surplus of counter-tenors

there’s a surplus of counter-tenors in the boston area. how else would you explain my encounter of not one, not two, but THREE at the recent boston lyric opera‘s performance of Agrippina? while walking there, i was explaining to my friends about the trouser roles in anticipation of at least a couple of mezzos…

But first, let me back up. we’re talking about Handel and operas! i think being in the US (or even western europe??), the combination of Handel and opera is so exotic, even my two well culturally-versed friends from that part of europe have not heard of it before. I myself would not have known if not for this famous post from Anik (it kept popping up again and again and again when i was searching for kasarova+trouser back in my white-shirt-infancy days. you need to read way down the comment section for a couple of superb reviews from Purity, which was partially why i got motivated to fly to Wien for Alcina last year. (this is also the right time to file my selfish personal petition for purity’s “se vuoi pace” to be back online…)

But where was i? got distracted by too much white-shirt goodness. Back to the BLO, I’m now even much more convinced: anything of Handel around here and i WILL show up! the Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra is amazing! I had such a great evening listening to them. the sound from 2nd balcony in Shubert Theater is superb. For the $23.50 discounted price, I would have come back multiple times had it not been for the near annual dosage of counter-tenors. My reaction to the first sound was “waa..o..o..a..h..”, soon followed by the thought “sh*t, can i really handle an orfeo like this for 3 hours??” Is it just a coincidence that the BLO casted 3 counter-tenors, or are they really afraid the american audience can’t handle mezzos in trousers? the 2nd one gave me even more goosebumps. BUT, ottone was sung hugely emotionally well by Anthony Ross Costanzo. He would be the main reason I consider coming back to see Agrippina again. The rest of the casts was also superb, led by the flexible and clear with absolutely no-hint-of-strain voice of Kathleen Kim (Poppea), a calculated and very well acted Caroline Worra (Agrippina), and David McFerrin (Pallante). Poppea had a lot of acting to do on top of the vocally demanding music full of coloratura and super high heels, and Kathleen Kim had absolutely no problem (she just sang recently a role in Nixon in China at the MET also). The production is simple (no distraction) and very funny: it started out with Agrippina pulling a gun on the servant who was delivering the news of Pallante’s death and ended with the cast joining hands singing about madness and suicides and murders. All in all, the cast gave me the impression of the first true professional opera production I have seen this year (a class above the other productions of La Traviata + Lucia di Lammermoor in term of voice). The only thing that prevents me from coming back is the overdose of counter-tenors (a white shirt girl can only handel so much.)

On the last note, this was my first ever experience hearing counter-tenors live. they’re what I’d call an “acquired taste”. Reactions from my two friends range from “interesting” to “not quite my cup of tea”. We agreed though that David Trudgen (Nerone) did a very good job, to the point that we could NOT like him, which is exactly what his character is about. The polka-dot boxer they put on him also helped.

Anyhow, I couldn’t handel well even Phillippe Jaroussky’s take, so we’ll sample Veronique Gens’ version (to a beautiful valse, i think):

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

10 Responses to surplus of counter-tenors

  1. You are too generous my friend: I think countertenors should be banned. An awful falsetto voice with no redeeming features.

    My city has the same problem. I keep encountering contras and tenors where there were CLEARLY supposed to be mezzos or altos. This December TOT performed Fledermaus with a transposed tenor Orlofsky. (For shame) I recently got a press release about the first live performance of Il trionfo del tempo in years in Toronto, and who do they cast as Disinganno? A counter-tenor. Tafelmusik, the biggest, best-known baroque orchestra in the country, often casts counter-tenors instead of altos in their sacred music concerts. Opera Atelier, a music theatre company dedicated to the Baroque, regularly casts counter-tenors instead of mezzos. (They’re doing Clemenza di Tito next month and who will play Sesto? A counter-tenor.)

    This occupation must stop! I am on a mission.

    I have some private theories on why this is happening. I think it comes down to who has the power of casting, and I would venture to suggest that not too many queer women do (in my beloved city). Many gay and straight men do. Therefore… the results. But I’m sure there are other factors as well.

