Voices From On High: Countertenors to Coldplay

Friday, November 18, 2011

Men who sing in the stratosphere always hold a certain fascination over music fans, whether it’s the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson or countertenors. Here in New York, countertenors -- men who sing above the tenor range -- are having a banner season, being featured in two productions at the Metropolitan Opera: Handel's Rodelinda and the upcoming Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island.

Meanwhile, more countertenors are turning up in contemporary music (including new works by Thomas Ades and Peter Maxwell Davies), on recital series and in choruses alongside mezzo-sopranos and altos (often much to the latter's dismay).

So what is it about the appeal of the high male voice? In this podcast Naomi Lewin asks three experts: Andreas Scholl, a countertenor who is currently appearing in Rodelinda at the Met; Brian Zeger; a pianist who is head of the Vocal Arts department at Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program; and Chloe Veltman, the host and producer of Voicebox, a radio program and podcast about the singing voice.

Weigh in: Do you enjoy the sound of a man singing really high? Or do you prefer those in the basso range? Do you have a favorite falsetto?


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Comments [3]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from 'Richard WagnerMusic Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Frankly, as a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor with a three octave range which even on my acuti, highest pitches, remains masculine, even heroic, I am not obsessed by the timbre of thre voice so much as the musicianship and beauty of the toine quality. BACH has been transposed to many formats, including the MOOG and other electronic representations. BACH's music is universal and appreciated by the most unlikely panorama of chamber music enthusiasts, punk rock singers and their fans and everyone in between in terms of style or format appreciation. WAGNER's DIE MEISTERSINGER owes much in its composition to WAGNER's amazement at the contrapuntal schematic of BACH's music. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, free, my singing of 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sung in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to Recorded Selections on; www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com.
Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico, Eleazar. and Judas Maccabaeus.

Apr. 02 2013 01:20 PM
David from Flushing

From the one surviving early recording of a castrato in advanced age, we know that he sounded far more like a female than a countertenor.

Having a male for the sake of having a male seems to be the main justification of using countertenors for castrati. I would prefer female singers in these cases as their vocal power equals those of the other singers in the cast which tends not to be the case with countertenors. For works intended for countertenors, by all means use them, but let castrato roles be "trouser" roles.

Nov. 19 2011 06:24 PM
Bernie from UWS

Interesting discussion. Also check out the singing of jazz great "Little" Jimmy Scott. He had a true contralto that is nothing like the Bee Gees or countertenors.


Nov. 19 2011 12:37 PM

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