Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Countertenor: Tale Of The Timbre

It was hard to resist referring to the "classic" Aerosmith song "Dude looks like a lady" when writing this story.  Although this "dude" looks like no lady.  But the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky can sing like one.

A countertenor in simple terms is a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano and in some cases a soprano. 

A man producing a high girlish tone by using the outer edges of his vocal chords is not so shocking when listening to it on your ipod.  Seeing him sing first hand can be a little unsettling, but there is no denying the value of a countertenor in modern musical performance.

It is a unique vocal timbre that closely matches that of a castrati, a vocal range many traditional pieces were written for.  The audience can experience works of Monteverdi, Purcell and Handel the way they were originally intended to be heard.

Look at it this way.  If you like the Bee Gees, Prince, or even the Stylistics, you aren't that far away from liking a countertenor.  While the countertenor sounds less "falsetto like" than those pop groups listed above, it is a similar approach.  A man stretching his vocal range to produce a unique sound.

So keep an open mind and give Philippe Jaroussky a listen.  The attached article has audio clips.  We would love to hear your impressions, whether you have never heard a countertenor, or are familiar with this vocal technique.

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