Episode 160. Donald Gramm

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.


Douglas Moore, William Shakespeare: Come Away, Death. Donald Gramm [1961]

George Shirley

Igor Stravinsky (libretto after Alexander Afanasyev): Renard (opening). George Shirley, Loren Driscoll, William Murphy, Donald Gramm, Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Chamber Ensemble [1962]

Fritz Reiner

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Friedrich Schiller: O Freunde, nicht diese Töne (Symphony No. 9 – Choral). Donald Gramm, Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus [1961]

Ned Rorem, Robert Hillyer: Early in the Morning. Donald Gramm, Ned Rorem [1964]

Igor Stravinsky: Tuba Mirum (Requiem Canticles). Donald Gramm, Robert Craft, Columbia Symphony Orchestra [1966]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: Some Enchanted Evening (South Pacific). Donald Gramm, Orchestra conducted by Skitch Henderson [radio broadcast 28.VI.54]

Jean Madeira

Georges Bizet, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Carmen). Donald Gramm, Jean Madeira, Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Rackham Symphony Choir [live Detroit 19.XI.59]

As Pasha Selim in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gottlieb Stephanie, after Christoph Friedrich Bretzner [unknown English translator]: We keep women in our harem [Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen] (The Abduction from the Seraglio) [live Carnegie Hall 15.II.1958]

George Frideric Handel, anonymous librettist [after Antonio Salvi and Ludovico Ariosti]: Copera la frode (Ariodante). Donald Gramm, Julius Rudel, Orchestra of the Washington Opera Society [live 14.IX.71]

Julius Rudel

Gioacchino Rossini, Cesare Sterbini: A un dottor della mia sorte (Il barbiere di Siviglia). Donald Gramm, Sarah Caldwell, New York City Opera Orchestra [live telecast New York 03.XI.76]

Sarah Caldwell

Giuseppe Verdi, Joseph Méry, Camille du Locle [after Friedrich Schiller]: Elle ne m’aime pas (Don Carlos). Donald Gramm, Sarah Caldwell, Chicago Symphony Orchestra [live Ravinia 03.VIII.76]

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica: Tosca è un buon falco (Tosca). Donald Gramm, Sarah Caldwell, Opera Company of Boston Orchestra [live Boston 04.72]

Montezuma premiere, Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1964
(pictured: Helmut Melchert [Montezuma], Annabelle Bernard [Malinche], William Dooley [Cortez])

Roger Sessions, Giuseppe Antonio Borgese: I, Bernal Díaz del Castillo (Montezuma). Donald Gramm, Sarah Caldwell, Orchestra of the Opera Company of Boston [live 31.III.76]

Glenn Gould

Arnold Schoenberg, text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (collected Achim von Armin, Clemens Brentano): Wie Georg von Frundsberg von sich selber sang, Op. 3/1. Donald Gramm, Glenn Gould [1964]

Paul Verlaine, our gay brother

Igor Stravinsky, Paul Verlaine: Un grand sommeil noir (Two Poems by Paul Verlaine, Op. 9/1). Donald Gramm, Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony Orchestra [1964]

How dare anyone suggest that I am gay?
John Woods Duke

John Duke, Edwin Arlington Robinson: Richard Cory. Donald Gramm, Donald Hassard [1977]

Richard Cumming

Richard Cumming, Walt Whitman: A sight in camp (We Happy Few, No. 7). Donald Gramm, Richard Cumming [1983]

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

Ned Rorem, Walt Whitman: A Specimen Case (War Scenes, No. 2). Donald Gramm, Eugene Istomin [1969]

Eugene Istomin
Ned Rorem

Ned Rorem, Walt Whitman: As Adam, Early in the Morning (Five Songs to Poems of Walt Whitman, No. 1). Donald Gramm, Eugene Istomin [1969]

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams: Heavenly Grass (Blue Mountain Ballads, No. 1). Donald Gramm, Richard Cumming [1961]

Tennessee Williams
Beverly Wolff, Donald Gramm, Phyllis Curtin, Ned Rorem

Ned Rorem, Anonymous poet (ca. 1500): The Call (Three Medieval Poems, No. 3). Donald Gramm, Ned Rorem [1964]

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