Category Archives: Verismo

Episode 265. Meet Hana Janků



Have you ever encountered a singer that no one has apparently heard of, yet once you have discovered them, you feel compelled to introduce them to practically everyone you know? I’ve had this experience more than a few times over the past five years of producing weekly Countermelody episodes, and today I bring you another such singer: friends, meet Hana Janků, the Czech soprano who lived from 25 October 1940 to 28 April 1995. Her voice is one of steely brilliance that she can taper down to the slightest whisper of a pianissimo. As important as her extraordinary voice was her profoundly-felt and deeply-etched characterizations of all the roles she assumed. As a young music lover, Hana’s aims were modest, but thanks to a voice teacher who recognized her gift, she moved from the chorus to a member of the ensemble at the Brno Opera before she was 20. Five years later in Bratislava, she first performed the role with which she would be most closely associated: Puccini’s Turandot. Two short years later, after an arduous audition process, she sang the role at La Scala and became a star overnight. Her large repertoire also encompassed roles such Tosca, Gioconda, and Lady Macbeth, French and Russian operas as well as Mozart and Wagner roles, with a large smattering of roles by Czech composers as well, in particular Smetana and Dvořák. Because of political unrest, she made the difficult decision to leave her native Czechoslovakia, performing instead throughout the world, including stints in the ensembles at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Ill health forced her to leave the opera stage prematurely, and she died of cancer in Vienna before she turned 55. Janků left very few commercial recordings, but I have been plumbing the internet for rare live recordings spanning her entire career, encompassing not only her legendary Italian roles, but also roles by Mozart, Gounod, and Othmar Schoeck, as well as a smattering of Czech repertoire. It is an honor to present to you the woman whom Birgit Nilsson dubbed the finest Turandot of her era and who was, as we shall hear, so much more as well! Vocal guest stars include Franco Corelli, Giorgio Merighi, Cornell MacNeil, Roland Hermann, William Holley, and Naděžda Kniplová.

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 262. Sylvia Sass Revisited



Several summers ago I published my first episode celebrating the artistry of Sylvia Sass which primarily featured her 1984 album of pop songs sung in Hungarian. At the time I called it, without any irony, the finest crossover album of the 1980s and one of the best of all time. Sass is an artist who continues to engage discourse. Many of the opinions, theories, and input encountered therein are predicated on dissecting the reasons for her short international career. My objective with today’s episode, however, is simply to celebrate Sass’s singing in all its glory, extending from the standard Italian operatic repertoire with which she is most associated through the thorniest contemporary idioms to the subtlest art song to the most refined Mozart singing, with, once again, a nod to the pop material which initially drew me to her. I always say that I believe in giving flowers to our favorite artists when they are still around to receive them, and today’s bouquet is a stunning display full of color and variety humbly presented to one of my favorite divas.

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 261. Thom Baker Introduces Rosanna Carteri (Listeners’ Favorites)



Today’s episode is one of my Listeners’ Favorites episodes, this one introduced by my wonderful friend Thom Baker. He had just written me about his enthusiasm for the Rosanna Carteri episode I posted in the fall of 2020 on the occasion of her death, just a few short weeks before her 90th birthday. Thom and I were both equally taken with this long-lived artist, who abandoned her performing career in 1966 when she was only 35 years old, brought her full-throated voice and impeccable artistry to operatic stages around the world for fifteen exceptional years. Carteri’s was a lyric yet full-bodied voice with facility that allowed her to undertake soubrette parts as well as some spinto roles. I feature extended examples of her versatility over the course of that entire career, including excerpts from La traviata, La bohème, La rondine, Guglielmo Tell, Falstaff, L’elisir d’amore, Madama Butterfly, Roméo et Juliette, Otello, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz and Iris, Prokofiev’s War and Peace (the final version of which she created in Florence in 1954), the premiere recording of Poulenc’s Gloria and Gilbert Bécaud’s Opéra d’Aran (which she premiered in Paris in 1962). These operas represent just a fraction of her repertoire, in which are featured, among others, Giuseppe di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, Leonard Warren, Carlo Bergonzi, Ettore Bastianini, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Giuseppe Taddei, Cesare Valletti, and Giuseppe Gismondo and conductors Tullio Serafin, Pierre Monteux, Vittorio Gui, Georges Prêtre, Gabriele Santini, and Artur Rodzinski. In other words, the crème de la crème of the operatic firmament in the 1950s and 1960s, in which company Carteri most emphatically belonged.

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 259. Lawrence Winters Revisited



During the first season of Countermelody I presented the great African American baritone Lawrence Winters in an episode which paired him with his contemporary Robert McFerrin. Today Winters (born Lawrence Whisonant in South Carolina on 12 November 1915 and died of cancer in Hamburg at age 49 on 24 September 1965) returns center stage to Countermelody in a program which focuses on his prowess in standard operatic repertoire and art song. After vocal study with Todd Duncan at Howard University, Winters toured for several years with the Eva Jessye Choir before enlisting as a member of the Armed Forces. Upon returning to the US, he appeared in Harold Rome’s Broadway musical revue Call Me Mister. In 1948 he debuted at New York City Opera, the first Black male singer to perform there; he performed there for seven seasons, returning for a single performance as Porgy in 1962. He made his first trip to Europe in 1949 and in 1950 joined the roster of the Royal Swedish Opera, with whom he sang for two seasons. Thereafter, he joined the ensemble of the Hamburg Opera and later, the Deutsche Oper Berlin. He also performed at the Wiener Staatsoper and the San Francisco Opera. He returned to the Broadway stage in 1960, garnering a Tony nomination for his appearance opposite Joya Sherrill in the play The Long Dream. In the last year of his life he also appeared in Germany in the title role of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. He made a large number of recordings for Philips, Deutsche Grammophon and other labels, as well as a slew of radio recordings, many of the latter of which are featured on this episode. A certified star in Germany, Winters was often featured in pop music that appealed to the German public of the time but which, frankly, was not always worthy of his talent. In this episode I present him in repertoire that reveals him as one of the primarily Verdi and verismo baritones of his era, even when he was singing those roles in German translation. We also hear Winters in excerpts from two operas in which the protagonists are specifically Black: Frederick Delius’s Koanga and William Grant Still’s Troubled Island.

