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Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

108-year-old tenor Hugues Cuenod dies

By Emma Brown
Emma Brown

Hugues Cuenod, a 108-year-old Swiss tenor who sang professionally for more than 70 years, died Dec. 3, according to Swiss media reports.

Something of a physical marvel, Mr. Cuenod made his first stage appearance in the opera "Jonny spielt auf" in 1928; made his Metropolitan Opera debut at age 84; and continued performing well into his 90s.

He was often quoted saying that he had never lost his voice because he never had one to begin with. Critics and other admirers said that was nonsense, and Mr. Cuenod received much praise for the clarity and lightness of his tenor.

"Towering over everyone else on the stage," wrote Washington Post critic Paul Hume about a 1964 "Marriage of Figaro" production, "is the supremacy of of Hugues Cuenod's Basilio. Here is a vibrant object lesson in the meaning of Mozart."

Mr. Cuenod sang pieces written throughout the ages from medieval to modern times, and was well-known for championing the early-music renaissance during the 1960s and 70s.

He was featured on the Monteverdi recordings of noted French conductor and music instructor Nadia Boulanger and he sang in the world premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress." He was attracted to composers outside the mainstream.

"I leave Beethoven alone. It always seemed such unnecessary music," he told the New York Times in 1987.

In 2007, Mr. Cuenod and his partner of two decades, Alfred Augustin -- a retired civil servant 41 years Mr. Cuenod's junior -- were joined in a civil union after Swiss law was changed to allow same-sex couples most of the legal benefits of marriage.

Asked to share his secrets for longevity, Mr. Cuenod said: "It's not my fault, and I didn't do anything for it! I'm in good health, I'm lazy and I have a [dear] friend to look after me."

By Emma Brown  | December 7, 2010; 12:18 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown, Musicians  
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