Tag Archives: Alexander Pushkin

Episode 263. Contralto Central



Finally, the first in my long-promised series on the contralto voice! The contralto is a rara avis in the today’s opera and classical music scene, and yet back in the day, there seem to have been more of them before the public. And of course contraltos have always been a powerful presence on the popular music scene, whether in blues, disco, jazz, or as purveyors of the Great American Songbook. There is no way that I can cover all of the great (and near-great) contraltos in recorded history, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Today’s selections span a wide chronological range , even for this podcast: nearly 120 years, and include voices both fleet and monolithic (and sometimes both). We begin with a tribute to the late Polish coloratura contralto Ewa Podleś and along with way we hear the most famous contraltos like Kathleen Ferrier and Marian Anderson, and jazz and pop contraltos like Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson. We also sample singers from the earlier twentieth century such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Cloe Elmo, Clara Butt, Eugenia Mantelli, Kerstin Thorborg, and Sigrid Onégin (about whom I spill some major tea!) Throughout the episode are sprinkled some of the most beautiful voices of any kind that I have ever heard: the Scottish Caroline Kaart, the Romanian Florica Cristofereanu, the Czech Věra Soukupová, the Dutch Aafje Heynis, the French Germaine Cernay, the British Norma Procter, and the Russian Valentina Levko. And if like me you have despaired of ever hearing another true contralto again in our lifetime, we hear in young Jasmin White cause for rejoicing. And if your favorites are not heard today, fear not, for this is the tip of the iceberg: many more great singers will follow when the series continues in two weeks.

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 201. Britten – Pears (Pride 2023)



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 193. Alexander Kipnis



If I were to indulge in the foolish task of dubbing certain artists the “Greatest Ever,” I would have little hesitation in naming Ukrainian-American bass Alexander Kipnis (1891–1978) “the greatest” in several categories: greatest Wagner bass, greatest low-voiced Lieder singer, just maybe even the greatest bass ever captured on recording. Though I am trying to wean myself of these designations, I have no difficulty in naming Kipnis my favorite bass. In this episode, his operatic impersonations, though legendary, are touched on but peripherally: the focus instead is on his contributions in art song, specifically Lieder. Despite his heavily-accented German (which to my ear only increases the power of his interpretations in songs like Schubert’s “Aufenthalt” or Wolf’s Michelangelo-Lieder), Kipnis was as keenly attuned to text and its musical setting than any singer of art song before or since. As usual of late in my episodes, I begin with several short contrasting examples that illustrate the “why” question: why was this artist so important, and why does he remain so? There follow a few all-too-brief examples of Kipnis in opera, including examples stretching back to his earliest recordings in 1916, when he was barely 25 years old. Then follow a further examination of Kipnis’s Lieder recordings, including a rare 1943 radio broadcast of Schumann’s Dichterliebe accompanied by Wolfgang Rosé, the son-in-law of Gustav Mahler, as well as recordings issued under the aegis of the Hugo Wolf Society and the Johannes Brahms Society, and his matchless early recordings of the songs of Franz Schubert, which were my introduction not only to Kipnis’s magisterial voice, but also the songs themselves. In all of this material, whether tender, ardent, humorous, or transcendent, Kipnis’s dignity and humanity shine through.

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 181. Nicolai Gedda in Song



Today’s episode is a special request from one of my most dedicated listeners, and one with which I am happy to comply. It is already seven years this month since the death of the great Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (11 July 1925 – 8 January 2017). One of the most cultivated singers of the twentieth century, Gedda not only had a rock-solid technique and an instantly recognizable timbre, but he was a brilliant musician and a polyglot of the first order, singing a wide range of repertoire and styles in a host of languages. He was also a prolific recording artist. Though he sang an enormous range of operatic roles, in this episode, I have decided to focus entirely on a slightly lesser-known aspect of his career: his work in art song. Gedda was a master of French style, but also celebrated for his performances of Russian music. And one of the three languages he spoke while he was growing up was German, which lends his work in that language a real authenticity as well. In listening to recordings of song repertoire, I was struck by the frequent added spontaneity and commitment of his live versus his studio performances, so the episode features a large number of selections culled from Gedda’s live recitals. Gedda is accompanied by some of the most exceptional pianists of his time: Alexis Weissenberg, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Gerald Moore, Geoffrey Parsons, Dalton Baldwin, Erik Werba, Hermann Reutter, and his compatriot and most frequent collaborator Jan Eyron. Another extraordinary aspect of Gedda’s singing was his longevity. We hear him in songs by Strauss, Berlioz, Schubert, Janáček, Duparc, Grieg, Schumann, Fauré, Respighi, and Gounod, recorded over a period of nearly 40 years. Here is another singer who was active into the twilight of his life and sang into his seventies with both the intimacy and clarion power that were his musical trademarks.

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 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.