and uniquely my own. So on this episode you’ll hear everything from a 1965 recording of Tevye’s Dream from Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, from the first Israeli production of the musical; Renata Scotto in late career essaying the haunted dreamscapes of Arnold Schoenberg’s monodrama Erwartung; Mattiwilda Dobbs in a rare 1952 recording of “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from Mozart’s Zaide; excerpts from unusual French and German operettas featuring Robert Massard and Charles Kullman, respectively; birthday tributes to Birgit Nilsson and Richard Tauber; and the great Welsh bass Geraint Evans in a live performance of Bottom’s Dream from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And much, much more, including a teaser of next week’s subject the Italian lyric tenor Cesare Valletti; and Janet Baker live in recital in 1966, a preview of the first in a series of bonus episodes that will feature rare LPs from my personal collection. As always, thanks for your support; enjoy!

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 192. Virginia Zeani: The Soul of the Voice



A number of significant classical and opera singers have died in this calendar year, and this episode pays tribute to three of them. First, James Bowman, the most significant British countertenor since Alfred Deller, who died on March 27th in his 82nd year. Second, Melitta Muszely, the Austrian jugendlich dramatisch soprano of Hungarian origin who died in her native Vienna at the age of 95 on January 18. And finally, a loss which reverberated around the operatic world with particularly poignancy and finality, the great Romanian soprano Virginia Zeani, who died on March 20 at the age of 97. While the focus of the episode is on Zeani, I also discuss the significance and contributions of Bowman and Muszely in detail, as well as offering examples of some of their best recordings. In the case of Zeani, I offer a thorough career and biographical overview, including excerpts from her rare studio recordings as well as live material from both the early and late years of her performing career. Also included are recordings by her teachers Lydia Lipowska and Aureliano Pertile, and her husband, the Italian-Russian bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni. And leave it to me to find a way of bringing three such disparate artists as Bowman, Muszely, and Zeani together at the conclusion of the episode!

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 191. Music for Holy Week



Welcome to all listeners both old and new to the podcast! This week I am focusing on music related to the Christian observation of Holy Week: oratorios, motets, cantatas, songs and song cycles, even operas from Renaissance to contemporary, performed by a wide range of singers. Alongside podcast favorites Jennie Tourel, Roberta Alexander, Eugene Holmes, Hugues Cuénod, Mitsuko Shirai, Muriel Smith, and others, I also feature performances by recently departed vocal giants Virginia Zeani and James Bowman (both of whom will be foregrounded in next week’s episode), as well as the sublime British mezzo-soprano Diana Montague, who celebrates her birthday this week. We also hear her husband, the magnificent tenor David Rendall, as well as their extraordinarily gifted son, baritone Huw Montague Rendall, whom I was privileged to meet in Berlin this past week. We also hear a variety of settings of the 13th century Stabat Mater text from Giovanni Felice Sances in the 17th century to the more thorny twentieth-century idiom of the Swiss Frank Martin and the African American Julia Perry. Contemplative art songs by Schubert, Wolf, Hindemith, Finzi, and Andriessen round out the episode.

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 186. Roberta Alexander in Opera



Today it is with the utmost excitement that I bring you an episode devoted to one of my favorite singers of all time, soprano Roberta Alexander, who celebrates her birthday today, March 3rd! I remember first encountering this radiant voice of burnished silver back when I was in graduate school when I discovered her early recordings of art song, including albums devoted to Charles Ives and Richard Strauss. Over the course of a long and successful career she has sung in all major opera houses around the world and in concert halls under the batons of countless distinguished maestri. What is it that makes this voice so special? Alongside a rock-solid vocal technique that has allowed her to sing well into her seventies, she is also gifted with impeccable musicianship and staggering stylistic versatility. For me it is not only the unusual color of the voice, both shimmering and profound (the chiaroscuro!), but even more so, her dedication to communication through clarity of diction and razor-sharp dramatic precision that sends her into the realm of the all-time greats. This episode focuses on Roberta’s versatility and prowess on the operatic stage, featuring live and studio recordings over more than thirty years of works by composers from Handel, Gluck, and Mozart, through twentieth century masters such as Janácek, Gershwin, and Berthold Goldschmidt. We also hear an excerpt from one of Roberta’s favorites among her recordings, a rare 1982 live performance of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. Speaking of Lieder, an upcoming episode this spring will focus on our diva on the concert platform. It was my great honor to meet Roberta in person when she was performing in Berlin in 2022 and therefore it is also to her as a friend that I extend my heartiest good wishes for a happy birthday. I had to remind myself not to fan girl as I was recording the narration for this episode, but I’m not sure I succeeded!

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.