Gould divided vocal music, like all other music, into sheep and goats.
Not surprisingly, he admired vocal music that he was able to justify according to his usual musical priorities—works like Gibbons’ anthems, Bach’s sacred music, Mendelssohn’s oratorio St. Paul, Bruckner’s E-minor Mass, the operas of Wagner and Strauss, the songs and other vocal works of Strauss, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Hindemith, Krenek. (There were some surprises, though, among the sheep: he considered West Side Story a masterpiece, for instance, and shortly before he died he declared that his favourite opera was Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. And then there’s that whole Petula-Clark-and-Barbra-Streisand thing …)
It appears that he largely ignored German Romantic lieder and most modern art-song repertories, expressed no interest in opera or vocal chamber music of the Baroque era, liked Mozart’s operas no better than the rest of his music, and was squeamish about the sensuousness and melodiousness and violent emotions of Italian opera.
The music of Verdi and Puccini, he said, made him “intensely uncomfortable”—a revealing choice of words.
Gould had a musical idealist’s disdain for the whole theatrical side of opera, too. “I’m not terribly fond of opera, and I don’t go to the opera house very much,” he said, in a 1959 profile.
“And when I do, I’m more interested in the actual music I hear than in what I see on the stage—in fact, quite often, when I do go to opera, I shut my eyes and just listen.”
Often he barely knew the libretto of the operatic music he listened to. In a diary entry from 1980, he admitted, after listening to Tannhäuser on the radio, that “I’d never even known what it was about (I’m ashamed to say)”—a surprising gap for a self-described Wagnerite.