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Thread: Men singing arias for female voices and vice versa

  1. #16
    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    Max Emanuel Cencic used to have a Youtube outdoor concert when he was young and impossibly gorgeous - say around 25. He sang several arias for sopranos by Bellini and Donizetti I believe. I've only ever heard countertenors sing music written for countertenors. I can't find it anymore on Youtube. It was so wonderful.
    There are very few roles specifically written to be sung by countertenors, which have risen lately (in the last few decades) to sing male roles in Baroque operas previously sung en travesti by mezzo-sopranos or contraltos. Modern operatic composers have written roles specifically to be sung by the countertenor voice because of its unusual sound - they want the unearthly sounds a countertenor can produce. Some English composers also wrote concert, opera and church music taken by countertenors (Purcell anyone?).
    Last edited by MAS; Jul-29-2021 at 06:22.

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    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    There's no reason why a woman shouldn't have a masculine voice.
    e.g. Bea Arthur as Maude LOL[/QUOTE]

    As spiritualists would say, “they’re running too much male energy!”

  3. #18
    Senior Member BalalaikaBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    It's hard to be 100% certain about the registration in an acoustic recording, but the top sound like covered chest, not head voice to me. I know plenty of deep contraltos, and they don't sound like this to my ears. Even her lower notes sound different from the fully coordinated sound of someone like Anday, Onegin, or Leisner.
    That could easily be a technique difference (lower female voices in pop or folk music often do the same thing). For example, one of my favorite Eastern European folk singers often takes the chest voice quite high into the range.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN_Wc5Vk6n8

    It's unusual to do this in opera, but it's done by a few singers at specific moments
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPR5prX46sM

    What we think of as "registers" of the voice is a little misleading. It's not like "you sing your low notes in this place" vs "you sing your high notes in that place". The chest and the head voice are about the use of different muscles and what "register" you're in has to do with the ratio participation between the two. Traditionally, male singers would almost all sing with the chest voice dominating the range from top to bottom, while female singers would ease up on the chest voice around F4 and transition to a more head voice dominated sound up top (though you never want the connection to the chest to disappear completely. this is a big reason for the more hollow sound of a lot of modern singers).

    With the latter, there is a good deal more variation though. Every good singer needs a strong connection to both, but you have some singers who favored more chest participation and others who favored more head participation. ex:

    (note: this is meant to be an illustration of what some of the variation can look like, not a hard categorization to box people in)
    more head voice in the sound: Eleanor Steber, Kirsten Flagstad, Eileen Ferrell, Birgit Nilsson
    more chest voice in the sound: Luisa Tettrazzini, Maria Callas, Clara Butt, Agnes Baltsa
    in between/both: Eula Beal, Shirley Verrett, Rosa Raisa, Fiorenza Cossotto

  4. #19
    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    Max Emanuel Cencic used to have a Youtube outdoor concert when he was young and impossibly gorgeous - say around 25. He sang several arias for sopranos by Bellini and Donizetti I believe. I've only ever heard countertenors sing music written for countertenors. I can't find it anymore on Youtube. It was so wonderful.
    I’ve been following Max Emanuel Cencic since he was a Vienna Choir Boy - he had squillo when he was very young! He could also, later, display a good chest voice. I loved his Rossini arias CD, and his duets with Jaroussky.

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    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2V49sSxvc4 After Stephanie Blythe's voice dropped down to tenor but kept all it's beauty she created an outrageous male drag persona for a pop/opera blend show that was AMAZING. In this clip halfway in she sings in the original key the big tenor aria from Flotlow's Martha ( one of the two operas I saw my sister in live). Blythe had the biggest voice I ever heard live and I wish her Amneris at Seattle Opera was on video.https://youtu.be/qAB51VjxLHk This is longer clip I just uploaded from that drag show that is longer and better where she starts out by singing Nessun dorma in the original key.
    Last edited by Seattleoperafan; Jul-29-2021 at 08:41.

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    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BalalaikaBoy View Post
    That could easily be a technique difference (lower female voices in pop or folk music often do the same thing). For example, one of my favorite Eastern European folk singers often takes the chest voice quite high into the range.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN_Wc5Vk6n8

    It's unusual to do this in opera, but it's done by a few singers at specific moments
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPR5prX46sM

    What we think of as "registers" of the voice is a little misleading. It's not like "you sing your low notes in this place" vs "you sing your high notes in that place". The chest and the head voice are about the use of different muscles and what "register" you're in has to do with the ratio participation between the two. Traditionally, male singers would almost all sing with the chest voice dominating the range from top to bottom, while female singers would ease up on the chest voice around F4 and transition to a more head voice dominated sound up top (though you never want the connection to the chest to disappear completely. this is a big reason for the more hollow sound of a lot of modern singers).

