Tag Archives: Claudio Monteverdi

Episode 89. The Radiant Heather Harper



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

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


Episode 86. Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs



I return to Cathy Berberian, Prima Donna of the Avant Garde (or “The Divine Miss B” as she was sometimes called in the mid-seventies) for a further exploration of her career and influence on vocalism in the twentieth century and beyond. This time around I consider her explorations outside of the avant garde, specifically the recital. Based on her 1967 recording of Beatles Arias, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt invited Cathy Berberian to take part in his groundbreaking 1969 period instrument recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1969 Cathy Berberian began to perform recitals that exploited her entire stylistic and vocal range, a program which eventually became known as “From Monteverdi to The Beatles.” In 1971 her ex-husband Luciano Berio wrote a theater piece for her called Recital I (For Cathy), in which she portrayed an increasingly deranged performer who eventually descends into madness. Her interest in Reynaldo Hahn and Marcel Proust eventually led her to create a program entitled À la recherche de la musique perdue. Additional late-career recitals were called Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs and Cathy Sings America. This episode features excerpts from all of those works, as well as a smattering of folk music and a recorded excerpt of her singing the title role of Carmen, a tantalizing prospect which never came to be. The episode also includes a tribute to Kathleen Ferrier, whose 109th birthday was observed this past week.

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 80. Sad Songs (with a twist)



It’s been a year since the pandemic sent us all into various degrees of lockdown, panic, and depression. In certain parts of the world there is no end in sight, while in other parts, medical expertise is being blatantly defied as lockdown measures are carelessly lifted. I did a survey of my friends and listeners this week regarding their favorite sad songs, and I got hit with an avalanche of a wide range of not-happy music. In this episode I am limiting myself to so-called “classical” music. Because the music itself is so heavy, I impersonate (at the top of the episode) a radio announcer for WOKE-FM, a fictional Milwaukee “Top 40 Classical Radio Station,” who is taking calls from all over the world from listeners requesting their favorite sad music. These spurious callers have invariably good taste, and request some glorious music, albeit very sad indeed, by some transcendent performers, including Irmgard Seefried, Maria Callas, Janet Baker, Pierre Bernac, Nan Merriman, Lois Marshall, Peter Pears, and two beautiful French sopranos, Renée Doria and Andréa Guiot, who, at extremely advanced ages, each recently departed this earth. Composers from Dowland, Rameau, and Monteverdi are represented, alongside Poulenc, Schubert, Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky. The episode also includes guest vocal appearances by singers, including Cathy Berberian, Magda Olivero, Charles Panzéra, Jorma Hynninen, and Bethany Beardslee, who will receive full-episode treatment in the near future. Ultimately, we return to the atmosphere of a normal Countermelody episode, and are deeply moved by the singers, composers, and music represented.

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 74. Lucretia West (Black History Month 2021 II)



The great African American contralto Lucretia West, born on 13 November 1922, is one of the great singers of German Lieder in general and of the music of Gustav Mahler in particular. Though she occasionally appeared in her native country, the majority of her life and career was spent in Germany. She was a favorite of some of the greatest conductors of the 1950s and 1960s, including Hans Knappertsbusch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Carl Schuricht, and Hermann Scherchen. Her collaborations with them are all featured in this episode. Her recorded legacy is not large, but it is impressive, and includes releases of Schubert Lieder and two albums of spirituals which are among the most significant contributions to that genre. Though she did not sing much opera, I did uncover a 1958 recording with Ferdinand Leitner of Carl Orff’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheus, in which she sings the role of La Messaggera (Die Botin in Orff’s German-language version). All of her work reveals a singer of enormous expressivity and makes an interesting contrast with that of her near-contemporary, Carol Brice.

I had originally intended to post this extra episode as a bonus for my Patreon supporters, but I decided that all of my Black History Month episodes should be available to all interested listeners, whether they are Patreon subscribers or not. Please enjoy, and please pass on the word to all persons who might enjoy learning more about some of the lesser-known African American singers of past generations. And, if you are so inspired, please do consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. I’m so happy that you are here to join in the celebration of this magnificent artist!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” 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 32. Fedora Barbieri (Mezzo Madness III)



The Italian mezzo-soprano Fedora Barbieri (1920-2003) was never a great favorite of mine. That is, until I recently came across her rare 1953 recording entitled Fedora Barbieri Sings Old Italian Songs and Airs, accompanied by Dick Marzollo, an assistant of Toscanini’s and one of the principal coaches at the Met in the 1950s. Though possessed of an extraordinary voice, Barbieri’s vocal problems prevented her from making her full mark in much of the dramatic mezzo-soprano repertoire in which her compatriot and arch-rival Giulietta Simionato excelled. However, in this recording of songs by Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Paisiello, Cherubini, Scarlatti, and others, recorded in New York for the Vox label, Barbieri reveals herself as that true rara avis, a classicist with guts. The episode also includes recordings from either end of Barbieri’s five-decade-long career and begins with a tribute to the great American jugendlich dramatisch Sopran Arlene Saunders, who died last week at the age of 89.

Countermelody is a 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 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.


Episode 2: A Countertenor for the 21st Century: An Interview with Nicholas Tamagna (Part 1)



Episode 2: A Countertenor for the 21st Century: An interview with Nicholas Tamagna (Part 1). Nicholas sat down with me this past June to discuss many different aspects of countertenordom, including in-depth discussions of several recent productions of Handel and Monteverdi operas in which he has recently been involved and the challenges in performing a range of musical styles and dramatic contexts. We also discuss the circuitous path by which Nicholas discovered his countertenor voice, the joys of playing comic roles, villains, and flawed heroes, as well as his childhood fascination with language, and how that has served him in good stead in his performing career. This episode, which also features numerous recent live clips of Nicholas singing, concludes with the discovery of our mutual love for an iconic French film. Please join us next week for the conclusion of this interview.

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