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 256. Mari Lyn’s Golden Treasury of Chutzpah (Alternate Universe Bel Canto III)



Many of my listeners look forward with eager anticipation to my annual April Fool’s episodes, and today’s packs a particularly powerful punch! A few months back my friend Thomas Bagwell, a perpetual friend of the podcast, told me he had a dub of a rare recording on Philips Records [sic] by the New York-based soprano Mari Lyn, well known as the Singing Hostess of the 1980s public access cable television program The Golden Treasury of Song. On the spurious LP she sings Verdi and Puccini arias accompanied (sort of) by her artistic collaborator Howard Salat (of the Local 802) leading the “Belgravia Philharmonia Symphonica Orchestra” [sic]. If any of you remember Ms. Lyn from my previous Alternate Universe Bel Canto episodes, you will know that she packs a vocal punch that can leave you reeling (and your ears ringing!) I actually convinced Thomas to get on the horn with me yesterday from Copenhagen and we recorded a spirited conversation in which we discuss everything from Easter bonnets to theater organs to cranky Unitarians to defective blenders to aging ingénues to Lee Press-On Nails to Oscar the Grouch to Queens, Europe to the power of parlando before we get down to the true business of the day: singing the praises of our alternate universe diva, Marilyn Sosman (known to vocal aficionados the world over as Mari Lyn), she of the indestructible vocal bands, lofty wigs, and life-affirming (and -altering) costume jewelry. This whimsical episode strips Mari Lyn of her wigs, gowns, and accountrements (in a figurative sense only) leaving her only with her most powerful asset: that legendary Sherman tank of a voice. Armed with that voice, she refashions some of the most popular arias of Verdi and Puccini, and, thanks to her imaginative use of the Italian language; her refusal to conform to the strait-jacket of the printed page; and her idiosyncratic use of pitch, rhythm, and vocal color; renders them unrecognizable in the process. Not only is the music transformed, but so are we, her fans, who listen on in horrified fascination at what she will think of next. Evviva Mari Lyn!

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 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 Melodie 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 230. Brian Castles-Onion Introduces Ira Siff: La Gran Scena and Beyond (Listeners’ Favorites I)



Welcome to Season Five of Countermelody! While I indulge in a much-needed break for the month of January (my first in four years!), I have asked a number of Countermelody fans and listeners to provide spoken introductions to some of their favorite episodes from the first three seasons of the podcast. Today conductor Brian Castles-Onion introduces an episode from June 2020, as we neared the height of the pandemic and the panic surrounding it. It is an interview 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. So much has changed for everyone since the interview was recorded in January 2020, most poignantly (as relates to this episode) the death of our beloved Chic Walker (who portrayed Dame Emily Post-Morddum and Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi in La Gran Scena) on 11 April 2022; and the passing of Renata Scotto on 16 August 2023.

My association with Ira Siff and La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York goes back more than thirty years, when Ira provided me with my first employment as a professional 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 in January 2020 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.

Today’s guest host Brian Castles-Onion is one of Australia’s most exciting and well-known opera conductors. Completing his tertiary studies at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music, his outstanding achievements speak for themselves. He has worked at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Julliard School of Music and the Rossini Festival in Italy, and has held the position of Artistic Director of Canterbury Opera in New Zealand. He currently continues his long run association with Opera Australia. His conducting experience includes well over five hundred opera performances throughout Australia, Asia and New Zealand alone. He was on the podium for Opera Australia’s 40th Anniversary Gala and 60th Anniversary Gala, The Robert Allman Farewell Gala and conducted the Dame Joan Sutherland State Memorial Service – which was broadcast internationally on television and radio. His book Losing the Plot in Opera has been a Best Seller in Australia and the UK. Brian became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2017 Australia Day Honours List.

Today’s interviewee and subject, 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 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 Company 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.

In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his productions of operas at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sarasota Opera, The Caramoor Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival. 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.

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. 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.

