Tag Archives: Giacomo Puccini

Episode 46. Julia Migenes (Crossover Classics II)



Today’s featured artist, the cosmopolitan yet earthy Julia Migenes, is certainly one of the most compelling and successful of all “crossover artists.” Beginning early in her career, she assumed roles in musicals, operetta, opera, and beyond that showcased her versatility and contributed to her worldwide eminence. Her multilingual facility and fascinating cultural background rendered her a true artistic chameleon. I explore in particular her success in the European market, particularly Germany and France. This episode features Migenes in live and studio recordings over the course of her entire career (showcasing in particular her 1980 release, Latin Lady) in shows ranging from West Side Story to Salome, and composers from Astor Piazzolla to Richard Strauss. A celebration of a peripatetic, treasurable, idiosyncratic artist who never was afraid to be anything but herself.

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.” Frequent 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!


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

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.


Episode 41. Ira Siff: La Gran Scena and Beyond



Today’s episode is an interview I did with Ira Siff, artistic director of La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York, alter ego of the beloved “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borszkh, lecturer for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Weekly Commentator on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. My association with Ira and Gran Scena goes back more than thirty years, when he provided me with my first employment as a singer when my alter ego Daniela della Scarpone sang for two years with the renowned travesty opera company. I sat down with Ira in his East Village apartment last this past January for a wide-ranging interview in which we discuss his early days as a standee at the old Met (where some of his opera-going experiences included Maria Callas’s final Tosca performances, Renata Scotto’s 1965 debut as Madama Butterfly, and Leonie Rysanek’s wild traversals of Verdi and Wagner). He discusses his first performing experiences in the early 1970s in association with Al Carmines and others, the genesis of La Gran Scena and their development into a worldwide phenomenon, and his subsequent “legitimate” career as lecturer, stage director, vocal coach and voice teacher and commentator all stemmed from in his words, “getting in a dress and singing soprano,” which he dubs “the strangest part.” This is a free-wheeling and extremely Opera Queeny interview, peppered with Ira’s unique anecdotes and snippets from Gran Scena (and other!) performances. There is no better way to celebrate Gay Pride in isolation than to listen to this episode!

Ira Siff is a native New Yorker, who grew up on the standing room line of the old Metropolitan Opera, worshiping the famous singers of the 60’s.

A graduate of the Cooper Union, with a degree in Fine Arts, Mr. Siff began to study voice, and made his debut as a tenor in 1970. For the next decade, he performed roles in opera, operetta and musicals in the New York, at The New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle in the Square, Playwrights Horizons, and many other venues. Turning to cabaret, Ira created an act using vocal parody of opera, jazz, and other styles of music, gaining critical acclaim, and a loyal following.

In 1981, he founded La Gran Scena Opera Co. di New York, the internationally acclaimed travesty troupe, whose gifted falsetto “divas” have spoofed opera with great affection for over two decades, in New York annually, and on tours to some of the great festivals, theatres and opera houses of the world.

For the past thirty years, Mr. Siff has been a voice teacher and interpretive coach, teaching in New York, Italy, Israel, Holland and China, giving Master Classes for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and was on the faculty of the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy. Ira was a guest teacher of bel canto technique at The Royal Conservatory in Den Haag in 2008, and then at the Dutch National Opera Academy for five seasons, and at the Amsterdam Conservatory in The Netherlands where he returned annually, and was appointed Permanent Guest Teacher.

In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his productions of operas ranging from Tosca, Turandot, and La Fanciulla del West to Lakmé, Werther, and La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sarasota Opera, The Caramoor Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he directed productions of Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Ariadne auf Naxos. All in all, he has directed operas for companies in New Jersey to New Zealand, with stops along the way in Puerto Rico, Lima, Peru and Utah. Singers whom he has directed include Sumi Jo, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, Eglise Gutierrez, Krassimira Stoyanova, and the late Marcello Giordani. Conductors with whom he has collaborated as a stage director have included Richard Bonynge, Christoph von Dohnányi, and James Levine.

He has also given master classes in bel canto and verismo for the Metropolitan Opera Guild every season since 2008 and has presented sold-out lectures for the Met Guild as well on a variety of operatic topics. These lectures can be heard on the podcast of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Ira also lectures on opera twenty times a season for two private classes, has been a contributor of reviews and features to Opera News since 1997 and has been Weekly Commentator on the Met Broadcasts since 2007.

La Gran Scena Opera Company was conceived and launched in 1981 by its Artistic Director Ira Siff and performed extensively in New York and around the world for the next twenty years, including seasons and tours in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and The Kennedy Center and at some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals. In New York, the company’s performances at Town Hall, Symphony Space, and (finally in 1998 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall) were enormously popular and earned them a legion of fans, including Renata Scotto, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, James Levine, and Anna Moffo, among many others, whose appearances at live performances of the company were a thrill and delight for all who were in attendance.

