V0978. HUGUES CUÉNOD, w.Maurice Jaubert Cond.: Hommage à Hugues Cuénod, incl. Mozart, Delannoy, Couperin & Stravinsky. (Switzerland) 2-Cascavelle VEL 3080, recorded 1936-52. - 7619930308013
“Having made his début in his mid-twenties, Hugues Cuénod continued to perform into his nineties, making his début at the Met only in 1987 (when he was 85) with a firmly and expressively-sung Emperor Altoum, in TURANDOT. His début at the Wigmore Hall the next year was no less impressive.
A student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930's, Cuénod participated in the pioneering recordings she made of the Monteverdi madrigals, and also made outstanding recordings of lute songs, of Couperin and of the Evangelist in Bach’s ST MATTHEW PASSION.
But Cuénod was mainly known as one of the most expressive interpreters of French mélodie, a genre to which his silvery, youthful-sounding tenor was ideally suited. He had the unusual ability to ‘speak’ sung words like an actor with perfect diction and clarity, a facility enhanced by his delicate, dry timbre. His style was simple and natural and he never allowed himself to descend into the sort of sentimentality to which many singers of mélodie succumb.
Cuénod did not confine himself to the early and French repertoire. His career was so long-lasting and he was so good a sight-reader that he sang almost everything, from Machaut to Stravinsky, and was almost equally fluent in English, German and Italian as he was in his native French. Despite its light, ethereal quality, his voice could be heard even in the most demanding venues. On the operatic stage his finest roles included Don Basilio in NOZZE, the Astrologer in Rimsky-Korsakov’s LE COQ D’OR, and Sellem in Stravinsky’s RAKE’S PROGRESS — a role created for him.
In Britain, he became a mainstay at Glyndebourne, taking part in more than 470 performances between 1954 and 1987. His roles included Don Basilio and the travesty parts of Erice and Linfea in Cavalli’s L’ORMINDO and LA CALLISTO. He bowed out in 1987 in the cameo role of the Prompter in Strauss’ CAPRICCIO.
Hugues-Adhémar Cuénod was born on 16 June, 1902 at Corseaux-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, and received his vocal training at the Ribaupierre Institute in Lausanne, then at the conservatoires in Geneva, Basel and Vienna.
He began his career as a concert recitalist. In 1928 he made his opera début in Ernst Krenek’s Weimar era work, JONNY SPIELT AUF, at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris, a year after its first performance in Leipzig. The following year he was plucked from obscurity by Noël Coward and given a small role as one of the Green Carnations in the first production of BITTER SWEET, which opened at His Majesty’s Theatre in London before moving to Broadway.
During the 1930's Cuénod continued to spend most of his time on the concert platform in Geneva, Vienna and Paris, where he frequented aristocratic salons and worked with Nadia Boulanger on her pioneering Monteverdi recordings. Towards the end of the decade he made an extensive concert tour of America. During the war years he taught at the Geneva Conservatoire and in 1943 resumed his operatic career, singing in DIE FLEDERMAUS.
After the war he joined the international opera circuit, making his début at La Scala in 1951, and at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden in 1954 (as the Astrologer in LE COQ D’OR). His pioneering 1950 recording of Couperin’s ‘Lamentations’ prompted Stravinsky to ask him to sing in the premiere of THE RAKE’S PROGRESS in Venice in 1951. He was also closely associated with Stravinsky’s ‘Cantata’.
In the 1970's he signed a contract with the small Welsh-based record label Nimbus and made several recordings, of which Satie’s SOCRATE won the Grand Prix du Disque Mondiale at the Montreux Music Festival. Miraculously, Cuénod’s voice remained preserved virtually intact almost into his nineties and he never lost his interpretative skills or his empathy with words and music.
In later life he ran joint courses at the Britten-Pears School at Snape with the Belgian soprano, Suzanne Danco. These were not only delightful events but also object lessons in the teaching of the impeccable style of which they had both been such effective advocates.
Cuénod’s last public appearance was at a gala to mark his 100th birthday in 2002, at which he was presented with the World of Song Award by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation. A guest at the reception afterwards recalled that Cuénod, who showed no signs of letting up, buttonholed him as he was preparing to leave: ‘Please stay tomorrow and come to my house: we’ll do music’, he said.
In 1976 Cuénod was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French minister of culture.
Hugues Cuénod lived with his partner, Alfred Augustin, in the Château de Lully, an 18th-century castle in the Vaud region of Switzerland."
- Ned Ludd
“Hugues Cuénod, a Swiss tenor who dazzled critics in his Metropolitan Opera début a quarter-century ago, not only because he sang extremely well but also because he was nearly 85, the oldest person to sing there before or since, died 6 Dec., 2010, at his home in Vevey, Switzerland. He was 108 and also had an ancestral chateau nearby in Lully.
Mr. Cuénod was originally a concert singer. He added opera to his portfolio in the late 1920's and had a long, distinguished international career before making his Met début on 12 March, 1987, as the Emperor Altoum in Puccini’s TURANDOT. The production, which also starred Plácido Domingo and Eva Marton, was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by James Levine. Writing about it in The New York Times, John Rockwell said Mr. Cuénod ‘remains the best Emperor this writer has heard’. Mr. Cuénod’s only Met appearances were in the rôle, which he sang a total of 14 times in 1987 and 1988. Mr. Cuénod, who continued to sing publicly until he was in his early 90's, did not have a large voice nor, as he cheerfully admitted, the world’s most beautiful. But it was those very attributes, he often said, that let him sing to so ripe an age. Or, as Mr. Cuénod told The New York Times in 1987, ‘I never had a voice, so how could I lose one?’ That premise, however, was far from true. In his performances and many recordings, Mr. Cuénod was praised for his light, clean, almost ethereal tenor; refined musicianship; and faultless diction. He was also known for his breathtaking musical ecumenicalism: a champion both of early music and 20th-century fare, he performed the work of composers as diverse as Monteverdi, Stravinsky and Noël Coward. If it took Mr. Cuénod six decades to find his way to the Met, it might have been, at least in part, because he simply did not have time. He was an active participant in the early-music revival of the 20th century, singing on seminal 1930's recordings of Monteverdi led by Nadia Boulanger. He sang the rôle of Sellem in the world première of Stravinsky’s opera THE RAKE’S PROGRESS in Venice in 1951. He also appeared on the stages of La Scala, Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and the Opera Society of Washington, as the Washington National Opera was then known. He taught at the Geneva Conservatory and gave master classes worldwide. He gave recitals in cities around the globe, including New York. He even sang on Broadway. As a recitalist, he became renowned as an interpreter of French song.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 7 Dec., 2010