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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Swiss Tenor Hugues Cuénod: The Ageless Wonder

Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod really deserves mention here because of the great range of music he has sung, his extremely elegant singing, his dedication to ancient music, and his superb musicianship and sense of style. And, perhaps not coincidentally, for his unbelievable longevity. The picture to the left was taken on the occasion of the tenor's 107th birthday. In June, now merely a matter of weeks away, he will be 108!

Cuénod received his training largely at the Ribaupierre Institute in Lausanne. He did considerable work as a concert singer, finally making his operatic debut in 1928 in Paris, in Ernst Krenek's Jonny spielt auf. He toured extensively in North America, in the late 30's, and beginning in the mid 40's, began to sing in major houses, including La Scala, Covent Garden, and at the Glyndebourne Festival. His Metropolitan Opera debut was in 1987, at 84 years of age, in the role of the Emperor Altoum in Turandot. (These age numbers are mind-numbing!) He often sang Basilio in the Marriage of Figaro and Sellem in The Rakes's Progress. He began to flourish during the post-WWII early music boom, when he began to record French melodies, ancient troubadour songs, Bach, and Elizabethan song. He worked with many modern composers. Here is an anonymous troubadour song from the early 14th century, entitled "Angelica Belta":

The first thing one notices is that he has a very beautiful voice. There is a freshness and purity of tone to the voice that comes from never having been pushed. His was a relatively small voice, but brilliantly focused and very simply and elegantly produced. In some ways, his voice reminds me of that of a boy soprano whose voice simply aged, and grew darker, from soprano to tenor, but did not change in any major way as far as production is concerned. The same could be said of Gigli, but Gigli's voice was more highly placed, with an uncommonly lovely and usable falsetto. Cuénod's musicianship and sense of style are simply wonderful. He is absolutely convincing in this ancient song.

Here is another piece, from the early 1600's, in which the same qualities are again present, again utterly convincing, featuring a vocal production of remarkable purity of tone and simplicity of technique: The song is Giovanni Pietro Berti's "Dove Sei Gita.":

An absolutely beautiful rendition of an ancient song! In an age before the return of the male alto, and before the return of many 18th century pieces to the operatic repertoire, much is owed to this unusual man, who was far ahead of his time.

To see videos of other great artists, many dating back to the early 1900's, check out my Youtube Channel, where, in addition to these two pieces by Hugues Cuénod, I have posted  over 700 other videos, many of which feature singers celebrated in these pages during the past year: