Tag Archives: David Belasco

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



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

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

 


Episode 213. Julia Varady



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

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


Episode 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 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 153. Eleanor Steber I



July 17 is the 108th birthday of Eleanor Steber, surely one of the all-time greatest singers that the United States has ever produced (as well as one of the most versatile and technically-accomplished!) In long overdue Countermelody tribute to this exceptional artist, I present the first of two very special episodes honoring Eleanor. After the “usual” career overview featuring mostly live highlights from her operatic appearances all over the world, I turn the stage (or in this case the mic), over to my dear friend Michelle Oesterle, founder and conductor of the Manhattan Girls Chorus, who was also Eleanor Steber’s stepdaughter. As such she spent time (especially in the summer months) with her father and Eleanor at Melody Hill, Eleanor’s estate on Long Island. She provides us with an unparalleled intimate portrait of Eleanor as woman and as singer and describes the profound influence that Eleanor had in her life, as well as the characteristics that combined to make her the profoundly appealing and moving interpreter that she was. She also addresses the white elephant in the room, that is, Eleanor’s alcoholism, and makes a plea for tolerance and understanding vis-à-vis this serious disease. The Steber tribute will continue with a further episode sometime in the next month. For now, let us raise our glasses (of sparkling mineral water), in tribute to this phenomenal artist, the like of which we will never see again. Musical selections range from Victor Herbert to Alban Berg and everything in between. Thank you, Michelle, and evviva Eleanor!

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.