The company wound down its activities with a New York Farewell in October 2001 and a week of performances at the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in November 2002, but the company’s prima donna, “traumatic soprano” Vera Galupe-Borzkh, (as embodied by Ira Siff), continued to alternately present comeback performances and annual farewell recitals until 2009, when Ira and Madame Vera finally bid farewell to the stage for real. Fortunately, for the joy and amusement of opera lovers everywhere, many of the performances of Vera and other favorite company members, including Philene Wannelle, Sylvia Bills, Fodor Szedan, Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi, and the legendary 105-year-old diva Gabriella Tonnoziti-Casseruola, under the various batons of the company’s various music directors, including Francesco Folinari-Soave-Coglioni, Sergio Zawa, Helmut Maria Dorf, and Lorenzo Costellata-Denaro are available for viewing on Madame Vera’s YouTube channel as well as on DVD’s published by VAI, including the delicious biographical show, Vera: Life of a Diva and The Annual Farewell Recital.

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.


Episode 36. Glamour



The Oxford English Dictionary defines “glamour” as “magic; enchantment; spell” and “a magical or fictitious beauty attaching to any person or object; a delusive or alluring charm.” Further down in the entry are “charm; attractiveness; physical allure,” certainly the definition we most closely associate with the term. And yet, it’s fascinating to examine the concept of glamour from its spellbinding origins. In the first of my episodes on Glamour, I examine many singers both from the spell-binding sense of the term and the sense of vocal and personal allure. Among others, I examine such varied singers as Alice Faye, Eleanor Steber, Annie Lennox, Carol Neblett, Betty Carter, Diahann Carroll, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Liane Augustin, Dorothy Kirsten, Florence Quartararo, Hana Janků, Helen Traubel, Hilde Güden, Kiri Te Kanawa, Leontyne Price, Lisa Kirk, Lotte Lehmann, Anna Moffo, Maria Nemeth, Montserrat Caballé, Rosa Ponselle, Zarah Leander, and The Incomparable Hildegarde with an eye to what makes their work glamourous in all senses of the term. And the gentlemen are by no means excluded: I spend particular time on the seductive and dulcet tenor tones of Fritz Wunderlich, José Carreras, Karl Friedrich, and Miguel Fleta.

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 25. Freni on the Fringe (Mirella in Memoriam II)



Episode 25 – Freni on the Fringe (Mirella in Memoriam II)

Today’s episode continues last week’s homage to the late, great Mirella Freni. This time around, I explore some her performances of operas and works which she performed only rarely, or to which she turned later in her career. Featured works include excerpts from Handel’s Serse, Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (in which Freni sings the Countess rather than her usual Susanna), the title role in Gounod’s Mireille, Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, and Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. The Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen, one of my favorite singers, is heard as Onegin. Conductors include Claudio Abbado, Bruno Bartoletti, Michel Plasson, and Václav Smetáček. The episode concludes with a relatively obscure 1977 studio recording of Freni singing “Signore, ascolta” from Turandot which represents the absolute pinnacle of her vocal art.

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


Episode 24. Freni in Duet (Mirella In Memoriam I)



Today, in the first of two consecutive episodes. I pay tribute to the great Mirella Freni, who died on February 7 and who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on February 27th. Celebrated for the freshness of her timbre, her musical integrity and commitment, her vocal prowess and longevity, and her expressivity, Freni sang a repertoire which covered a wide range of styles and languages. Today’s selections, from over the course of her entire career, feature her exclusively in duet, and include selections from Gianni Schicchi, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Le nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Don Carlo, Le due illustri rivali, Don Giovanni, and La Traviata with Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Dvorsky, Luis Lima, Renata Scotto, and her husband Nicolai Ghiaurov. Three selections from a rare 1977 LP of Puccini and Verdi duets with the superlative (and notorious!) Italian tenor Franco form the centerpiece of this loving tribute.

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


Episode 9: Janet Williams Interview Part II: Serendipity @ Merola



Episode 9: Janet Williams Interview Part II: Serendipity @ Merola. In this episode, Janet relives her early career experiences, including time that both she and Daniel spent at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. She describes the continuing influence and tutelage of Camilla Williams; tells about her study in Paris with the great Régine Crespin, the mentorship of Marilyn Horne, and the inspiration of Harolyn Blackwell and Kathleen Battle; and elucidates how she was hired for a two-year Festvertrag at the Berliner Staatsoper and how, 27 years later, she still calls Berlin home. The episode is peppered throughout with musical examples.

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


Episode 1: Welcome to Countermelody



Episode 1: Welcome to Countermelody, or Claudia and Zazà. Our first episode answers the question on everyone’s lips: “Where did the logo and the theme music come from?” We discuss the legendary Italian diva Claudia Muzio whose series of iconic recordings, particularly those recorded shortly before her premature death in 1936, are so extraordinary that they have kept her reputation intact to this day. We consider in particular her November 1920 recording of an aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s little-remembered verismo opera Zazà, in which her extraordinary artistry is on full display.

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