Tag Archives: Madama Butterfly

Episode 67. Good Bye 2020 (and Good Riddance!)



Is there anyone out there who will not be relieved to bid farewell to 2020, this annus horribilis? I know I’ll be delighted to kick its ass out the door. How to make any sense of this year of pandemic, panic, political shenanigans, poverty, racial injustice, climate disaster and general global upheaval? I have no answers, except to return to music. The episode begins with a mini-tribute to Broadway great Rebecca Luker, who lost her hard-fought against ALS on December 23rd. Then I return to the year 1935, since, as I discovered as I was preparing my mom’s birthday episode a couple weeks ago, so many interesting musicians were born in that year. Some of those artists are still with us, others died some time ago, while still others were among the many casualties of 2020. I take a journey through the composers (Arvo Pärt, Aulis Sallinen, Nicholas Maw, Peter Schat, Josep Soler, Giya Kancheli, and Peter Schickele [aka P.D.Q. Bach]) and singers (Helga Pilarczyk, Sherrill Milnes, Dominic Cossa, Arlene Saunders, Albert Remedios, and Teresa Berganza) born in that year, and conclude with those beloved artists Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti (both of whom were also born in 1935) in an extended excerpt from a live 1975 performance of La bohème, that exemplifies near-perfection, operatically speaking. Let’s “tak a cup o’ kindness yet” at the passing of this challenging year as we also look forward to a new year better in every imaginable way than its predecessor!

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.

Links to related Countermelody episodes:

Episode 64: Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Features the baritone in several operas by Aulis Sallinen): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-64-jorma-hynninen-in-opera

Two episodes in memory of Mirella Freni:

Episode 25: Freni on the Fringe (Freni sings unexpected repertoire): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-25-freni-on-the-fringe-mirella-in-memoriam-ii

Episode 24: Freni in Duet (Freni with various distinguished partners): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-24-freni-in-duet

And three episodes devoted to great artists that we have lost recently:

Episode 59: In Memoriam Rosanna Carteri: www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-59-rosanna-carteri

Bonus Episode 5: In Memoriam Christiane Eda-Pierre (available to my Patreon subscribers at any level of support): www.patreon.com/posts/42459803

Episode 15: Hail and Farewell (a tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2019): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-15-hail-and-farewell

 


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 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 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