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 222. Shirley Verrett, Falcon Sfogatissima



It is hard to believe that it’s already been 13 years since the death of Shirley Verrett on November 5, 2010. It has also already been four years since I did a pair of episodes on this extraordinary and beloved artist, and this anniversary gives me the perfect excuse to revisit the work of this mezzo-soprano turned soprano who more than any other singer in my experiences (even soon-to-be birthday girl Maria Callas) was capable of singing nearly anything. This type of singer is sometimes referred to as a soprano sfogato (or a falcon, after the 19th century French mezzo-cum-soprano Cornélie Falcon. Since Verrett, like Falcon, sang both mezzo and soprano, I instead coin the term falcon sfogatissima to describe her vocal magic. This episode is chock full of examples of Verrett’s impassioned yet technically-grounded vocalism, from art songs by Brahms and Pasatieri to operatic roles by Handel, Gluck, Cherubini, Bellini, Puccini, and Verdi (including both soprano and mezzo roles in Aida and the Messa da Requiem and soprano roles in Ballo in Maschera, Macbeth, Don Carlo, and Otello). I close the episodes with Verrett’s astonishing but limited forays into the German operatic repertoire. Her collaborators on this episode include conductors Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Eve Queler, Georges Prêtre, Sarah Caldwell, and the late Kenneth Montgomery; and fellow operatic greats Sherrill Milnes, Luciano Pavarotti, James McCracken, Robert Massard (last week’s featured artist), and her frenemy the late Grace Bumbry.

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 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 218. Edith Piaf, storyteller



Today is the 60th anniversary of the death of Edith Piaf, the greatest singer in the history of French popular music. She died on the eve of my third birthday, and since I have always allowed myself to indulge in a favorite singer or topic for my birthday episodes, I am focusing on La Môme Piaf, whose uniquely powerful voice and interpretations have been of central importance to me since the first time I heard her. When I take on such an iconic figure for a podcast episode, I try to examine them from a unique or unusual perspective. Today vis-à-vis Piaf, I focus on her unique performing style which combined subtlety and dramatic understatement alongside violent emotions and extroverted vocalism as reflected in her live performances and recordings. In this regard, I find an unusually cogent comparison with the Korean tradition of pansouri singing, which is a topic addressed by my brilliant friend, the theatre scholar David Savran, in his new book, Tell It to the World, which is being published by Oxford in early 2024. But mostly I dissect a number of Piaf’s most powerful story-songs such as “L’accordéoniste,” “Les amants d’un jour,” “Milord,” and “La foule,” written by composers and lyricists such as Marguerite Monnot, Michel Rivgauche, and Michel Emer, who were powerful allies in her search for material that best suited her extraordinary and iconoclastic gifts, which have come to personify the heart and soul of la ville de lumière, her beloved Paris.

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 214. Ellabelle Davis



Today I begin a series of interim episodes which will lead up to the debut of Season Five of the podcast in January 2024. These episodes will be shorter, but will still be chock full of interesting singers and subject matter. Today I present the African American soprano Ellabelle Davis (1907-1960) who during the late 1940s and early 1950s was greatly celebrated as a concert singer and who appeared around the world, the “Toast of Three Continents” as an early Musical America ad featuring the soprano proclaimed. She even appeared on the operatic stage, primarily as Aida, though her artistry was best suited to the concert platform. She even made a number of recordings, including two 10-inch LPs for London-Decca records in 1950. In her day she was frequently written up in the New York Times and appeared repeatedly in high-profile concert appearances in the city, and even moreso, around the world, including the Nordic countries, Vienna, and Mexico in particular. Yet her career was slowed by illness, and in fact she died prematurely at the age of 53 of cancer, after attempting a career comeback the previous year. On the episode today I present a number of her extant studio recordings and attempt to place her career within the context of larger social issues in the United States (and around the world) at that time. An upcoming bonus episode will feature even rarer selections from Davis’s recorded legacy.

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 210. The Mystery of Anita Cerquetti



Anita Cerquetti (13 April 1931 – 11 October 2014), the subject of today’s episode, possessed a one in a million voice, enormous, but with prodigious flexibility, and of an immediately recognizable timbre and style of text projection. She skyrocketed to world fame when she replaced Maria Callas in the title role of Bellini’s Norma in Rome in January 1958. Before that, the young soprano, still in her twenties, had been steadily building a career, primarily in Italy but also internationally, working in Italy’s biggest houses and music festivals with the greatest maestri and fellow singers of the period (including Ettore Bastianini and Franco Corelli, both of whom are heard on the episode). Immediately after those Rome performances, however, Cerquetti canceled a series of subsequent performances of Bellini’s Il Pirata, and her live performances dwindled thereafter to a mere trickle. In the fall of 1960, not yet thirty years of age, she gave what proved to be the final performance of her career, a recording for Dutch radio of Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco. Cerquetti is considered to be one of the great operatic mysteries of the second half of the twentieth century. She made only two commercial recordings, so the majority of her recorded legacy stems from live and radio performances. In this episode, I share some of my favorites among those recordings, and discuss the personal issues that surrounded Cerquetti’s premature disappearance from the world’s opera stages as well as why her still unmatched accomplishments still captivate listeners to this day.

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 184. Eugene Holmes (Black History Month 2023)



Eugene Holmes (1932 – 2007), baritone supreme, should be remembered as one of the most significant voices of the Twentieth Century and a Black singer on a par with the most revered and celebrated. Though he participated in the creation of some important work (including by Gian Carlo Menotti, Gunther Schuller, and Frederick Delius), and performed with San Francisco Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera Regional Company, his career remained centered for more than thirty years at his home company, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The rare recorded documents that we have of Eugene Holmes, including two self-produced LPs of spirituals and three different recordings of Delius’s rare opera Koanga (two of them live), reveal a voice of rare magnitude, range, power, and sensitivity, qualities which made him one of the premier Verdi baritones of his day. But due to a number of factors, including his modesty and his unwillingness to travel far from home, he did not achieve the international recognition that he deserved. I have pulled together all of the recorded material of Eugene Holmes that I could find, and present excerpts from these varied sources. Guest vocalists appearing opposite Holmes include sopranos Claudia Lindsey, Gwyneth Jones, and Barbara Carter, and tenors János B. Nagy and Giorgio Aristo. In the production of this podcast, I was greatly aided by reminiscences provided by his colleagues Bonita Hyman, the German-based African American mezzo-soprano; Stephen Harrison, the retired musical director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein; and Heribert Klein, member of the committee of UNICEF Deutschland, an organization to which Eugene Holmes was deeply committed.

