Hugues-Adhémar Cuénod (French pronunciation: [yɡ kɥeˈno]; 26 June 1902 – 6 December 2010) was a Swiss singer known for his performances in international opera, operetta, both traditional and musical theatre, and on the concert stage, where he was particularly known for his light, romantic and expressive interpretation of mélodie (French art song). Although considered a tenor, he had a unique vocal registry. His repertoire encompassed everything from the medieval chansons of Guillaume de Machaut to the avant garde works of Igor Stravinsky. Cuénod was also a distinguished singer of Johann Sebastian Bach's music and was particularly praised for his intrepretation of the Evangelist in Bach's St Matthew Passion. He had an extraordinarily long career of over 64 years: he gave his first concert in 1928 and his last in 1992 when he was aged 90, hence breaking the record for the longest career as a professional vocalist.
Born in Corseaux-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, of English ancestry through his grandmother, Cuénod received his training at the Ribaupierre Institute in Lausanne, at the conservatories in Geneva and Basel, and in Vienna. He started his career as a concert singer. In 1928, he made his stage debut in Ernst Krenek's Jonny spielt auf in Paris, and in 1929 he sang for the first time in the United States in Noël Coward's Bitter Sweet. From 1930 to 1933, he was active in Geneva, and then in Paris from 1934 to 1937. During the seasons 1937 to 1939, he made an extensive concert tour of North America. From 1940 to 1946, he taught at the Geneva Conservatory. In 1943 he resumed his operatic career singing in Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus in Geneva. He subsequently sang at Milan's La Scala (1951), the Glyndebourne Festival (from 1954 on) and London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1954, 1956 and 1958).
Cuénod was known for his roles as Basilio in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, the Astrologer in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, and Sellem in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. In pre-war Vienna and Paris, he frequented aristocratic salons and worked with Nadia Boulanger, with whom he made a pioneering set of recordings of madrigals by Monteverdi in 1937; after the war, the new early-music boom relied heavily on his light, unmannered, natural sound.
He holds the record as the oldest person to make a debut at the Metropolitan Opera. He debuted as the Emperor Altoum in Puccini's Turandot on 12 March 1987 at the age of 84. He repeated the role the following season for a total of 14 performances. His very last appearance on stage was in 1992, aged 90, when he sang M. Triquet in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Théâtre du Jorat in Mézières. On his centenary in 2002, he was awarded the World of Song award by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation.
Cuénod resided with his life partner, Alfred Augustin (41 years his junior), in the Vaud region of Switzerland. They lived in Le Château de Lully, an 18th-century castle that belonged to his ancestors. In June 2007, when Cuénod was 105, he and Augustin entered into a civil union after changes in Swiss law gave same-sex couples many of the legal benefits of marriage.
- (French) Hugues Cuénod
- "Hugues Cuénod Dies at 108; Versatile, Light-Voiced Tenor" by Margalit Fox, The New York Times (7 December 2010)
- (French) "Le ténor vaudois Hugues Cuénod décède à 108 ans", 24 heures (7 December 2010)
- Obituary, The Guardian, 8 December 2010
- Obituary The Daily Telegraph (7 December 2010)
- Hugues Cuénod With an Nimble Voice: Conversations With François Hudry, translated by Albert Fuller, Pendragon Press, 1999. - P. 1.
- Crutchfield, Will (March 8, 1987). "Cuénod, at 84, makes peace with Puccini". The New York Times.
- Westphal, Matthew (27 June 2007). "The World's Oldest Living Tenor Celebrates His 105th Birthday (And He's a Newlywed, No Less!)". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- Nicolas Slonimsky et al., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Classical Musicians, Schirmer Books, 1997. ISBN 0-02-871271-4
- Bradley S. Klapper, Tenor Cuénod, 105, Credits Small Voice, Associated Press, 25 June 2007. Retrieved on 14 February 2008.
- Profile from the Lotte Lehmann Foundation (includes a one-hour Internet radio program focusing on Cuénod)
- Hugues Cuénod With an Agile Voice: Conversations With François Hudry, translated by Albert Fuller, Pendragon Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1-57647-029-9
- Jérôme Spycket, Un diable de musicien: Hugues Cuénod, Payot, 1979. ISBN 2-601-00388-X