Hello, and welcome to the homepage for Countermelody, the new podcast on great singers and great singing with the American countertenor, coach, teacher, and writer Daniel Gundlach (that’s me!) In today’s world where misunderstanding and hostility increasingly are the order of the day, I remain daily grateful for the miracle of the human voice raised in song. At its best, the singing voice is unmatched in conveying unvarnished truth, honesty, transparency, and sincerity.
I have been a lover of singing for as long as I can remember. I have beautiful memories as a toddler of my grandfather singing “Danny Boy” to me on the porch swing. He couldn’t even really carry a tune, but in my mind’s ear I can still hear that gravelly sound rumbling through his chest when I placed my head just so. To me, all these years later, it was and still is the sound of pure love.
Around the same time, I was drawn to the loftier world of opera through a haphazard copy of The Victor Book of the Opera that by a strange set of circumstances found its way into our home. (I’ll tell you that story and a few other autobiographical tidbits in future podcast episodes.) But to paraphrase the sublime Janet Williams remarks in our recent interview, “There is no such thing as happenstance.” So by means of that same non-happenstance, whether you call it synchronicity, a guiding light, or divine intervention, I encountered the voice of Leontyne Price singing the title role of Verdi’s Aida on a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera and for this five-year-old, there was no turning back.
My earliest listening experiences exposed me to singers who greatly influenced my impressionable young self and who remain guiding lights for me today: singers like Lotte Lehmann, Claudia Muzio, Janet Baker, Maria Callas, Jennifer Vyvyan, Brigitte Fassbaender, Anita Cerquetti, Gérard Souzay, Shirley Verrett, Margaret Price, Peter Schreier, Renata Scotto, Eileen Farrell, Peter Pears, Lucia Popp, Alexander Kipnis, Maggie Teyte, Carol Neblett, Gundula Janowitz, Jussi Björling, Elisabeth Söderström, Jennie Tourel, Régine Crespin, Eleanor Steber, and so many others. These singers put their lives on the line for their art and poured their heart, soul, and artistry into all they did. There’s nothing half-assed about their artistry; they speak directly to my heart and I love them (and so many others) for that level of commitment.
As I spread my listening net wider, I discovered many, many more singers who also enchanted me. Some, but not all of them, were nearly perfect singers, some were not. Some were widely celebrated; others, less so. What linked them all was that they all had something crucial to say. I’m talking about singers like Irmgard Seefried, Hugo Hasslo, Eidé Noréna, Heinrich Rehkemper, Teresa Stratas, Sergei Lemeshev, Janine Micheau, Pavel Lisitsian, Galina Vishnevskaya, Sándor Kónya, Delia Reinhardt, Riccardo Stracciari, Sylvia Sass, and so many others. These are some of the singers, particularly the less well-known ones, which I am eager to bring to my listeners, whether in the guise of an old favorite, a forgotten pleasure, or a first acquaintance.
Over my years of listening I have developed a set of criteria for what I consider to be the most vital kind of singing. And while I am sometimes critical of today’s crop of singers, though there are also some amazing singers currently working whose performances have given me a great deal of joy: off the top of my head: Lisette Oropesa, Matthew Swensen, Saioa Hernández, Huw Montague Rendall, Sara Jakubiak, Pretty Yende, as well as the more established but still active Krassimira Stoyanova, Soile Isokoski, and René Pape. I look forward to sharing them with you, too. Those singers that I am less admiring of I will pass over with minimal or no comment; even if I don’t respond to what a singer is doing, I don’t think it’s necessary for them to be attacked and I’m not out to make enemies of their fans and adherents. (Now I just hope that I can adhere to that standard, at least “on the air”!)
If must also be said that of course committed artistry is not limited to singers in the fields of opera and classical music. Though in my early years I was rather a snob regarding pop music, I have expanded my horizons to embrace many different musical genres. I hope to be able to provide a platform for a discussion of these types of singers as well, ranging from Edith Piaf, Annie Lennox, Dusty Springfield, Billie Holiday, Cyndi Lauper, Judy Garland, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Carmen McRae. Some of you may look at that list of names and nod your heads knowingly. To which I respond, yeah, I am a proud gay man d’un certain âge . There’s a reason we value these life-or-death singers, no matter what genre they are singing in: they tell us the truth, and in this era of corporate lies and fake news, we are in desperate need of truth, from whatever quarter it issues.
If it sounds as if I am on a bit of a mission here, that’s probably true: Over the course of my entire life I have been listening to singers, followed by a career as a singer myself, which in more recent years has expanded to a further career as a voice teacher and vocal coach. My career was a fairly active one which never took full flight. In spite of that, I had some of the most gratifying experiences of my life performing on some of the world’s great stages. I am also convinced that my vocal longevity has more to do with underemployment than flawless vocal technique! I was guided by my own musical instincts which sometimes were filtered through an unfortunate self-doubt. But I never doubted the ideal that I had in my ear, an ideal that had been shaped by so many hours listening to great singers, singers that I took into my heart and that helped make me into the singer, the artist, and the person that I am today.
Though Countermelody will be available wherever you normally get your podcasts, this page will also provide access to show notes for each individual episode. These may include YouTube clips, photographs, and possibly a bibliography and links to other relevant material which I hope will enhance your listening experience.
It’s quite possible that my entire life has been leading to this point, weekly episodes of Countermelody, that is. I look forward to bringing to my listening public the experiences, voices, and singers that have helped shape me and hope that you, too, might find a place for them in your listening pantheons and perhaps also into your hearts. Thanks for tuning in!
- Episode 9. Janet Williams II
- Episode 8. Williams & Williams
- Episode 7. Janet Williams I. No Accidents
- Episode 6. Shirley Verrett, Part II: La Regina del Bel Canto
- Episode 5. Shirley Verrett: La Nera Callas I
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