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 183. Martina Arroyo (Black History Month 2023)



Last week on Feburary 2, the beloved African American soprano Martina Arroyo turned 86 years old. Although the Countermelody birthday tribute to Ms. Arroyo is a week late, it is nonetheless profoundly heartfelt. I have always valued the artistry and voice of this artist who often referred to herself as “The Other One” (because she was so frequently confused with today’s birthday diva, Leontyne Price). In preparing this episode, however, I flipped over into fan girl mode: was there anything that Martina Arroyo could not do? Of course she was celebrated as one of the premiere Verdi sopranos of her day (or, indeed, of the twentieth century), and there are ample examples on the episode that give testament to her supremacy in that repertoire. But she was also an intrepid performer of contemporary music, creating important works by both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Samuel Barber. Her performances of baroque music, while very much following an earlier style of performance practice, are vivid and insightful. Her affinity with French grand opera style is off the charts, as evidenced by an excerpt from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. She also could have pursued a path as a Mozart and Strauss singer, and selections by both of these composers prove her mastery of this genre as well. She also had the power to be a full-fledged dramatic soprano, as shown by her live performances of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and the title role in Puccini’s Turandot. And yet her subtlety as a recitalist is shown in live and studio Lieder performances. And the fervor and vigor of her performance of spirituals is a thing of joy. This episode is full of surprises but one thing is not surprising at all: the degree of dedication and commitment of this artist, which continues to this day with the performance and education initiative of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. (The episode begins with a brief tribute to Burt Bacharach, who died yesterday at the age of 94.)

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 178. Andrzej Hiolski



This week I have been tantalizing my followers with the promise of a tall, dark, handsome singer who was born on January 1. I shall keep you in suspense no longer: he is the great Polish baritone Andrzej Hiolski, born in Lvov in New Year’s Day 1922 and died in Krakow on 26 February 2000. I have known of Hiolski for years because of his association with the works of the late Krzysztof Penderecki, but I began digging deeper into his legacy a few years ago and was absolutely stunned at what I found: a singer with a near-perfect technique with a powerful voice with a slightly burred timbre characterized by both beauty, range, and subtlety of expression. I have been collecting his recordings for a few years now and have featured him at every possible opportunity on the podcast, including twice already in the current season. But this episode is devoted entirely to him and it may well serve, strange as it may seem for an artist who is so revered and treasured in his native country, as an introduction for many of my listeners to one of the great baritone voices of the twentieth century. The episode features recordings and performances, many of them exceedingly rare, ranging over more than 50 years, and includes music by Verdi, Wagner, Schubert, Mahler, Bach, Leoncavallo, Mozart, Tosti, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Giordano, but also a generous helping of music by Hiolski’s compatriots, including Karol Szymanowski, Frédéric Chopin, Augustyn Bloch, Mieczysław Karłowicz, Stanisław Moniuszko, Tadeusz Baird, Tadeusz Szeligowski, as well as, of course, Penderecki. Guest vocalists include the supercharged Greek-American mezzo Tatiana Troyanos and the delectable Polish soprano Alina Bolechowska, as well as the venerable Polish bass Adamo Didur, an early mentor of Hiolski’s. who now joins company with Jorma Hynninen and Gérard Souzay in the triumvirate of my favorite baritones of all time!

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 177. Great Singers at Twilight



For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.

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 169. Grace Bumbry



Though the great diva Grace Bumbry has often been featured on Countermelody, I have not yet done a full episode on this incomparable artist. Today’s episode seeks to remedy that, and to celebrate a singer whose contribution and influence extends back many decades and continues to this very day. Normally when I consider an artist so well-renowned, I try to offer a perspective that sheds different light on that singer. So today’s Bumbry celebration considers three aspects of her artistry that have received somewhat less attention. While her successes in a wide range of mezzo soprano repertoire are well-known and well-documented, her soprano assumptions have been somewhat more controversial. I highlight numerous scenes and arias, including from Macbeth, Salome, Turandot, and Nabucco, in both live and studio performances, that shed light on the enormous prowess and fearlessness with which she confronted these roles. Alongside such larger-than-life impersonations are Bumbry’s intimate and detailed performances as a Lieder singer, a tribute to her training under that matchless singer and teacher Lotte Lehmann, with whom Bumbry studied at the Music Academy of the West. Recordings of art song by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss, Liszt, and Berlioz, made over the course of 45 years are also a testament to Bumbry’s vocal longevity and technical prowess. In recent years, Grace Bumbry has devoted her time to the care, nurturing, and training of young singers under the aegis of a program she has named “The Bumbry Way.” The episode closes with a definitive performance of the song “My Way,” which incorporates and encapsulates all the colors of this extraordinary singer in all her fearlessness, self-assurance, determination, vulnerability, and strength. Evviva “The Bumbry Way!”