    With the latter, there is a good deal more variation though. Every good singer needs a strong connection to both, but you have some singers who favored more chest participation and others who favored more head participation. ex:

    (note: this is meant to be an illustration of what some of the variation can look like, not a hard categorization to box people in)
    more head voice in the sound: Eleanor Steber, Kirsten Flagstad, Eileen Ferrell, Birgit Nilsson
    more chest voice in the sound: Luisa Tettrazzini, Maria Callas, Clara Butt, Agnes Baltsa
    in between/both: Eula Beal, Shirley Verrett, Rosa Raisa, Fiorenza Cossotto
    I think calling her a tenor makes more sense because the difference between her and Tebaldi is that at no point does Helder start singing in head voice. So yes, Tebaldi's low chest notes sound a lot like a tenor's high notes, that's not the issue. The issue is that operatic contraltos, mezzos and sopranos move into head voice, whereas Helder does not. Tessitura is also relevant in these distinctions. Presumably called her a tenor because she was comfortable singing in the tenor tessitura, which would distinguish her from a contralto. Calling it a 'difference in technique' doesn't solve the problem because precisely the 'difference in technique' between tenors and contraltos is whether or not they transition to head voice at E F F# and go up in head voice or transition to and go up in covered chest. Helder consistently sings those notes in covered chest, and is singing a tenor aria. If she sang tenor arias with a tenor technique, I don't see why we'd call her a contralto.
    Last edited by vivalagentenuova; Jul-29-2021 at 18:54.

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  9. #22
    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2V49sSxvc4 After Stephanie Blythe's voice dropped down to tenor but kept all it's beauty she created an outrageous male drag persona for a pop/opera blend show that was AMAZING. In this clip halfway in she sings in the original key the big tenor aria from Flotlow's Martha ( one of the two operas I saw my sister in live). Blythe had the biggest voice I ever heard live and I wish her Amneris at Seattle Opera was on video.https://youtu.be/qAB51VjxLHk This is longer clip I just uploaded from that drag show that is longer and better where she starts out by singing Nessun dorma in the original key.
    Bizarre! I’m not sure she’s singing in the original tenor range, it sounds more like she’s concentrating on singing in her chest voice (can’t be sure). That she’s doing a drag show is sad (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) - did she lose her voice?
    Last edited by MAS; Jul-29-2021 at 20:46.

  10. #23
    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAS View Post
    Bizarre! I’m not sure she’s singing in the original tenor range, it sounds more like she’s concentrating on si going in her chest voice (can’t be sure). That she’s doing a drag show is sad (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) - did she lose her voice?
    The whole top went away over a short period of time.

  11. #24
    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    The whole top went away over a short period of time.
    The drag show was very very well written and she is a marvelous entertainer.

  12. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    The whole top went away over a short period of time.
    I’m sorry to hear that, she had one wonderful voice - did she lose it after her slimming?

  13. #26
    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAS View Post
    I’m sorry to hear that, she had one wonderful voice - did she lose it after her slimming?
    No. She is as big as a dinette table still. She didn't lose her voice as it is still gorgeous and sounds in it's prime, it just dropped an octave. She has the same placement and vibrato as before. It is like a teen boy's at puberty!!!!! Perhaps a menopausal thing. She has worked around it with solo concerts, one series where she sang Kate Smith songs. She is hugely talented and entertaining... on the level of Bette Midler. Her personality is bigger than her dress size. I don't think I am overstating the case. She can likely teach. Her voice is now lower than a contralto. It really sounds like she is singing tenor arias in the original key.
    Last edited by Seattleoperafan; Jul-29-2021 at 21:53.

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  15. #27
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    I think calling her a tenor makes more sense because the difference between her and Tebaldi is that at no point does Helder start singing in head voice. So yes, Tebaldi's low chest notes sound a lot like a tenor's high notes, that's not the issue. The issue is that operatic contraltos, mezzos and sopranos move into head voice, whereas Helder does not. Tessitura is also relevant in these distinctions. Presumably called her a tenor because she was comfortable singing in the tenor tessitura, which would distinguish her from a contralto. Calling it a 'difference in technique' doesn't solve the problem because precisely the 'difference in technique' between tenors and contraltos is whether or not they transition to head voice at E F F# and go up in head voice or transition to and go up in covered chest. Helder consistently sings those notes in covered chest, and is singing a tenor aria. If she sang tenor arias with a tenor technique, I don't see why we'd call her a contralto. It might be worth pointing out that Beverly Sills had quite a deep speaking voice, i.e. chest voice. But had she made a career singing pop music with that voice would we reasonably call her a contralto?
    This is what I would have said if I could say it as clearly. None of the categories we apply to female voices, including contralto, are characterized by the consistent use of chest voice. If a woman sings consistently in chest voice in the tenor range with a masculine timbre - which is what Helder seems to me to be doing - she is not functioning as a contralto and it makes little sense to call her one. I would even argue that the term "contralto" makes little sense outside the tradition of classical singing, and that in popular and folk idioms using non-classical vocal techniques a woman using her chest register exclusively is not at all the sort of singer that Kathleen Ferrier and Ernestine Schumann-Heink are. Those women have rich, fully developed head registers, and it's the deep, full quality of those head tones, and their mix with the chest voice, that most truly identify them as contraltos. (I might mention the fact that Beverly Sills had a surprisingly deep speaking - i.e. chest - voice, but had she sung pop music in that voice it would have been quite odd to call her a contralto.)

