The human voice, the “tool” of nature, is a flexible piece of equipment. Men who sing with a natural female register or “modal voice” are usually called a countertenor, sometimes a male soprano. They enjoy the fact that the male voice can push the transmission into the female falsetto tone. And not just in classical music; pop musicians often turn to technology. It has been used for centuries, so this blog will feature several works with the voice of a countertenor, some of which may be unfamiliar but hopefully engaging to the ear.
But before we begin, I can hear you ask: can women perform a similar feat by slipping into the male vocal register? Click here to find out.
Let’s go back to men. Born in 1975, Janio D’Or has a distinctive voice as a countertenor, making him one of the rising stars of the modern international music scene. The British-Israeli singer studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, receiving an award from the International Institute of Vocal Arts and the Gottesman Prize.
His album is Naxos Latin was BBC magazine The album Choice when it was released in 2016. His program, mostly traditional and baroque music that flourished in exiled communities, contains a catchy song All beautiful bridesmaids (The Most Beautiful Girl) by the Italian composer Vincenzo Calestani (1589–1617), who lived and worked in Pisa on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. The Sephardic community of the city fluctuated with periods of peace and persecution. Calestani did not travel, but his dance, three-time song, rich in hemiola, with tambourine punctuation, reminded his audience of the good times that always seem to come again.
All beautiful bridesmaids (8.573566)
For my next example I chose an aria out The triumph of love dating back a century later. It was written by Francisco Antonio de Almeida
(c. 1702-c. 1755), one of the most famous Portuguese composers of the time, as a court spectacular event to celebrate the king’s birthday. Aria When a good frost hardens the wave is in common from the beginning a form having the structure of ABA. When repeating section A, performers usually decorated the original line with intricate and technically complex ornaments. Carlos Mena, the Spanish counter-tenor on this record, does just that.
When a good frost hardens the wave (8,573380-81)
The change of tempo is now in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Among his most popular compositions Vocalize, a wordless vocal piece that was originally included in a set of songs with piano accompaniment, written in 1916 for the Russian coloratura soprano Antonina Nezhdanova. It was an instant success that prompted Rachmaninoff to orchestrate the accompaniment shortly thereafter.
We hear this arrangement for contractor and orchestra performed by Valery Barna-Sabadus, who was born in 1986 in Arad (Romania) and moved to Germany in 1991. He has won numerous awards as his performance on this record has led to anticipation.
To a more modern sound now in three contrasting works, the first featuring Brazilian counterpart Luis Alves da Silva. There is work talk … (Speak …) by Swiss composer Hans Ulrich Lehmann, who died in 2013, and was written for recorder and countertenor. Lehmann presented the work as follows:
“The work was written in 1993 and is based on three poems by Rose Auslander. These are subtle, sensitive, very clear texts, and my composition tried to highlight these qualities. The work is dedicated to the two men who gave the first performance: Luis Alves da Silva and Conrad Steinman.
And so they perform the second part of the work, beads (Pearls).
Next job Poems of life, a cycle of orchestral songs by the American composer
Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956), who presents the work:
«Poems of life puts to music twelve poems from a volume of poetry by Judith G. Wolfe Otherwise. The poems weave a story of love, the pain of loss through death, emotional transformation through sorrow and spiritual enlightenment. Poems of life consists of five separate parts, in each of which components of verses are continuously put. The work is rated on the countertenor, the protagonist of the work, and shows a solo cello, an instrumental double of the spirit and emotions of the protagonist, and a solo English horn, the spirit of a lost lover.
Here is the third movement –Sisters; Gone forever; Retreat– Performed by counterpart Arie Nussbaum Cohen, winner of the National Opera Council audition in the 2016-17 season, who became the first countertenor in the history of Houston’s Grand Opera Studio when he joined the campaign in 2017-2017. Season 18. Here he is accompanied by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joan Fallet.
Poems of life (8.559824)
through the years
Smiling, we glide across the rainbow.
A light breeze blows
rolling motion on the current
covering the wings of pigeons
brought by the tide.
You are in a storm cloud
in a raindrop or
in another womb
are you waiting for the birth?
I’m looking for you.
to let me know
you are near, watching me.
But you are not in this world
as you float above the inner voice
that chatters incessantly
letting you know what I am shouting
for you as long as you ignore
world for a month
we rot among
Finally, we turn to Requiem Hannah Lash (b. 1981). Written in 2016, the composer presented it as follows:
One of the things I wanted to achieve with my Requiem was to compose a work that was both very personal and non-specific. It does not honor any death, nor an individual or group of people, although my own experience of loss has left a deep impression in my conception of death. In the staging of the text there is a solo of the countertenor in more free moments in the musical texture. I liked the vulnerability of the solo voice, and I wrote it with the unusual counter-voice of my dear friend Eric Brenner in mind. ”
Here The Lamb of God, performed by contractor Eric Brenner, Lydia Consilvio (English) and harpist.
In the field stands a lamb, one bleating. No mother.
He’s waiting for someone
for some act of kindness
to prevent death.
The Lamb of God (8.559829)