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 166. Dan’s Picks



This week I celebrated my birthday, so today is the second of this month’s birthday celebrations. A number of my listeners have been asking me for a while to post an episode featuring my favorite singers and recordings. So here it is! We lead off with a brief memorial tribute to Angela Lansbury, who died in the early California morning of my birthday. The rest of the episode features many recordings that I first got to know as I began exploring the world of great singing on records. Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Alexander Kipnis, Elisabeth Söderström, Richard Lewis, Renata Scotto, Adele Addison, Gundula Janowitz, Margaret Price, Teresa Stratas, Gérard Souzay: all of these artists were formative figures in my early listening experience. My appreciation of some others came later: Hina Spani, Brigitte Fassbaender, Georges Thill, Sylvia Sass, Nicolai Gedda, Kirsten Flagstad. By this late date, all of them have been favorite artists of mine for decades and are represented on the episode by some of their greatest recordings. The episode concludes with a brief tribute to the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams on the occasion of his 150th birthday, also celebrated this week.

P.S. Two years ago I did another Happy Birthday To Me episode, which featured performances by some of my favorite pop divas. The episode can be found for a limited time at the top of my LinkTree chain.

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 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 162. NYCO Divas: An Introduction



Today is the final regular episode of Season Three of Countermelody, as well as the last of my summer series documenting musical life in New York City during the years 1950 through 1975. I am thrilled to start what I hope will be an occasional series of episodes that will drop throughout Season Four, which begins in two weeks. I present to you a small sampling of the extraordinary singing actors that peopled the stage of New York City Opera during the years in question. The most famous of these, of course, is Beverly Sills, and she is aptly represented in her most radiant early prime. But there are many other singers as well, including African American divas Carol Brice and Veronica Tyler, preceded by Camilla Williams (the first Black singer to be awarded a standing contract with a major US opera company… in 1946!). City Opera was celebrated for presenting an absolute slew of new American work in its heyday, and we hear works by Carlilse Floyd, Robert Ward, Douglas Moore, Marc Blitzstein, and Jack Beeson in performances by Phyllis Curtin, Frances Bible, Brenda Lewis, and Ellen Faull. Other divas strutting their stuff include Olivia Stapp, Johanna Meier, and the three mesdames Patricia: Brooks, Wells, and Wise. The episode is capped by some of the rarest live recordings from the stage of City Opera by three singers who made their mark during their heyday, and would be the biggest stars in the world were they singing today: Gilda Cruz-Romo, Maralin Niska, and Carol Neblett, all of whom will be featured in her own episode during Countermelody’s upcoming season. A fitting way to end Season Three, as well as a harbinger of vocal delights to come! (Next week will be a preview of the upcoming season!)

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 156. Barely Sang at the Met II



This week is the conclusion of my presentation on world-class singers who made a minimal number of appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. My arbitrary parameters for this episode were singers who appeared (approximately) between the years 1950 and 1975 and sang fewer than ten performances in total at that venerable institution. Among the artists featured are the British singers Josephine Veasey and Anne Howells (both of whom we lost earlier this year), as well as Stafford Dean and Alberto Remedios; the French-Canadian tenors Léopold Simoneau and Richard Verreau; the Romanians Ludovic Spiess and Marina Krilovici; the US-American dramatic coloratura Margherita Roberti; the Australian super-soprano Joan Carden; the Italian sopranos Maria Chiara and Luisa Malagrida; the French falcon Jane Rhodes; the Austrians Eberhard Wächter and Otto Wiener; the Finnish heldentenor Pekka Nuotio; and the Germans Josef Greindl, Walburga Wegner, Erna Schlüter and Christel Goltz. Met stalwarts Monserrat Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Ramón Vinay, and Jorma Hynninen are featured as vocal guest stars; conductors include such greats as Dimitri Mitroupoulos, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Thomas Beecham, Carlo Felice Cillario, and Arthur Rodziński..

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 152. Patricia Neway



Today begins a new summer series on Countermelody, celebrating mid-century music-making in New York City between the years 1950 and 1975. We begin with a celebration of Patricia Neway (1919-2012), one of the towering figures of the operatic – and Broadway – stages. Two of her greatest assumptions, in fact, took place on the Broadway stage: Magda Sorel in Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul, which premiered on Broadway in 1950, and the Mother Abbess in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final stage music, The Sound of Music, for which Neway was awarded the 1960 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Neway combined an unusual voice of startling, sometimes raw, power, with an acting ability rarely seen, especially on the operatic stage. Neway’s range easily encompassed contralto roles as well as dramatic soprano parts. This episode features audio excerpts from rare kinescopes of her performances of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites as Menotti’s Maria Golovin, as well as her galvanizing portrayal of Magda Sorel from a 1960 film. She also displays her stunning musical versatility in music by Buxtehude, Barber, Gluck, and the late Carlisle Floyd, as well as settings by Israel Citkowitz, John Gruen, and Thomas de Hartmann of texts by James Joyce from a rare 1959 recording. In addition, I dispel forever the fake news, all pervasive claims to the contrary, that Patricia Neway and someone named Frances Breeze, an exact contemporary of Neway’s, are one and the same person.