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    • thả diều says:

      🙂
      i wouldn’t go as far as “ban” them. Actually if they can just sing whatever and leave my trouser-mezzos to sing duets with the sopranos, i’d be happy. I always see them as stealing my mezzo’s women!
      The one singing Ottonne at the BLO was very very good though, he would be worth the tix price alone to see again. but i agree, it appears that the vision of whoever doing the casting seems to be getting in the way. i don’t know if they’re afraid or they just think they have the “right” vision and wanted to do “right” by the music. in this case, these “right”‘s can just be reflecting their inner issues… who knows. i’m so glad they’re overdosing mezzos and contraltos in paris at the moment, and am soo looking forward to munich.

      secretly, i really hope VK recovers in time. Laura Poverelli’s voice vibrates a bit too much for my liking…

      a counter-tenor Sesto?? that’d be the day I BOYCOTT the production! (hmm, unless Harteros is singing Vitellia… luckily she won’t…)

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  2. When are you flying? It must be getting exciting at the Dr T’s.

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    • thả diều says:

      hic, i really hope VK will recover in time to sing at least once when i’m there… 😦 . i won’t be leaving until April. still have the “clemenza di tito” screening here next week plus a load of work
      what is Otter singing in germany end of May?

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  3. I am crossing everything for you, fingers, legs, strands of hair, eyes, the leaves on my potted plants, everything that’s crossable. There’s still some time for her to recover before you land, so that works in your favour.

    Otter — and thank you for asking! it feels lonely sometimes in the mighty sea of Kasarovianas — will sing the sorceress Medee in the French baroque opera by the same name, composed by Charpentier. It’s the one where the younger husband stops loving her and she punishes everybody in sight: him, his new woman and, um, her own children. It’s in mid-June in Frankfurt, in some industrial depot or other. I booked the hostel, but not the plane ticket yet. Before that I may wing a quick visit to my family in Montenegro.

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    • thả diều says:

      “Before that I may wing a quick visit to my family in Montenegro.”
      you can promptly come out to them and run up the mountains ;-), or in this case up the plane back to Otter and have her sign your coming-out shirt :-). Is she staying mostly under the radar and hard to track? Charpentier… Medee… sounds so new to me. that’s what i love about these singers, they “induce” me to listen to new music every..year.. But why industrial depot? like a festival? Of course frankfurt is full of depots and train stations. i also have a very very good friend there…and an ex… i think Purity also mentioned something about some event in the countryside in Oct w/ Otter and Bonney no?

      at least i have a couple of very good friends in Munich, and a chance to hang out w/ more white shirters, so one way or another, it’ll work out. just got email friend will come pick me up at airport and will join me for opera as well, yay.

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      • You have an ex in Frankfurt!? Well, well, well.. Well, well.

        And you read my depressing short story! You are funny. I am noticing that most things I write are about failed affairs and heartache. No idea why.

        I think the Bockenheimer Depot itself will be part of the set. I can only speculate what era they’re gonna set the thing in. Can’t imagine them showing up in French baroque costumes and wigs, though.

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      • Nudged by this conversation, I spent the entire evening booking one damned thing after another. I have most things booked, two tiny bits left. I used OneTravel, by the way, it found me a better price than my own FlightNetwork. So, at least a huge chunk is out of the way. Thank you, Dr T.

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      • thả diều says:

        and then we hold our breath that our singer would be healthy and sing right? i wasn’t saying much before because i was worried myself VK would suddenly get sick. didn’t realize she has been not feeling well for a while… let’s keep many things crossed…X

        so, in the plan also is a scheme to drop the parents hint? 😉 . i did that, dropping hints, then it escalated into a BOOM all in 1 evening, then took 7 years or so for things to cool down.

        yes, i did read the story! don’t we all have nightmares of some kind about this business. even posted in on my fb. good story. and b/c i like it, i didn’t tell you 🙂

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      • Email me your Facebook name, or find me on FB. (There’s a few of us with my name surprisingly (!) but I currently have a photo of a muddy end-of-winter river as a profile picture)

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