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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!