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 136. Puccini en Français



This week’s episode is a counterpart to my ongoing exploration of the practice of performing opera in translation which includes the “Verdi auf Deutsch” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2021/10/17/episode-111-verdi-auf-deutsch] and “Polyglot Wagner” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2020/11/29/episode-63-polyglot-wagner] episodes. With its soaring cantilena lines, Puccini’s music lends itself quite naturally to performance in French. The characteristics of the so-called “French school” of singing, with its frequent focus on bright-timbred, slightly nasal tonal production, lends Puccini’s music a peculiarly French quality when performed in that language. This episode features arias and duets from Madame Butterfly, La Vie de Bohème, and La Tosca, as they are known in French, supplemented by arias from Manon Lescaut and Turandot. These are sung by some of the most famous singers of the twentieth century (including Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Régine Crespin, Germaine Lubin, Gabriel Bacquier, Alain Vanzo, and Lily Pons) with contributions by equally impressive but less celebrated French, Corsican, and Belgian artists (including Yvonne Brothier, Berthe Monmart, César Vezzani, José Liccioni, Marthe Nespoulous, Paul Finel, Michèle Le Bris, Martha Angelici, Germaine Martinelli, Jane Rhodes, Georges Jouatte, and the long-lived Géori-Boué [1918-2017], Renée Doria [1921-2021], Suzanne Sarroca [b. 1927], and Robert Massard [b. 1925]). Also heard are foreign singers whose singing nevertheless defines the French method (the Australian Albert Lance, the Canadian Raoul Jobin, the US-American Arthur Endrèze, and the Ukrainian Joseph Rogatchewsky). This episode is a foretaste of a mini-series coming in May on great French lyric artists, including Mady Mesplé, Martial Singher, and Gabriel Bacquier.

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 127. Maria Ewing in Memoriam (Black History Month 2022)



The exceptional, distinctive Maria Ewing died of cancer on January 9 at her home outside of her native Detroit at the age of 71. Even before her death, I had been planning an episode on Maria Ewing, who last fall received an enormous amount of press as the mother of actor and director Rebecca Hall, whose latest film, Passing, was hitting the screens in a big way. The film is about two light-skinned Black friends in the 1920s, one of whom makes the conscious decision to present as white. The implication in much of the press was that Maria Ewing had done the same and was being taken to task for having done so. In actuality, Maria Ewing spoke frequently about her father’s apparent African American roots, and never actively tried to hide her (at times murky) family history. But, I submit to you, this is not the real story. In this episode, the first of my Black History Month 2022 series, I attempt to present as full a musical portrait of the artist as possible, allowing listeners to experience the unique musical and dramatic genius (and I use the term advisedly) of this fascinating artist. Few singers can survive comparison with Maria Callas. Maria Ewing, for all her demonstrable flaws, was one of the few artists that merit such a comparison. In this episode we hear Ewing in a wide range of material, from Purcell’s Dido to Puccini’s Tosca, with a nod to her two most famous roles, Carmen and Salome; an emphasis on both her Mozart portrayals and a focus on her aplomb with French music; and a sampling of her flair for pop music and jazz. I also discuss her sometimes controversial vocalism and role assumptions which in turn led to her blanket dismissal by her detractors. But in the end, it is her fascinating combination of carnality and innocence which made her unique. I remain, as I always have been, a devoted member of Club Ewing. This is a long-overdue Countermelody tribute to a unique and irreplaceable 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.” 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 125. Jon Vickers (Great Canadian Singers)



Our series saluting great Canadian singers continues with a tribute to one of the greatest singers I have ever seen in performance, the Saskatchewan-born tenor Jon Vickers. Not only was he a profoundly imaginative and creative singing actor, he was also one of the most problematic personalities to appear on the operatic stage in the second half of the twentieth century. I discuss many of the controversies surrounding Vickers the man, in particular his virulent homophobia and sexism, while still giving full attention to his unmatched artistry. I feature both live and studio recordings over the course of his entire career, encompassing both opera and art song, focusing on what are probably his four greatest operatic roles: Florestan, Otello, Peter Grimes, and Tristan. Vocal guest stars include Maria Callas, Eileen Farrell, Joan Carlyle, Leonie Rysanek, and Renata Scotto; conductors include Colin Davis, Otto Klemperer, Tullio Serafin, Rudolf Kempe, Nicola Rescigno, William Steinberg, and Herbert von Karajan.

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 123. Lois Marshall (Great Canadian Singers)



Today is my first episode of the New Year, and the first in my three-part series this month on Great Canadian Singers. It is my contention that my first subject, Lois Marshall (1925-1997), is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. If you haven’t heard of her (which is entirely possible, given the vagaries of posthumous fame and reputation), you are in for an enormous treat. Possessed of a rare musical scrupulousness, an interpretive honestly, directness, and integrity, as well as a finely-honed dramatic sensibility, Lois Marshall, in a better world, would have graced the world’s operatic stages. Alas, she was stricken with polio as a child, and though she managed to gain the ability to walk, staged opera was a genre which she only rarely attempted. Yet she worked with the world’s greatest conductors, among them Toscanini, Stokowski, and Beecham, and was a recitalist celebrated the world over. This episode offers an extended yet partial glimpse of the range and variety of her artistry, and includes recordings of arias by both Purcell and Puccini (the title role of Turandot!), Bach and Beethoven, as well as a dazzling array of recital repertoire from Debussy to folk song arrangements. Fellow Canadians Maureen Forrester and Glenn Gould are also featured. In my opinion, this artist is ripe for rediscovery, and I hope that you will join me on this extraordinary journey into the life and career of Lois Marshall.