    Ultimately there's little point in quibbling over terminology, but statements such as "this is just a contralto" invite quibbling by failing to do justice to the peculiarities of the case. We don't really have to have a name for Ruby Helder's singing, but "contralto," as normally understood within the realm of operatic singing, doesn't do it justice.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jul-30-2021 at 16:21.

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  17. #28
    Senior Member BalalaikaBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    I think calling her a tenor makes more sense because the difference between her and Tebaldi is that at no point does Helder start singing in head voice. So yes, Tebaldi's low chest notes sound a lot like a tenor's high notes, that's not the issue. The issue is that operatic contraltos, mezzos and sopranos move into head voice, whereas Helder does not. Tessitura is also relevant in these distinctions. Presumably called her a tenor because she was comfortable singing in the tenor tessitura, which would distinguish her from a contralto. Calling it a 'difference in technique' doesn't solve the problem because precisely the 'difference in technique' between tenors and contraltos is whether or not they transition to head voice at E F F# and go up in head voice or transition to and go up in covered chest. Helder consistently sings those notes in covered chest, and is singing a tenor aria. If she sang tenor arias with a tenor technique, I don't see why we'd call her a contralto.
    The difference here is that you define voice by what the person sings. I define it by what they are. ex: had Franco Corelli decided to spend his career singing baritone roles, I would still call him a tenor (indeed, I call a lot of modern "baritones" tenors for that very reason).

    Even more simply: when I close my eyes, I still hear a woman singing. If she were really a tenor, it would feel more like a man singing.

  18. #29
    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BalalaikaBoy View Post
    The difference here is that you define voice by what the person sings. I define it by what they are. ex: had Franco Corelli decided to spend his career singing baritone roles, I would still call him a tenor (indeed, I call a lot of modern "baritones" tenors for that very reason).

    Even more simply: when I close my eyes, I still hear a woman singing. If she were really a tenor, it would feel more like a man singing.
    What evidence do you have that there is one and only one correct vocal category for each singer?

    When I hear Tebaldi's low notes, she sounds "like a man". When I hear Gigli's soft high notes, he sounds "like a woman". Zanelli sang baritone and tenor. Battistini probably could have as well. Vocal categories and fachs are historical and approximate, and represent general limits of voices. If a singer is successful (aesthetically) with their technique, I'm not going to say it's wrong. Helder sounds like a successful tenor to me, as she apparently did to Caruso. That's good enough for me. Modern singers who are not successful aesthetically with their technique are a different matter.

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  20. #30
    Senior Member BalalaikaBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    What evidence do you have that there is one and only one correct vocal category for each singer?
    that almost everyone who tries it fails miserably (notable exceptions include Shirley Verret, Ramon Vinay, Grace Bumbry and Maria Ewing), . keep in mind also that the difference between baritone vs tenor and, especially, tenor (male voice) vs contralto (female voice) is a lot wider than splitting hairs over "is she a spinto soprano or a dramatic coloratura soprano?", "is this a soubrette or a lyric coloratura?", etc. it's usually not worth getting into arguments about that.

    When I hear Tebaldi's low notes, she sounds "like a man". When I hear Gigli's soft high notes, he sounds "like a woman".
    No, he doesn't. Sure, he could sing sensitively when he needed to (his sense of contrast was amazing), but he always had a masculine voice and presence. Speaking of not splitting hairs on voice type, that's one tenor voice whom I would pay to hear sing anything from Otello to Puritani. Fach within the basic voice types is less of a big deal.

    Zanelli sang baritone and tenor. Battistini probably could have as well. Vocal categories and fachs are historical and approximate, and represent general limits of voices. If a singer is successful (aesthetically) with their technique, I'm not going to say it's wrong. Helder sounds like a successful tenor to me, as she apparently did to Caruso. That's good enough for me. Modern singers who are not successful aesthetically with their technique are a different matter.
    I will offer you an olive branch, I agree here (tbh, there isn't even anything wrong with her voice imo. she just sounds like a contralto who learned to belt and cover like a tenor).
    Last edited by BalalaikaBoy; Jul-30-2021 at 19:24.

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