Tag Archives: Geoffrey Parsons

Episode 69. Voiceless Wonders: An Introduction



Some of the greatest singers in history are not necessarily the most vocally-gifted. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to such artists. I consider singers across many genres: recitalists (Pierre Bernac, Madeleine Grey, Povla Frijsh, Jane Bathori), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Noël Coward, Julie Wilson, Barbara, Lotte Lenya), musicals (Fred and Adele Astaire, Chita Rivera), pop music (Bob Dylan, Lou Reed), jazz (Billie Holiday, Alberta Hunter), actors (Audrey Hepburn, Melina Mercouri, Judi Dench, Hildegard Knef, Divine), and even comedians (Dody Goodman, Bourvil), with special focus on a few of the voiceless tenors who hold a special place in my heart (Hugues Cuenod, Karl Erb, Helmut Krebs, Julius Patzak). At the end, I feature two aging icons (Marlene Dietrich and Joséphine Baker) in unforgettable live performances of two protest songs that are painfully relevant at this moment in time. Composers include Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert, Stephen Sondheim, Francis Poulenc, Abel Meeropol, Claude Debussy, Kander and Ebb, Pete Seeger, Carl Orff, Manos Hadzidakis, Fats Waller, Maurice Ravel, and Rudolf Sieczyński. Please join me for this very special episode. But prepare yourselves for an emotional wallop.

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 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 68. Margaret Marshall, Songbird



Welcome to 2021 chez Countermelody! Today’s episode is a birthday tribute to the splendid Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall, who was born on 4 January. Since she burst upon the scene in the late 1970s, she has been a favorite of lovers of great singing. Her timbre, artistry, and technical facility evoke comparisons with many treasured singers of the past. Though she retired from public performance in 2005, this past year, in tandem with her daughter Nicola and a group of dedicated supporters, she launched a website called Songbird, which focuses on the early years of her career, and which features many rare soundclips, both live and studio, from that period, many of which have been assembled into a new downloadable release entitled “Margaret Marshall Songbird.” Today’s episode features a wide range of her live and studio recordings, including a few samples from the Songbird release. Included are works by Galuppi, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Gluck, Elgar, Finzi, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg in recordings and performances between 1975 and 1990, with collaborators including conductors Neville Marriner, Riccardo Muti, John Eliot Gardiner, Vittorio Negri, Charles Groves, Antal Doráti, Philip Ledger, and Rafael Kubelik and fellow singers Ann Murray, Francisco Araiza, Alfreda Hodgson, and Sesto Bruscantini. Compiling this episode has provided my ears and spirit with many blissful hours; I wish my listeners the same experience! Many thanks to both Margaret and Nicola for providing advice and guidance in the selection of today’s material, and many happy returns to the “Scottish supersoprano”!

Link to the Margaret Marshall Songbird website: www.margaretmarshallsongbird.com

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 61. Margaret Price I: The Voice of Consolation (Music for a World in Crisis V)



Our world seems to be falling apart, both in the personal and in the global sense. I sustained an enormous personal loss this week when my dear friend Fred Berndt, the great German stage director, died suddenly on Friday. But we are all feeling an enormous sense of despair, of hopelessness, even of rage. Even before Fred’s death, I recognized that this episode needed to offer a message of hope to those who are finding it difficult to negotiate the world right now. The voice that has spoken to me most in my sadness is the Welsh soprano Margaret Price (1941-2011), whose distinctively cool yet engaged timbre, scrupulous musicianship, and communicative gifts prove unfailingly capable of conveying comfort and consolation to those who are distressed or grieving. I offer a survey of the career of this exemplary singer, a personal favorite of mine, in a wide range of repertoire including opera, oratorio, and art song. Composers include her specialties Mozart and Verdi, as well as Brahms, Strauss, Schumann, Schubert, Weber, Elgar, and the undervalued British composer Phyllis Tate. Collaborators include Otto Klemperer, Claudio Abbado, John Pritchard, Alain Lombard, Adrian Boult, and her mentor, the pianist and conductor James Lockhart, among many others. I hope that Margaret Price and her voice of consolation bring you much solace.

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 39. Pathos à la Cotrubas



Several weeks ago I began a series on particular vocal and artistic qualities that I find most important in a singer’s artistic profile. I had already done episodes on Charm and Glamour. Then the BLM protests intervened and I felt impelled to respond with two episodes examining Protest in Music. Today I resume my previous series with that all-important artistic trait Pathos. And who better exemplifies Pathos than the great Romanian soprano Ileana Cotrubas, who celebrated her 81st birthday this past week? Cotrubas was a deeply expressive and communicative artist who gained heights and plumbed depths that (in my estimation) no other artist of her generation was able to achieve. In this episode, I examine the earliest projects that brought her to international prominence, including the Glyndebourne production of Cavalli’s La Calisto, in which she sang the title role. I devote ample time to her traversals of Mozart operas, including her surprising (and surprisingly effective) assumption of Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Pausing briefly to acknowledge her work in the French repertoire and the bel canto soubrette parts, I then turn to her two greatest assumptions, Mimì in La bohème and Violetta in La Traviata. In relation to these I offer excerpts from live performances with Carlos Kleiber and Bruno Bartoletti. I conclude with a discussion of how her vocal flaws revealed her humanity in a way that an artist with a more perfect voice and technique might not have achieved, while never compromising musical values. The episode begins with a brief tribute to another singer of a different stripe who also exemplified Pathos: Judy Garland, who celebrated her 99th birthday this past week, and the 51st anniversary of whose death we commemorate next 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 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.