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 121. Auld Acquaintance I



This special episode, the first of two year-end celebrations, presents artists who have already been featured on Countermelody in rare recordings that have recently become available to me. A few of the artists heard include George Shirley, Heather Harper, Lawrence Winters, Elisabeth Söderström, Camilla Williams, Julia Migenes, John Raitt, Gloria Davy, Rosanna Carteri, Mirella Freni, Robert McFerrin, Margaret Marshall, Yi-Kwei Sze, Eileen Farrell, Shirley Verrett, Cathy Berberian, and many, many others in recordings, most from my personal collection, which you may not have heard before. This is a gift of love and gratitude from me to my listeners and supporters, a backward glance at all of the great singers who have been heard on the podcast over the past two and a half years, a theme which will continue next week. I look forward to continuing with new topics and new singers as we move into 2022.

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 104. Nicolae Herlea



Yesterday, August 28, would have been the 94th birthday of the great Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea (1927 – 2014). I continue my great baritone series with a salute to this extraordinary singer, who, unlike many of his fellow Romanian artists during this era, was able to pursue an active career in the rest of Europe and the United States. For many fans of great singing, Herlea is the Verdi baritone of choice. With this tribute, I begin a series examining great singers whose careers originated on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain. I present examples from one of Herlea’s first recordings, a 1959 recording of arias made in Moscow with the great Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting. I follow this with three excerpts from his two albums of Neapolitan songs, and conclude with extended excerpts from four of his recordings, made in Romania, of complete operas, which introduce us to a number of Herlea’s Romanian colleagues from the era, including Virginia Zeani, Arta Florescu, Ion Buzea, Ludovic Spiess, Ludovic Konya, and Magda Ianculescu. This episode also includes brief tributes to two of my favorite singers, recently deceased, who represented completely different genres: the folk singer and songwriter Nanci Griffith, who died on August 13 at the age of 68, and the exquisite Polish soprano, Teresa Żylis-Gara, who died yesterday at the age of 91.

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 100. Claudia Muzio



Countermelody celebrates its landmark 100th episode with a tribute to the artist that is my ne plus ultra, the Italian soprano Claudia Muzio (1889-1936). What better artist to salute on this occasion, as her voice is heard at the top of every episode of the podcast, and her beautiful presence graces the Countermelody logo. I discuss my theory that each individual listener has a singer whose voice penetrates to the core of their being. For me, as for many others, Claudia Muzio is that singer. I explore her recorded legacy, which falls into three distinct periods recording for three distinct record companies. In the case of “L’altra notte,” the classic aria from Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, Muzio left three different recordings, one from each period. I examine these, and many of her other roles, in my attempt to plumb the depths of the Muzio mystique. Incidentally, there is a special bonus episode on Muzio that has been concurrently published for my Patreon supporters. What better time to celebrate this artist, and this occasion, than by signing up to become a monthly supporter on Patreon? (www.patreon.com/countermelody)

The episode begins with a tribute to the late Italian dramatic tenor Giuseppe Giacomini, who died this past week at the age of 80.

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 92. Blessed Memory (In Memoriam III)



The final episode (for now) in my series commemorating recent deaths in the musical community, this one presents a further group of treasurable (and often less well-known) musical artists, refracted through the lens of memory: personal memory, collective memory, eternal memory, blessed memory. Prepare to make or renew acquaintance with Adele Stolte, Silvano Carroli, Inés Rivadeneira, Eugenia Ratti, Caroline Kaart, Galina Savova, Bernard Ładysz, Cora Canne Meijer, Arthur Woodley, Jolanda Meneguzzer, Eldar Aliev, Sophie Boulin, and Edith Thallaug, among many others. Some were “voiceless wonders,” relatively speaking, others were gifted with enormous vocal gifts. All were artists and human beings who each made their mark in their own distinctive way. Guest stars include Vasile Moldoveanu, Cesare Siepi, Aimé Doniat, and Ralf Gothóni.

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 82. Magda Olivero: La Verissima



This week we celebrate the recent 111th birthday of the great Italian verista Magda Olivero. An extraordinary artist whose unusual career saw her taking a ten-year hiatus just as her career was gaining steam, to return in 1950 at the express request of the composer Francesco Cilea, who felt that her portrayal of the title role of his Adriana Lecouvreur was definitive (and of course he was right!) Olivero made a Metropolitan Opera debut as Tosca at the advanced age of 65; even after her official retirement, she continued to make occasional appearances in concert, including her final one at the age of 99! She began with a modest but capable voice and developed it into a finely-tuned instrument capable of taking on the most dramatic repertoire, including Cherubini’s Medea and Minnie in La fanciulla del West, but always capable of the finest pianissimo shadings. Her voice displays an extraordinary range of color and her dramatic acumen has never been matched. This week’s episode features a number of her live appearances in Amsterdam, including an extraordinary Adriana Lecouvreur from 1965 which features her at her artistic and vocal peak. The episode also features excerpts from an extraordinary live concert at the Church of San Jacopino in Firenze on 28 March 1969 which includes nearly superhuman displays of vocal skill and dramatic insight. Magda Olivero lived to the age of 104; though she is no longer with us on earth, her artistry continues to inspire and delight lovers of opera and singing.

This episode was prepared with the kind assistance and input of Denis Robert, who maintains the Magda Olivero Archives page on YouTube. He was a personal friend of the artist and has done much to meticulously preserve her artistry and keep her legacy alive. He has provided me with high-quality masterings of many of the recordings featured on today’s episode and also regaled me with wonderful personal anecdotes and reminiscences of this great artist.

