Tag Archives: Shirley Verrett

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 52. Operaish Broadway (Crossover Classics VIII)



Today’s episode (in celebration of Countermelody’s first birthday!) picks up where the last one left off: more musicals, more opera (and operaish) singers! Excerpts from cast recordings, radio broadcasts, telecasts, and live performances highlight the work of singers who divided their time, to a greater or lesser extent, between the Broadway stage and the operatic stage. We begin with the great bass-baritones (Ezio Pinza, Cesare Siepi, Giorgio Tozzi, and José Van Dam) and move through the great Broadway (and sometime opera) baritones (Alfred Drake, John Raitt, Bruce Yarnell, Robert Trehy, Leslie Scott, Lawrence Winters, and John Reardon) with a nod to other opera singers who have also graced the Broadway stage (Helen Traubel, Shirley Verrett, Mona Paulee, Dorothy Sarnoff, Risë Stevens, Lee Venora, Camilla Williams, and Carol Brice). We then consider singers whose vocal abilities could easily have put them on the opera stage, had they chosen to so devote themselves (Alice Ghostley, Madeline Kahn, Barbara Cook, Florence Henderson, Judy Kaye, Lisa Vroman, Audra McDonald, Victoria Clark, Rebecca Luker, and the late Marin Mazzie). The episode also features tributes to two recently deceased divas (Gabriella Tucci and Christiane Eda-Pierre) as well as a spotlight on the gorgeous soprano Margaret Tynes, who just celebrated her 101st birthday.

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 43. Gl’amour I (Bastille Day 2020)



Another nation, la belle France, has a birthday right around the corner, and today I hoist the Tricolore to celebrate La Fête Nationale. I had planned this episode several weeks ago but when the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter protests began, I felt the need to respond in kind with two episodes featuring music of protest and hope. Today I present the first of two consecutive episodes on French Glamour, for after all, who does Glamour better than the French? I also consider the manner in which exoticism and imperialism make an appearance in French opera in particular. I present a veritable mad rush of great French singers, all possessed of personal poise and vocal appeal. Singers range from such classical artists as Mady Mesplé (whose recent passing we belatedly acknowledge), Régine Crespin, Janine Micheau, Germaine Cernay, Emma Calvé, Renée Doria, Jennie Tourel, Denise Duval, Andrée Esposito, Germaine Féraldy, Françoise Pollet (as well as exemplary Belgian sopranos Emma Luart and Fanny Heldy) to pop singers Joséphine Baker (French by adoption!), and Maurice Chevalier. We allow such non-French interlopers as Geraldine Farrar, Giuseppe di Stefano, Grace Bumbry, Mary Lewis, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Lisette Oropesa, and my beloved Shirley Verrett, many of whom also lived extensively in France, to make their contributions in song to this celebration. And who better than the late Jessye Norman to cap the episode with her rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, as she did in 1989 for the French Bicentennial?

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 42. Battle Hymn of the Scotto



On the weekend that my benighted nation celebrates its birthday, I turn for real leadership to Renata Scotto, specifically her portrayal of the Druid priestess Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s eponymous cornerstone of the bel canto repertoire. Scotto began her career as a charming lyric-coloratura, lending her distinctive voice and artistic personality to roles from such country damsels as Amina in La Sonnambula and Adina in L’elisir d’amore to the more substantial title roles in Lucia di Lammermoor and La Traviata. With Butterfly, she moved into heavier repertoire and eventually, in 1974, first took on Norma. Singing this role for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera season in 1981 was a risk that took a toll on her reputation. But, I contend, even with its flaws, her Norma is one of the greatest post-Callas assumptions of the role. Scotto’s occasional vocal vulnerabilities in the role contrast with her continuing fearlessness in coloratura. And her insights into the varying aspects of Norma’s persona: her wisdom, her compassion, her conflict between love and duty, and finally, her ability to admit wrongdoing and accept the consequences, show all the characteristics of a true leader. In 1978, at the peak of her achievement, Renata Scotto sang the role of Norma in at least three different productions: in Philadelphia (with the gleaming John Alexander); in Houston (with the glorious Tatiana Troyanos); and in Firenze (conducted by the stern but compelling Riccardo Muti). I offer extended excerpts from each of these performances as well as a beguiling performance of “Casta diva” from her first assumption of the role in Torino in 1974. I also offer John Alexander and another podcast favorite, Shirley Verrett, in the Adalgisa-Pollione duet. Finally, I top off the episode with Scotto’s oh-so-wrong yet oh-so-right performance of “Send in the Clowns,” which serves as the perfect commentary for the current political situation in the USA.

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 37. No More Slavery Chains



I woke up this morning intending to produce an episode on French Glamour. Because I had been keeping my head in the sand over the past several days, I was not aware how the situation in Minneapolis had escalated since the last time I had checked in. I quickly realized that I could not in good conscience proceed as if this catastrophe wasn’t happening. On the other hand, I defer to those on the front lines to speak of their own experience and truth. I offer solidarity with those who rage and mourn, and a program of protest songs ranging over the course of the early twentieth century to the present day. We hear from a wide range of singers, from Donny Hathaway, Micki Grant, Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, to Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Paul Robeson, and Marlene Dietrich. If you don’t want to hear a political program, for goddess’s sake, keep away, but if you do want to be infuriated, engaged, and uplifted, please listen in.

Countermelody is a 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 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 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


Episode 7: Janet Williams, Part I: No Accidents



Episode 7Janet Williams, Part I: No Accidents. I am particularly excited to present the first of a three-part interview with the distinguished American soprano and pedagogue Janet Williams, who also happens to be one of my dearest friends. We met when we were both apprentice artists at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. Since then Janet established herself as one of the premiere lyric coloratura sopranos of her generation and is now highly respected as a pedagogue, clinician, and mentor. In this portion of our discussion, we speak about Janet’s formative years in Detroit and how she found her way into the opera world, despite an early interest in gospel singing and the desire of becoming a backup singer à la The Supremes. Particular attention is paid to her tutelage under the distinguished African American soprano and civil rights icon Camilla Williams (as Janet points out, no relation!) As usual, copious musical excerpts are sprinkled throughout the interview.

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 6: Shirley Verrett II: La Regina del Bel Canto



Episode 6. Shirley Verrett II: La Regina del Bel Canto.

In this episode in my Shirley Verrett miniseries, I explore a wide range of the artist’s bel canto roles, including the roles of Neocle in Rossini’s L’assedio di Corinto, Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, Leonora in La Favorita, Sinaïde in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto and the French version Moïse et Pharaon, and finally, the roles of Adalgisa and, finally, the title role in Bellini’s Norma, surely one of her greatest creations. Musical examples abound, with other featured artists including Leyla Gencer as Maria Stuarda, and John Alexander, who played Pollione to both Verrett’s Adalgisa and her Norma.

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 5: Shirley Verrett I: La Nera Callas



Episode 5: Shirley Verrett: La Nera Callas I. Falcon or Verdi soprano?

This episode is the first of two on one of my favorite singers, the Zwischenfachsängerin Shirley Verrett. Renowned in the United States for her performances of Verdi mezzo-soprano parts, particularly Azucena in Il Trovatore and Eboli in Don Carlo, the late singer commanded an enormous repertoire, comprising bel canto and French roles, on which she left her indelible stamp. I focus in particular on the French roles she performed at the Opéra de Paris from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, as well as her Verdi soprano roles, including Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and the title role in Aida. Known in the Italian press as La Nera Callas [The Black Callas], Verrett is heard in this episode singing Brahms, Gluck, Saint-Saëns, and Verdi roles for both soprano and mezzo-soprano. Special attention is paid to her newsworthy appearances with fellow African American mezzo-cum-soprano, Grace Bumbry, the first of which, a joint Carnegie Hall concert in 1982, honored the iconic contralto Marian Anderson on the occasion of her 80th birthday.


Episode 4: Jessye and Her Forebears



Episode 4: Jessye and Her Forebears (Needle Drop I)

Due to a last minute change of plans, I have decided to bring you the first in what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to excerpts from LP recordings in my collection which have either never been reissued on CD or have had only limited availability. This first episode includes a tribute to the late Jessye Norman, with a nod to some of the great African American singers who paved the way for her in her career. In addition, my special guest the theatre scholar David Savran speaks about the significance of her collaborations with director Robert Wilson. Other singers heard include Gérard Souzay, Elisabeth Söderström, Dorothy Maynor, Camilla Williams, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, and Leontyne Price, none of which have received widespread release beyond their initial appearance on LP. I conclude the episode with a special greeting from the balcony of my Air B&B in Napoli, where I am celebrating my birthday.

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