The Ethereal Voice of the Countertenor

Feb 21, 2017 | baroque, blog | 0 comments

The countertenor singer — our modern day substitute for the castrato, or altered male voice — is one of early music’s great treasures. Ethereally beautiful and almost unearthly, this falsetto sound (think Paul Anka or Michael Jackson) brings you the range of the female voice with a distinctly masculine sound.

During the Renaissance, the Catholic Church forbid women from singing in church, so countertenors were often used in liturgical music. Castrati, however, who were castrated in order to avoid puberty and maintain their high voices, were more popular in opera, where women were also barred from performing. They first came into prominence in Italy in the mid-16th century, and they reached the height of their popularity in Europe in the early 18th century.

Castrati were considered the rock stars of their day, adored by both men and women for their powerful, angelic voices, and even today, pop singers who specialize in singing in falsetto, such as Barry Gibb and Justin Timberlake, still make women swoon.

In our next concert, we’re excited to be welcoming countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen to join us on stage. Only 22, Cohen is already gaining accolades throughout the classical music world for his extraordinary voice. He recently received First Prize in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition, was named a National Semifinalist in the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, and a Finalist in the George London Foundation’s Competition.

Want to hear what a countertenor sounds like? Here’s a sample of a piece by Carissimi that we’ll be performing in our upcoming concert, sung by the renowned countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

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