Part III: Rare and unknown voices. Please discuss this artist with your comments!
Hugues Cuénod, Tenor (1902-2010)
Jacques Offenbach - LES CONTES D´HOFFMANN
Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre (Couplet of Frantz)
Conducted by Richard Bonynge
My personal opinion: Maybe you know or even own the 1987 TURANDOT-Video with Eva Marton and Placido Domingo from the Metropolitan Opera. Franco Zeffirellis as usual traditional staging was amazing, Marton and Domingo also as usual were of reliable quality. But unusual was the man who sang the emperor: Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod, who holds the record as the oldest person to make a debut at the Metropolitan Opera - as Altoum at the age of 84!
In his biography you can read that he is a singer who has sung almost everything, from Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) to Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). In 1974 I read his name for the very first time in the cast list of LES CONTES D´HOFFMANN conducted by Bonynge. Cuénod (at that time age 68 with an amazing fresh voice) sang the four servants: I´ve never heard better interpretations. As an outstanding artist with a flair for unusal things, Hugues Cuénod left an impressive discographic heritage of the first order. He was one of the finest singers of Mélodies (Chabrier, Satier, Menasce, Poulenc, Auric and a wonderful Debussy-Album with accompanist Martin Isepp). His 1950-recording of Couperin´s LAMENTATONS prompted Igor Stravinsky to ask him to sing in the premiere of RAKE´S PROGRESS the part of Sellem. One critic wrote, that he was the best of all Don Basilio´s in Mozart´s NOZZE DI FIGARO: "With the pictorial dimension of his singing, he even was better than Renato Ercolani, Werner Hollweg and the sublime Heinz Zednik". Karajan gave him the part of the dancing-master in his 1954 production of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS with Schwarzkopf, Seefried and Schock as Bacchus (Schock substituted Gedda, which rejected the offer). Hugues Cuénods voice wasn´t a sensual instrument; sometimes his singing was even unmanly. It was a voice without masculine dynamic, but it was a voice with the gift of a distinctive and significant sound. No wonder he became one of the most important singers of all time in his own genre - at his very best in the repertory of the 17th and early 18th Century, when the tenor-voice had a different reputation in contrast of today. Unfortunately I have him not heard in Cavallis L´ORMINDO as nurse (!) Erice under Raymond Leppard; I own the Correas-production, but in Leppards L´INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA, Cuénod is hilarious as the drunken Lucano in the beginning of Act II (and in Colin Davis´ 1972 recording of Berlioz BENVENUTO CELLINI, Hugues Cuénod made the short part of the inn-keeper memorable). Cuénod began his career as a concert singer, he made his stage debut in Krenek´s JOHNNY SPIELT AUF 1928 in Paris. From 1930 to 1937 he was active in Geneva and Paris. At the end of the thirties he made a long tour through North America. Already very early he finished his continual operatic career (1943 in DIE FLEDERMAUS), but subsequently he sang again in the 1950s at La Scala, Glyndebourne and Covent Garden.
Hugues Cuénod resided with his long-time life partner in Switzerland in a 18th-century castle that belonged to his ancestors. Asked for his longevity, he once said, "It's not my fault, I didn't do anything for it! I'm in good health, I'm lazy and I have a friend to look after me." In an interview with the New York Times he once said modestly and ironic: "No, I never had fear to lose my voice. I never had a voice, so how could I ever lose it?"
At age 108 (!) Hugues Cuénod died on December 3, 2010.
THE COMPLETE OVERVIEW: GO TO ALL SINGERS IN THIS LIST