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

 


Episode 72. Igor Gorin (Great Baritones II)



I recently rediscovered the great Ukranian-American baritone Igor Gorin (1904-1982) and was bowled over by the sheer beauty of his voice. In fact, I am tempted to call his the most beautiful baritone voice I have ever heard. His is a fascinating life story, beginning in pre-Soviet Ukraine and moving back and forth from Vienna to the United States until finally, with forged documents, he emigrated to the US and became a naturalized citizen. Through a series of happy circumstances, he became one of the top US radio stars of the 1930s and 1940s and eventually appeared as well on early television broadcasts. A career in regional opera resulted, including starring roles at Lyric Opera of Chicago and one single appearance at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 59. This episode features live, radio, and studio performances by Gorin in opera, operetta, Broadway, and folk and art songs over a period of nearly 40 years, including exceptional a live late career performance of Ernest Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh, in which he returned to his cantorial roots. If you do not (or do) already know this artist, you are in for a treat.

A bonus episode on Igor Gorin for my Patreon subscribers includes complete performances of two constrasting song cycles by Modest Mussorgsky, The Nursery and the Songs and Dances of Death.

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 59. Rosanna Carteri In Memoriam



I had been planning a 90th birthday tribute to this extraordinary artist in December, but alas, the great Rosanna Carteri departed this earth a week ago today, just a few weeks short of that landmark celebration. But let us celebrate today nonetheless, that this long-lived artist, who abandoned her performing career in 1966 when she was only 35 years old, brought her full-throated voice and impeccable artistry to operatic stages around the world for fifteen exceptional years. Carteri’s was a lyric yet full-bodied voice with facility that allowed her to undertake soubrette parts as well as some spinto roles. I feature extended examples of her versatility over the course of that entire career, including excerpts from La traviata, La bohème, La rondine, Guglielmo Tell, Falstaff, L’elisir d’amore, Madama Butterfly, Roméo et Juliette, Otello, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz and Iris, Prokofiev’s War and Peace (the final version of which she created in Florence in 1954), the premiere recording of Poulenc’s Gloria and Gilbert Bécaud’s Opéra d’Aran (which she premiered in Paris in 1962). These operas represent just a fraction of her repertoire, in which are featured, among others, Giuseppe di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, Leonard Warren, Carlo Bergonzi, Ettore Bastianini, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Giuseppe Taddei, Cesare Valletti, and Giuseppe Gismondo and conductors Tullio Serafin, Pierre Monteux, Vittorio Gui, Georges Prêtre, Gabriele Santini, and Artur Rodzinski. In other words, the crème de la crème of the operatic firmament in the 1950s and 1960s, in which company Carteri most emphatically belonged.

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 24. Freni in Duet (Mirella In Memoriam I)



Today, in the first of two consecutive episodes. I pay tribute to the great Mirella Freni, who died on February 7 and who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on February 27th. Celebrated for the freshness of her timbre, her musical integrity and commitment, her vocal prowess and longevity, and her expressivity, Freni sang a repertoire which covered a wide range of styles and languages. Today’s selections, from over the course of her entire career, feature her exclusively in duet, and include selections from Gianni Schicchi, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Le nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Don Carlo, Le due illustri rivali, Don Giovanni, and La Traviata with Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Dvorsky, Luis Lima, Renata Scotto, and her husband Nicolai Ghiaurov. Three selections from a rare 1977 LP of Puccini and Verdi duets with the superlative (and notorious!) Italian tenor Franco form the centerpiece of this loving tribute.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 23. Lawrence Winters and Robert McFerrin (Black History Month IV)



Episode 23 – Winters and McFerrin: A Tale of Two Baritones (Black History Month IV)

Today’s episode, the fourth in a sequence honoring African American singers, this one pays tribute to two great baritones, Lawrence Winters (1915-1965) and Robert McFerrin (1921-2006). Winters was a trailblazer on records and on stage at the New York City Opera and in major German opera houses; while McFerrin, the first African American male to sing a major role at the Metropolitan Opera, made his debut in 1955 as Amonasro in Aida three weeks after Marian Anderson made history on the same stage as the first black solo singer to perform there. This episode examines the early life and rise to prominence of each singer; the role that Porgy played in the careers of both singers; and each one’s credentials as a Verdi baritone par excellence. Highlights include an excerpt from William Grant Still’s opera Troubled Island, which premiered at NYCO in 1949, and a memorable cache of spirituals recordings from both singers. Guest aritsts heard on this episode include Todd Duncan, Camilla Williams, Marie Powers, Maria Stader, Adele Addison, Laurel Hurley, and Grace de la Cruz.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 15. Hail and Farewell



We set our sights on the New Year, at the same time giving a backward glance, in mostly reverse chronological order, to those singers and other musicians, whose contributions have immeasurably enhanced our lives. I’ve prepared a whopper of an episode that traverses many genres and styles, but which, as always, remains faithful to the mission of the podcast: to bring you the most interesting and communicative singers. From João Gilberto to Marcello Giordani, from Sanford Sylvan to Rolando Panerai, from Heather Harper to Ann Crumb: they’re all here, with a few surprises sprinkled along the way. Three last-minute entries to the Hail and Farewell sequence are Peter Schreier, Allee Willis, and Jerry Herman, all of whom died in the last week.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com