In celebration of his one hundredth birthday, the Lotte Lehmann Foundation awarded Hugues Cuénod the World of Song Award for 2002. Hugues Cuénod, tenor, is a singer who sang everything, from Machaut to Stravinsky. An outstanding sight-reader, with a flair for the unusual, Cuénod left a discographic heritage of the first order. Especially noted for his recordings of mélodie, Bach and Elisabethan song, his performing career continued until his mid-90s. He was born in 1902 and holds the record as the oldest person to make a debut at the Metropolitan Opera, singing the Emperor there in Turandot in 1987. In an interview in 1997, 95-year-old Swiss Cuénod talked to pianist Graham Johnson, recalling prewar Vienna and Paris, where he frequented aristocratic salons and worked with Nadia Boulanger. After the war, the new early-music boom relied heavily on his light, unmannered, natural sound, and Cuénod made several pioneering LPs — his 1950 recording of Couperin’s Lamentations prompted Stravinsky to ask him to sing in the premiere of The Rake’s Progress. Opera has been a constant thread, but at the heart of Cuénod’s repertoire is French song — he knew and worked with Honegger, Auric, Roussel, Poulenc and others.
Though he didn’t know Mme. Lehmann personally he wrote letters to us recalling specific performances that he enjoyed both in Vienna and Paris in the 1930s.
Mike Richter writes the following: Anyone familiar with French opera must know of Hugues Cuénod, the great, Swiss-born leggiero tenor of the Opéra. Like his successor, Michel Sächal (25 years younger), Cuenod’s career extended far beyond the comprimario rôles of opera. He was also noted in concert, singing exquisitely in English, German and Italian as well as in his native French. His style is unquestionably French and his voice has the characteristic softness and fluidity of that land’s most lyric instruments.
He did sing at the Met, though his debut was a bit later than that of most: he was 85 when he took that stage as the Emperor Altoum in Turandot. Despite the delicacy of Cuénod’s production, he was easily heard even in the most demanding venues and was a mainstay at Glyndebourne in over 470 performances. Of course, he did have the advantage of sixty-year career to amass such a total.
This great tenor died in December 2010.