Episode 177. Great Singers at Twilight

Episode 177. Great Singers at Twilight



Hugues Cuénod

For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.


Giuseppe Verdi, Arrigo Boito [after William Shakespeare]: Ave Maria (Otello). Helen Donath, Peter Csaba, Chamber Orchestra del Encuentro de Musica y Academia de Santander [live Spain 24.VII.2013]

Helen and Klaus Donath

Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg: Over the Rainbow. Helen Donath, Klaus Donath [live 2016]

Irving Berlin: God Bless America. Leontyne Price [live Carnegie Hall 30.IX.2001]

Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer: Come Rain or Come Shine. Eileen Farrell, Leonard Bernstein [live New York, AMFAR Benefit, Public Theater 07.XII.86]

Cole Porter: The Laziest Gal in Town. Marlene Dietrich, Orchestra arranged and conducted by Burt Bacharach [live New London Theatre 24, 25.XI.1972]

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin: They Can’t Take That Away from Me. Johnny Mathis, Freda Payne [2022]

Vincenzo Bellini, Felice Romani: Ah, non credea mirarti (La Sonnambula). Adelina Patti, Alfredo Barili [1906]

Franz Schubert, Wilhelm Müller: Der Leiermann (Winterreise, D.911/24). George Henschel [1928]

Franz Schubert, Karl Lappe: Im Abendrot, D. 799. Karl Erb, Hans Altmann [1950]

Gabriel Fauré, Armand Silvestre: Automne, Op. 18/3. Hugues Cuénod, Rose Dobos [Genève 1980]

Alberta Hunter, Lovie Austin: Downhearted Blues. Alberta Hunter, Gerald Cook, Al Hall, Connie Kay, Wally Richardson, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Budd Johnson [1978]

Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler: Stormy Weather. Elisabeth Welch [from the soundtrack of Derek Jarman’s 1979 film, The Tempest]

Duke Ellington: Creole Love Call. Adelaide Hall [1976]

Benjamin Britten, E.M. Forster, Eric Crozier [after Herman Melville]: I am an old man (Billy Budd). Richard Lewis, David Atherton, San Francisco Opera Orchestra [live 16.IX.78]

Jules Massenet, Paul Millet, Henri Grémont: Il est doux, il est bon (Hérodiade). Grace Bumbry, Lawrence Foster, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin [live Berlin 2007]

Stephen Sondheim: Liaisons (A Little Night Music). Regina Resnik, Paul Gemignani, New York City Opera Orchestra [live telecast New York 07.XI.90]

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Modest Tchaikovsky [after Alexander Pushkin]: Le Duc d’Orléans… Je crains de lui parler la nuit (Pique-Dame). Rita Gorr, Günter Neuhold, Orchestra of the Vlaamse Opera [live Ghent 2007]

Alban Berg [after Frank Wedekind]: Den hab’ ich mir auch ganz anders vorgestellt (Lulu). Hans Hotter, Patricia Wise, Jeffrey Tate, Orchestre National de France [live Théâtre du Châtelet, Fall 1991]

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky: Gremin’s Aria (Yevgeny Onegin). Mark Reizen, Yuri Simonov, Orchestra of the Bolshoi Opera [VII.1985]

César Franck: Panis angelicus. Magda Olivero, Marco Montanari [live Chiesa di Solda 15.VIII.2006]

Giuseppe Verdi, Antonio Somma [after Eugène Scribe]: Eri tu (Un ballo in maschera), Robert McFerrin, Sylvia Olden Lee [live Washington DC 04.IX.93]

Kurt Weill, Alan Jay Lerner: Susan’s Dream (Love Life). Lotte Lenya [live Carnegie Hall 08.I.65]

Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now. Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile and friends [live Newport Folk Festival, 24.VII.22]

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