Tag Archives: Roger Désormière

Episode 150. Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac [Pride 2022]

Something about this week’s episode has really gotten to me. I guess I’m just madly in love with the melodies of Francis Poulenc, and as a result, increasingly in love with the artistry of Pierre Bernac. These two formed an artistic partnership similar in intensity to that shared by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, except that in the case of the Gallic couple, this alliance did not include a romantic element. In spite of that, the pair achieved an artistic intimacy that is sometimes almost painfully honest. Maybe it’s that part of their story that so moves me: that two gay men, neither one sexually involved with the other, still achieved, on an altogether different plane, the deepest kind of intimacy. This episode features performances of the duo in melodies by Poulenc set to texts by Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Louise de Vilmorin, as well as songs by Chabrier, Debussy, Chausson, and Samuel Barber. We also hear Bernac performing Bach and Schumann in collaboration with Robert Casadesus, Charles Munch, and Roger Désormière; and Poulenc accompanying singers Denise Duval, Hugues Cuénod, Geneviève Touraine, and Bernard Kruysen in both live and studio recordings. The episode features extensive discussion, mostly from Bernac’s book on Poulenc and his songs, of Poulenc’s devotion to poetry and his very particular compositional method of getting to the heart of a poem.

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.