Tag Archives: Maria Ewing

Episode 142. The Thrill of Pelléas



In (relative) relief over the recent French election result, I kick off my miniseries devoted to French singers and French music. Today’s episode will be the first of two devoted to my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which has enchanted, fascinated, and, yes, thrilled me since I was ten years old. If, like me, you adore this opera, then this episode is obviously for you. If you are among the many naysayers out there who find Pelléas to be boring, this episode is even more for you, because it puts the lie to the old saw that this masterpiece is static and motionless. Going back to near the dawn of recorded sound, I offer extant examples of the creators of the principal roles, Mary Garden, Hector Dufranne, Jean Périer, Jeanne Gerville-Réache, and Félix Vieuille. I also feature performances by other figures associated with the opera in its first decades of performance: Maggie Teyte, Charles Panzéra, Germaine Cernay, Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Jacques Jansen, Paul Cabanel, and Armand Narçon, most of whom are featured on early recordings of the opera from the 1920s, and from its first complete recording led by Roger Désormière in war-torn Paris in 1941. From the next generation of great Debussy interpreters, I also present Suzanne Danco, Camille Maurane, Françoise Ogéas, Gérard Souzay, and Jean-Paul Jeannotte in various live performances led by the legendary conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, and from more recent decades, performances by José van Dam, Michèle Command and the late Maria Ewing and Gabriel Bacquier led by Claudio Abbado and Serge Baudo. These artists all are keenly connected to both the words and drama, and wring out the passion, playfulness, and despair to be found in this work, which represents to me the perfect fusion of words, music and drama. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged as I step into the world of Pelléas, that dramatic fusion of sunlight and shadow, which will continue next week with recorded performances by even more great singers and conductors.

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 127. Maria Ewing in Memoriam (Black History Month 2022)



The exceptional, distinctive Maria Ewing died of cancer on January 9 at her home outside of her native Detroit at the age of 71. Even before her death, I had been planning an episode on Maria Ewing, who last fall received an enormous amount of press as the mother of actor and director Rebecca Hall, whose latest film, Passing, was hitting the screens in a big way. The film is about two light-skinned Black friends in the 1920s, one of whom makes the conscious decision to present as white. The implication in much of the press was that Maria Ewing had done the same and was being taken to task for having done so. In actuality, Maria Ewing spoke frequently about her father’s apparent African American roots, and never actively tried to hide her (at times murky) family history. But, I submit to you, this is not the real story. In this episode, the first of my Black History Month 2022 series, I attempt to present as full a musical portrait of the artist as possible, allowing listeners to experience the unique musical and dramatic genius (and I use the term advisedly) of this fascinating artist. Few singers can survive comparison with Maria Callas. Maria Ewing, for all her demonstrable flaws, was one of the few artists that merit such a comparison. In this episode we hear Ewing in a wide range of material, from Purcell’s Dido to Puccini’s Tosca, with a nod to her two most famous roles, Carmen and Salome; an emphasis on both her Mozart portrayals and a focus on her aplomb with French music; and a sampling of her flair for pop music and jazz. I also discuss her sometimes controversial vocalism and role assumptions which in turn led to her blanket dismissal by her detractors. But in the end, it is her fascinating combination of carnality and innocence which made her unique. I remain, as I always have been, a devoted member of Club Ewing. This is a long-overdue Countermelody tribute to a unique and irreplaceable singer.

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 126. Canadian Singers of Art Song (Great Canadian Singers)



After two weeks of so-called “deep dives” into the careers and recordings of Lois Marshall and Jon Vickers – two of the greatest Canadian singers – this week I offer a potpourri episode of great Canadian singers singing art song. Contemporary Canadian art song, mélodie, and Lieder: it’s all here, and sung by a bevy of Canadian beauties of all vocal categories: among others, sopranos Irene Jessner, Pierrette Alarie, and Teresa Stratas; mezzo-sopranos Maureen Forrester, Portia White, and Catherine Robbin; tenors Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, and Richard Verreau; baritones Victor Braun, Gino Quilico, and James Milligan; and bass-baritones George London, Joseph Rouleau, and Donald Bell. They perform work of Schubert, Loewe, Strauss, Weill, and Hindemith, Duparc, Debussy, Milhaud, Honegger, and Sauguet, as well as Canadian composers Oskar Morawetz, Godfrey Ridout, and Robert Fleming, accompanied by John Newmark, John Wustman, Allen Rogers, Glenn Gould, and others. The episode begins with tributes to two recently deceased singers: the early music tenor Nigel Rogers and the Verdi baritone Gianni Maffeo, as well as a teaser on next week’s episode on the extraordinary Maria Ewing. “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!”

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 108. Christiane Eda-Pierre



Today’s episode is a memorial tribute to the great Martinique-born French soprano Christiane Eda-Pierre on the first anniversary of her death. When this artist died on 6 September 2020 at the age of 88, I posted this episode as a bonus exclusively for my Patreon subscribers. Because a number of my listeners have inquired if I have ever devoted an episode to this artist, I have decided to release this episode to the general public. Researching Christiane Eda-Pierre was a journey of discovery for me, as I only knew the soprano’s commercial recordings and live performances from the Met. But believe me, there is so much more to this singer than this. From the French baroque repertoire through contemporary works dedicated specifically to her, Christiane Eda-Pierre brought extraordinary gifts: a voice of beauty and clarity, well-modulated from top to bottom, a near-perfect technique capped by a flawless trill, a profound musical sensibility, and a searing dramatic intensity that surprised me. I present excerpts from the full range of her repertoire, from Rameau and Handel in the Baroque period through the bel canto of Rossini and Bellini, to the glories of 19th century French opera, a genre that, in my opinion, represents her at her absolute best, to contemporary masterpieces written expressly for her by Charles Chaynes and Olivier Messiaen. It is my fervent wish that you find as much delight in this great artist as I have.

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 exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 54. Transatlantic Crossover (Crossover Classics IX)



Today is the final episode of the Crossover Classics series and the final episode of Season One of Countermelody. The subject is US-American singers who spent significant portions of their lives and careers in Europe. I begin with an historical survey of early Twentieth Century singers who emigrated from the US to Europe (Geraldine Farrar, Mary Lewis) as well as from Europe to the US (Jarmila Novotná, Lotte Lehmann). Singers are featured in operetta (Barry McDaniel, Donald Grobe, Arlene Saunders), musicals (Reri Grist, Tatiana Troyanos, Wilbur Evans, Robert Trehy, Maria Ewing), jazz (Margaret Tynes, Charles Holland, Shirley Verrett), and pop, soul, and schlager (Lawrence Winters, Anna Moffo, Kenneth Spencer, Grace Bumbry, Felicia Weathers). The range of composers represented is enormous, from Cole Porter to Carrie Jacobs-Bond to Jimmy Webb to Rodgers and Hammerstein to ABBA to Duke Ellington to Gilbert Bécaud to J.B. Lenoir to Franz Lehár. The tone ranges from tongue in cheek to dead serious, from the quasi-bel canto pop vocalism of Muriel Smith to the intimate, Lieder-like shadings of Roberta Alexander to the raw blues stylings of Barbara Hendricks. Tune in next week for an sneak preview of Season Two.

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 10: Régine Crespin. Un doux privilège



Régine Crespin, whose Metropolitan Opera debut as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier occurred exactly 57 years ago this week, is featured on this week’s episode. I give an overview of her major roles, with a few surprises, both monumental and insouciante, tossed in. Because of her enormous range and versatility, I will have to return to my subject in the near future in order to do full justice to this great artist.

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