Hugues-Adhémar Cuénod (1902-2010) was an openly gay Swiss classical tenor and music professor noted for his performances in international opera, operetta, musical theatre, and on the concert stage, where he was particularly known for his clear, light, romantic and expressive poised interpretation of French art song.
He had English ancestry and was related to both the Churchill and Spencer families. In 1913, at 11-years-old, he attended the 78th birthday party of gay composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and played piano duets with Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish composer who became Prime Minister of Poland in 1919.
In 1928, he made his stage debut and in 1929 he sang for the first time in the USA in Noël Coward‘s operetta Bitter Sweet. During the 1937 to 1939 seasons, he made an extensive concert tour of North America. From 1940 to 1946, he taught at the Geneva Conservatory. In 1943 he resumed his career singing in Johann Strauss‘s Die Fledermaus in Geneva. He sang at Milan’s La Scala, the Glyndebourne Festival and London’s Royal Opera House -Covent Garden. Cuénod was celebrated for his Basilio in Mozart‘s The Marriage Of Figaro, the Astrologer in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s The Golden Cockerel, and in a role written for just for him by Igor Stravinsky, Sellem in The Rake’s Progress.
In pre-war Vienna and Paris, he frequented the best salons and made a pioneering set of recordings of madrigal songs by Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1937); after the war, the new early-music boom responded with enthusiasm for his light, unmannered, natural sound.
He holds the record as the oldest person to make a debut at the Metropolitan Opera, playing The Emperor in the Franco Zeffirelli production of Giacomo Puccini‘s Turandot in March 1987 at 84-years-old. He sang the role a total of 14 times in 1987 and 1988. His very last appearance on stage was in 1992, at 90, when he sang M. Triquet in Tchaikovsky‘s Eugene Onegin.
He lived with his partner, Alfred Augustin (41 years his junior), in the Château de Lully, an 18th-century castle that belonged to his grandfather, who purchased the property in 1899. In June 2007, when Cuénod was 105, he and Augustin were granted a civil union. He must have been one of the oldest people to ever get hitched. He left this world in 2010 at 108-years-old.