Tag Archives: Pelleas et Melisande

Episode 147. The Young Gabriel Bacquier



Two years ago last month, the great French (bass-)baritone Gabriel Bacquier died just four days short of his 96th birthday. At that time I offered a brief memorial tribute which opened my eyes to aspects of his artistry and voice with which I had been previously unfamiliar. Like his near-contemporary, the Italian baritone Tito Gobbi, Bacquier was one of the supreme actors of the operatic stage, whose voice coarsened somewhat over the course of his long career, even as his mastery as an actor and interpreter increased. By the time he retired, his repertoire consisted almost entirely of buffo parts. But in the earliest years of his career (and also like Gobbi), he possessed a baritone of velvety beauty that might surprise those who know only his later comic roles. This episode, which commemorates the second anniversary of Bacquier’s death as well as his (posthumous) 98th birthday, focuses on the three different musical genres in which, in those early years, from 1953 through 1968, he excelled in equal measure: opera, of course, but also mélodie and operetta. The operatic portrayals represented include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Orphée et Eurydice; Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de perles; the Count in Le nozze di Figaro; Iago in Otello; Golaud; and his incomparable Scarpia, which he sang opposite every great Tosca of the 1960s with the exception of Callas. Complementing these live and studio recordings are recordings of melodies by Duparc, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc; and operetta arias by Sigmund Romberg, Franz Lehár, Johann Strauss II, and Reynaldo Hahn, all deliciously sung in French. Vocal guest stars include Mirella Freni; Alain Vanzo; Bernard Demigny; Janine Ervil; Yvonne Gall, with whom Bacquier studied at the Conservatoire de Paris; and the late Renate Holm, the renowned German soubrette who died in April at the age of 90. In all this repertoire, Bacquier, who insisted on the appellation “acting singer” rather than “singing actor,” displays his commitment to clear yet full projection of text, which serves as a mirror into the music and not the other way around.

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 143. Pelléas Part Deux



Today I conclude my examination of my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, with an expanded roster of singers which includes return visits from some of last week’s interpreters (Camille Maurane, Gabriel Bacquier, Gérard Souzay, Françoise Ogéas, Jacques Jansen, and Michèle Command) alongside other, equally magnificent singers (George Shirley, Janine Micheau, George London, Elisabeth Söderström, Henri-Bertrand Etcheverry, Irène Joachim, André Vessières, and others) under the batons of Jean Fournet, Pierre Boulez, Armin Jordan, as well as last week’s master helmsmen Roger Désormière and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. I also foreground the young lyric baritone Huw Montague Rendall, who just last season sang his first Pelléas and who has already earned a place for himself among these other great artists. My further discussion of the opera includes discussions of Wagner, Mussorgsky, Edgar Allan Poe, and toxic masculinity, as each pertains to this piece. So many listeners wrote to tell me how last week’s episode changed their mind about this opera. Evidently I’ve done my job well. We need fewer Pelléas haters out there, and more, many more, Pelléas lovers!

 


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 124. Dave’s Picks



Today’s special episode is in honor of my best friend, partner-in-crime and Corona-lockdown buddy, the distinguished theater scholar and author David Savran, who this week once again celebrated another journey around the sun. I invited him to be the first guest in a new series I will be presenting on Countermelody featuring colleagues and friends speaking about the music (and the singers!) that have most deeply affected and inspired them. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the nearly two decades that we have known each other, that David’s taste in music and singers often falls neatly in step with mine. But there are many other musical paths and byways that he has explored that have taken him in quite different directions. Our spirited dialogue is punctuated by music that spoke to him most deeply in the first 25 years of his life. We hear samples of everything and everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to Grace Slick, from Cathy Berberian to Joni Mitchell, from Lisa della Casa to Nina Hagen, from Alfred Drake to Frank Zappa. The episode also constitutes a fascinating exploration of the role that memory and nostalgia play in the creation of musical tastes and preferences. Happy Birthday, Davey, and thanks for being my guest!

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 64. Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Great Baritones I)



This is the first of two episodes I have planned in honor of the great Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen, who turns 80 in 2021. The focus today is on his work in opera. His stylistic range was unusually large: during the years in which he appeared internationally he triumphed in roles ranging from Mozart to Verdi to the title role in Eugene Onegin in opera houses around the world. What is perhaps less well-remembered is that he also was a phenomenal Pelléas and also a distinguished Wagnerian, singing Wolfram, Amfortas, and Kurwenal, among other parts. All of these are featured in today’s episode, as well as arias and scenes from operas by Strauss, Dallapiccola, and Hindemith. Jorma Hynninen made his greatest contribution to the field, however, in his legendary creations in the world of Finnish opera. The second portion of the program features excerpts of his performances in works by pioneers Leevi Madetoja and Aarre Merikanto and continues with roles he created in operas by Aulis Sallinen and Einojuhani Rautavaara. Though he retired from opera in 2012, he continues to concertize in Finland; in the fall of 2019 he embarked on a brief concert tour with a voice nearly untouched by the years. Mirella Freni, Hildegard Behrens, and Victoria de los Ángeles are also featured in the episode. Join me in an exploration of the operatic career of this extraordinary 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.” 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.


Episode 12. Gérard Souzay @ 101: A modern-day troubadour



The French baritone Gérard Souzay was born Gérard Tisserand on 8 December 1918 and died in Antibes on 17 August 2004. This episode celebrates his 101st birthday by exploring his recorded legacy, with particular emphasis on his earliest recordings. Repertoire by Jaime Ovalle, César Franck, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Henry Purcell, and Claude Debussy (including an excerpt from his 1955 radio performance of Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande). We also hear performances by his teachers and mentors Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Pierre Bernac, and Lotte Lehmann, as well as his sister, Geneviève Touraine. I make my best effort to argue the case of Souzay’s artistic importance, his continuing significance, and the unique qualities of his artistry.

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