Today I conclude my examination of my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, with an expanded roster of singers which includes return visits from some of last week’s interpreters (Camille Maurane, Gabriel Bacquier, Gérard Souzay, Françoise Ogéas, Jacques Jansen, and Michèle Command) alongside other, equally magnificent singers (George Shirley, Janine Micheau, George London, Elisabeth Söderström, Henri-Bertrand Etcheverry, Irène Joachim, André Vessières, and others) under the batons of Jean Fournet, Pierre Boulez, Armin Jordan, as well as last week’s master helmsmen Roger Désormière and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. I also foreground the young lyric baritone Huw Montague Rendall, who just last season sang his first Pelléas and who has already earned a place for himself among these other great artists. My further discussion of the opera includes discussions of Wagner, Mussorgsky, Edgar Allan Poe, and toxic masculinity, as each pertains to this piece. So many listeners wrote to tell me how last week’s episode changed their mind about this opera. Evidently I’ve done my job well. We need fewer Pelléas haters out there, and more, many more, Pelléas lovers!
In (relative) relief over the recent French election result, I kick off my miniseries devoted to French singers and French music. Today’s episode will be the first of two devoted to my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which has enchanted, fascinated, and, yes, thrilled me since I was ten years old. If, like me, you adore this opera, then this episode is obviously for you. If you are among the many naysayers out there who find Pelléas to be boring, this episode is even more for you, because it puts the lie to the old saw that this masterpiece is static and motionless. Going back to near the dawn of recorded sound, I offer extant examples of the creators of the principal roles, Mary Garden, Hector Dufranne, Jean Périer, Jeanne Gerville-Réache, and Félix Vieuille. I also feature performances by other figures associated with the opera in its first decades of performance: Maggie Teyte, Charles Panzéra, Germaine Cernay, Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Jacques Jansen, Paul Cabanel, and Armand Narçon, most of whom are featured on early recordings of the opera from the 1920s, and from its first complete recording led by Roger Désormière in war-torn Paris in 1941. From the next generation of great Debussy interpreters, I also present Suzanne Danco, Camille Maurane, Françoise Ogéas, Gérard Souzay, and Jean-Paul Jeannotte in various live performances led by the legendary conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, and from more recent decades, performances by José van Dam, Michèle Command and the late Maria Ewing and Gabriel Bacquier led by Claudio Abbado and Serge Baudo. These artists all are keenly connected to both the words and drama, and wring out the passion, playfulness, and despair to be found in this work, which represents to me the perfect fusion of words, music and drama. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged as I step into the world of Pelléas, that dramatic fusion of sunlight and shadow, which will continue next week with recorded performances by even more great singers and conductors.
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.