When he died this past Monday at the age of 108, Hugues Cuénod had sung on Broadway in Noël Coward's operetta "Bitter Sweet", was 85 when he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the Emperor in Puccini's Turandot, hob-nobbed with Poulence and Stravnisky, and married his man at the age of 104. Unusual to say the least.
With the ability to read at sight with great ease, and the intelligence to keep his light, lithe and clear voice within bounds, Cuénod excelled in Mélodie, Bach, Early Music and Monteverdi, during a time when vocal refinement was more widely appreciated and a result of careful and thorough training.
Cuénod was an artiste of the first rank, the kind which we don't see often enough. Is that because every young tenor on the block wants to sound like Caruso (if they know who Caruso is), or that Cuénod's old-schooled vocalism has a hard time surviving in a world where declamatory gestures - both auditory and visual- are the only thing that can hold an audience's attention?
I see Cuénod's life as a big yes to all the right stuff.