Tag Archives: La sonnambula

Episode 180. Anna Moffo Reappraised



The Italian-American lyric coloratura soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) is, for many, one of the great singers of the past century. My first exposure to this artist was one of two, frankly, disastrous recordings released in the mid-1970s, in which the voice was a mere shadow of its former self, and in which her vocal defects and mannerisms had overtaken the intrinsic beauty of her voice. But there are so many exceptional qualities to Moffo as an artist, musician, and media star, that I felt compelled to do a frank reappraisal of her contribution to the lyric art. And am I glad that I did! I discovered an artist of great integrity who, in her best work, attained a similar level to any of the other great singers performing during that period. Unlike any other opera singer that I can think of, she conquered three distinct markets with equal success: first in Italy (where she rose to overnight stardom in the late 1950s and went on in the 1960s to become the star of her own eponymous television series); then in the United States throughout the 1960s; and finally, in the late 1960s and 70s, in Germany. But hers is also a cautionary tale of “too much, too soon” and the potentially destructive power of the media which has significance also in today’s opera world. Throughout the episode, live and studio examples of Moffo’s work, both bad and (mostly) good over the course of more than twenty years, are offered to support my discussion of her importance and influence as an artist, one that continues to this day. Vocal guest stars include tenors Carlo Bergonzi, Rudolf Schock, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Sergio Franchi, and musical collaborators include Tullio Serafin, Gerald Moore, Lorin Maazel, Hans Rosbaud, Fernando Previtali, Lehman Engel, Oliviero de Fabritiis, René Leibowitz, Kurt Eichhorn, Berislav Klobučar, and Franco Ferrara. For those who love Moffo, for those who hate her, and for those who find themselves somewhere in between, this episode is (dare I say it?) required listening.

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 177. Great Singers at Twilight



For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.

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 107. Norman Bailey and Friends



Death has had a busy month in the music world, especially this past week, when we lost the great British Heldenbariton Norman Bailey and the delectable Hollywood star Jane Powell. This past week was also the memorial service for the soprano Carmen Balthrop, who died of pancreatic cancer on September 5. My original intent was to devote the episode to Norman Bailey, but when Jane (with whom I had a personal relationship, having been her late husband Dick Moore’s personal assistant from 2009-2012) also died, I realized I had to do an omnibus episode of sorts. I begin with several selections each from both of the recently departed divas and then plunge headlong into an appreciation of the voice, technique and artistry of the great Norman Bailey, featuring him in opera excerpts not just by Wagner, in whose music he excelled, but also by Verdi, Richard Strauss, and Michael Tippett. He is also featured in recordings from the 1970s of songs by Schumann, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, and Peter Warlock. The episode concludes with a tribute to Maria Callas on the 44th anniversary of her death on September 16, 1977.

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. 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 48. Cesare Siepi (Crossover Classics IV)



Last month marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Italian basso Cesare Siepi, one of the most important basses of the twentieth century, after such figures as Nazzareno de Angelis, Tancredi Pasero, and, particularly, Ezio Pinza, the latter, like Siepi, particularly associated with the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His dashing good looks, solid technique, sonorous voice and appealing artistry, placed him in the forefront of the opera world, particularly in the 1950s through the 1970s. In this episode, rather than his celebrated Mozart and Verdi portrayals, however, we will focus primarily on his 1958 Decca/London album, Easy to Love: The Songs of Cole Porter. Siepi also made two appearances on Broadway, including 1962’s nearly-forgotten Bravo, Giovanni, from which we hear two excerpts. Other musical selections in this episode include two operatic arias, several favorites from the Neapolitan song repertoire, and live and television performances from Brahms to Sigmund Romberg. Revisiting this artist, and particularly his spot-on Cole Porter performances, is a nostalgic journey for me, and I hope to convey to you his enormous appeal.