Are counter-tenors screwing women out of work?

An essay in Die Welt argues that the likes of Franco Fagioli – presently in Covent Garden’s Idomeneo – Philippe Jaroussky and Sony’s fast-rising Romanian Valer Sabadus (pictured) are getting all the best girl roles.

Who’d be a mezzo in 2014?

Your views, please.



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    • It’s really the (contr)altos they replace, not mezzos, or at least it would be if contraltos weren’t constantly told to market themselves as mezzos in order to get work!

  • In my cathedral choir, it’s the other way around – a female alto has recently been appointed as a Choral Scholar for the first time in the long history of this boys-and-men choir. This is due largely to the poor quality and supply of male applicants, and is a solution currently being pursued by several such choirs. During WW2, two nuns sang alto at Ely Cathedral, but they had to sing from behind a curtain. I have asked where our curtain might be hung, (or screwed, as you might put it) but the Director of Music was not amused.

  • Eh, counter-tenors peaked with Scholl. He’s the best all around despite his recent decline. But when you have him, why bother with any other?

  • Can’t say too much about the article when GoogleTranslate comes up with “Minkowski, dancing bear early music, had better evenings”, though, hopefully, it will be a long time before Fagioli & Co attempt to fill Octavian’s boots.

  • Four ways I initially mis-read your headline (and my initial reaction):

    1. Are counter-tenors screwing? (would that be such a surprise?)
    2. Are counter-tenors screwing women? (is that a sin?)
    3. Are counter-tenors screwing women out? (hmmm, a new sexual position?)
    4. Are counter-tenors screwing women out of work? (but not during work?)

    More ambiguously erotic headlines please!

  • Excuse me, but who was taking the work from whom??? After all, those roles were originally written for counter-tenors. That we now have such singers (who managed to escape the knife) certainly justifies more appropriate casting.

    • Indeed, and to have a ‘real’ Octavian in Rosenkavalier would avoid the embarrassing double-fake of woman dressing-up as adolescent boy dressing up as woman.

  • It could be argued that it’s quite the other way around. And in what roles? When Handel didn’t have a castrato around for a role written for one, he invariably substituted a woman and never, ever a male falsettist.
    There’s a good case to be made that countertenors should never be cast in Handel operas any more than they should sing Octavian or Cherubino or Tancredi. But in the last couple decades we have even seen roles a Vivaldi or Handel wrote as a trouser role to be sung by a female, co-opted and stolen by a male falsettist.

    • Oops, ignore first sentence since I am agreeing with the proposition that countertenors are indeed screwing women out of work.

  • I really do not get this neverending mezzo/alto-counter querelle. The two can perfectly cohexist (and, most probably, they will in the future).

  • What roles were originally written for countertenors, male falsettists? Name one before Britten and MSND? Maybe a couple before that but you cannot be referring to the Baroque. Castrati were not countertenors. And Händel for one always used a female when a castrato was not available. Never a falsettist. Use them today if you like, but don’t pretend you are being historically accurate. Or replicating the effect the castrati had, especially in bold, heroic music.

  • Brian you took the words out of my mouth. I think it’s the fact that people think using a countertenor is more “authentic” is what gets me. As you say, many of the roles they take now would have been either female or castrato parts originally – neither of which are the same as a countertenor. We can only speculate that the countertenor and castrato sounds may have been similar – but probably not! I’ve enjoyed countertenors in some roles (Orfeo being one – Lawrence Zazzo was very good) but really suffered through a countertenor Idamante once and I think it’s a big mistake to start using them for Cherubino and Orlofsky for example. The colour is just not right; projection can be a problem and in my experience, countertenors just can’t command the range of colour that a mezzo can (David Daniels perhaps being a notable exception).

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