Tag Archives: Giuseppe Verdi

Episode 47. Sylvia Sass (Crossover Classics III)



The Hungarian soprano Sylvia Sass was a comet in the operatic firmament in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, most celebrated for singing the heaviest dramatic coloratura repertoire. In 1984 she also released a crossover album entitled Nézz körül, which I purchased when it was first released, and which amused me to no end, featuring as it did songs from “Flashdance” to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” all sung in Hungarian. As the years have passed, and I have become more and more of a Sass fan, I have completely revised my opinion of this unusual entry into the Crossover Classics genre and now am of the opinion that Sass’s achievement on this record represents the peak of opera singers singing crossover material. Her unusual and compelling voice is heard at its most mellifluous here; her musicianship is at the complete and non-condescending service of the material, which ranges from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Quincy Jones; and the intensity of her delivery, contrasted with the sometimes tacky arrangements, makes for a unique and delectable experience. I supplement material from that album with several examples of Sass’s magisterial performances of operetta and classical music, from Mozart and Offenbach through Ferenc Erkel and Richard Strauss, pausing (regretfully only momentarily) on her matchless Verdi portrayals. Prepare for the Total Eclipse of the Kékszakállú!

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!


Episode 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

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 30. Giulietta Simionato (Mezzo Madness I)



Today’s episode, a celebration of the delicious and versatile Italian mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato (1910-2010), kicks off a miniseries in celebration of the mezzo-soprano voice. The centerpiece of the episode is a 10-inch London/Decca recording entitled Operatic Recital by Giulietta Simionato which features arias of Rossini, Bellini, and Verdi. The remainder of the episode features live and studio recordings, primarily from La Scala and Salzburg, by Simionato with distinguished partners, including Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, Jon Vickers, Ettore Bastianini, Gianadrea Gavazzeni, Antonino Votto, Carlo Maria Giulini, and Herbert von Karajan. Works include Il barbiere di Siviglia, Cavalleria rusticana, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Don Carlo, Adriana Lecouvreur, Orfeo ed Euridice, Norma, La Cenerentola, Gli Ugonotti, L’Italiana in Algeri, and Aida, with one special Easter egg at the end. This episode, dedicated to my dear friend Gloria Parker, also features a tribute to the late German mezzo-soprano Hertha Töpper. A te la buona Pasqua!

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 support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 26. Calling You (Music for a World in Crisis)



The world is in chaos. We don’t know from one day to the next, or one hour to the next, what is going to happen. I am currently halfway around the world from home and wondering what the coming weeks will bring. This week I have decided to feature music that addresses reaching out to loved ones across enormous gaps of time and space, the yearning for a home lost and the ambivalence with which we face the changing seasons. But all is not hopelessness: at the end of the episode, I offer several pop songs by some of my favorite singers that address the promise of healing and reunion, no matter how difficult the process. In this episode, marking the six-month anniversary of Countermelody, I’m featuring Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Hina Spani, Rosa Ponselle, Meta Seinemeyer, Anne Roselle, Claudia Muzio, Eidé Noréna, Eileen Farrell, Kathleen Ferrier, Martha Flowers, Janis Ian, Chi Coltrane, and Dusty Springfield. I also offer a recording I made in 2006 of “Danny Boy,” and I explain the song’s significance to me.

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 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 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)



Today we examine the fascinating and somewhat frustrating career of Gloria Davy (1931-2012). Yet another African American singer who found greater opportunity abroad than in the United States, Davy has the distinction of being the first Black singer to perform the title role of Verdi’s Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, which role served as her debut in 1958. Another early career success came when she replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of Porgy and Bess. Her earliest recordings, both live and studio, reveal a voice of uncommon beauty with an interpretive sensitivity to match. A superb musician, Davy also sang contemporary music throughout her career, including important premieres by Hans Werner Henze and Karlheinz Stockhausen. One must ask the question, however, if her voice would have been better served had she not turned to sung Bess and Aida so early in her career, but had instead had access to roles such as Anna Bolena, which she sang brilliantly at Town Hall in New York in 1957. The episode includes a rare airing of Davy’s 1956 album of Spirituals, in arrangements by the lesser-known African American composer Julia Perry and excerpts from her recordings of Shulamit Ran’s O the Chimneys, on poems by Nelly Sachs, and the 1972 revision of Stockhausen’s momentous Momente.

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 8: Williams and Williams



Episode 8: Williams and WilliamsAs a supplement to the first part of my interview last week with Janet Williams, I offer a cache of rare studio recordings by Camilla Williams, supplemented by live material sung by Janet Williams from the artist’s private archives. Among other material featured are excerpts from Camilla’s rarely-heard album of spirituals on the MGM Records label, and a concert given by Janet Williams in her home town of Detroit in 1989, capped by a stunning rendition of Undine Smith Moore’s arrangement of the spiritual “Watch and Pray,” dedicated to Camilla Williams.

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 5: Shirley Verrett I: La Nera Callas



Episode 5: Shirley Verrett: La Nera Callas I. Falcon or Verdi soprano?

This episode is the first of two on one of my favorite singers, the Zwischenfachsängerin Shirley Verrett. Renowned in the United States for her performances of Verdi mezzo-soprano parts, particularly Azucena in Il Trovatore and Eboli in Don Carlo, the late singer commanded an enormous repertoire, comprising bel canto and French roles, on which she left her indelible stamp. I focus in particular on the French roles she performed at the Opéra de Paris from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, as well as her Verdi soprano roles, including Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and the title role in Aida. Known in the Italian press as La Nera Callas [The Black Callas], Verrett is heard in this episode singing Brahms, Gluck, Saint-Saëns, and Verdi roles for both soprano and mezzo-soprano. Special attention is paid to her newsworthy appearances with fellow African American mezzo-cum-soprano, Grace Bumbry, the first of which, a joint Carnegie Hall concert in 1982, honored the iconic contralto Marian Anderson on the occasion of her 80th birthday.