Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hugues Cuenod

The news came today that another famous singer of the past has died: Hugues Cuenod. He lived to be an astonishing 108 years old.

I heard Cuenod about thirty years ago in a performance here in the greater Washington, D.C. area. A then new friend had tickets for the performance, and his intended companion had cancelled. Would I like to go? I jumped at the chance, not only for the opportunity to hear the performance,  but also the chance to spend some time with this new friend. He played the viola and had a prodigious interest in opera, so there seemed to be a good chance that the evening  ahead would be a pleasure.  

The performance took place at Wolf Trap, and as we drove out from the city my friend mentioned that he was not too familiar with the opera to be presented, Cavalli’s  La Calisto. I took this as my cue to fill him in. He was one of those people - in general  both very well informed and a bit captious – who tended to dominate a conversation.  I knew him from activist circles and had been there when he upbraided many a careless speaker for clumsy grammar or a less than credible grasp of events.

I began my discussion of the opera by mentioning that it was an early seventeenth century opera… and at that point he interrupted me and said “You mean eighteenth century…” “No, I meant seventeenth century”, thank you. At that the look on his face changed: it took on a combination of perplexity and disappointment. I was never sure if this change was due to the prospect of several hours of mid-seventeenth century opera or due to the realization that he would not have such an easy time lording it over his companion for this performance. I think my subsequent comments about Cavalli, Monteverdi and Caccini went unheard.  

And how did the performance go? Cuenod was a hoot.    

Here’s a link to a recording of Monteverdi’s "Zefiro torna" made in 1937 when Ceunod was still working with  Nadia Boulanger:

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