Tag Archives: Tosca

Episode 160. Donald Gramm



Dear ones, I present to you today the extraordinarily versatile bass-baritone and my fellow native Milwaukeean Donald Gramm (1927-1983), one of the central house singers at both the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera from the 1960s through his premature death at the age of 56. Gifted with an intrinsically beautiful voice, an impeccable technique and an expansive range, he also was a crackerjack musician whose repertoire easily encompassed musical styles from florid Baroque music through the thorniest contemporary idioms. He is probably best celebrated these days for his commitment to American art, and this episode features him singing songs by Ned Rorem, John Duke, Richard Cummings, Douglas Moore, and Paul Bowles, with a particular emphasis on texts by Walt Whitman. What is perhaps less well-remembered today is how versatile an opera singer he was, singing roles from Osmin to Scarpia, with a strong emphasis on both bel canto and buffo roles by Rossini and Donizetti. The episode also explores his collaborations with Igor Stravinsky, Glenn Gould, and, perhaps most significantly, Sarah Caldwell, another important musical figure from that era who is strongly deserving of reappraisal.

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 136. Puccini en Français



This week’s episode is a counterpart to my ongoing exploration of the practice of performing opera in translation which includes the “Verdi auf Deutsch” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2021/10/17/episode-111-verdi-auf-deutsch] and “Polyglot Wagner” [www.countermelodypodcast.com/index.php/2020/11/29/episode-63-polyglot-wagner] episodes. With its soaring cantilena lines, Puccini’s music lends itself quite naturally to performance in French. The characteristics of the so-called “French school” of singing, with its frequent focus on bright-timbred, slightly nasal tonal production, lends Puccini’s music a peculiarly French quality when performed in that language. This episode features arias and duets from Madame Butterfly, La Vie de Bohème, and La Tosca, as they are known in French, supplemented by arias from Manon Lescaut and Turandot. These are sung by some of the most famous singers of the twentieth century (including Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Régine Crespin, Germaine Lubin, Gabriel Bacquier, Alain Vanzo, and Lily Pons) with contributions by equally impressive but less celebrated French, Corsican, and Belgian artists (including Yvonne Brothier, Berthe Monmart, César Vezzani, José Liccioni, Marthe Nespoulous, Paul Finel, Michèle Le Bris, Martha Angelici, Germaine Martinelli, Jane Rhodes, Georges Jouatte, and the long-lived Géori-Boué [1918-2017], Renée Doria [1921-2021], Suzanne Sarroca [b. 1927], and Robert Massard [b. 1925]). Also heard are foreign singers whose singing nevertheless defines the French method (the Australian Albert Lance, the Canadian Raoul Jobin, the US-American Arthur Endrèze, and the Ukrainian Joseph Rogatchewsky). This episode is a foretaste of a mini-series coming in May on great French lyric artists, including Mady Mesplé, Martial Singher, and Gabriel Bacquier.

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 125. Jon Vickers (Great Canadian Singers)



Our series saluting great Canadian singers continues with a tribute to one of the greatest singers I have ever seen in performance, the Saskatchewan-born tenor Jon Vickers. Not only was he a profoundly imaginative and creative singing actor, he was also one of the most problematic personalities to appear on the operatic stage in the second half of the twentieth century. I discuss many of the controversies surrounding Vickers the man, in particular his virulent homophobia and sexism, while still giving full attention to his unmatched artistry. I feature both live and studio recordings over the course of his entire career, encompassing both opera and art song, focusing on what are probably his four greatest operatic roles: Florestan, Otello, Peter Grimes, and Tristan. Vocal guest stars include Maria Callas, Eileen Farrell, Joan Carlyle, Leonie Rysanek, and Renata Scotto; conductors include Colin Davis, Otto Klemperer, Tullio Serafin, Rudolf Kempe, Nicola Rescigno, William Steinberg, and Herbert von Karajan.

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 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 9: Janet Williams Interview Part II: Serendipity @ Merola



Episode 9: Janet Williams Interview Part II: Serendipity @ Merola. In this episode, Janet relives her early career experiences, including time that both she and Daniel spent at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. She describes the continuing influence and tutelage of Camilla Williams; tells about her study in Paris with the great Régine Crespin, the mentorship of Marilyn Horne, and the inspiration of Harolyn Blackwell and Kathleen Battle; and elucidates how she was hired for a two-year Festvertrag at the Berliner Staatsoper and how, 27 years later, she still calls Berlin home. The episode is peppered throughout with musical examples.

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