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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Obituary: Hugues Cuénod, Oldest Singer in Met History, Dies at 108

Hugues Cuénod as the Emperor Altoum.
Photo by Winnie Klotz © 1987 The Metropolitan Opera
Hugues Cuénod, the Swiss tenor whose high, clear voice led to a 70-year career in the world of opera and art song died on Monday, as reported in the New York Times. He was 108.

Mr. Cuénod made headlines in 1987 at the age of 85, when he became the oldest singer to take the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. He sang the key role of the Emperor Altoum in Puccini's opera Turandot. Altoum is the title character's father, an unearthly character who must sound ancient but not weak. This is a small, but difficult part, as it is sung from the Emperor's throne, on a high platform at the very rear of the Met's giant stage.

As evidenced by the live DVD of the telecast (starring Placído Domingo, Leona Mitchell and Eva Marton in the title role), Mr. Cuénod was an admirable Emperor. He went on to sing the role 14 times in the Franco Zeffirelli production, a spectacular staging which is among the Metropolitan Opera's most expensive, excessive productions.

Hugues Cuénod was born in 1902 in Corseaux-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. He made his operatic debut in 1928 in the Ernst Krenek "jazz opera" Jonny Spielt Auf. ("Johnny Plays On.") His singing career included some of the earliest recordings of Monteverdi works under the direction of Nadia Boulanger, and appearances at many of the major opera houses in Europe. Other notable roles included Sellem in the world premiere of Stravinsky's English-language opera The Rake's Progress in 1951.

He spent most of his long career giving concerts, master classes and teaching at the Geneva Conservatory. Mr. Cuénod is survived by his civil partner, Alfred Augustin, who is 40 years his junior. They entered into a civil union in 2007 when Mr. Cuénod was 104 years old.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.