Read the full article here.
"An opera singer credited with helping launch the civil rights movement and improving race relations in America will be one of the first historic women to appear on U.S. paper money in more than a century, and among the first black people ever to appear on U.S. federal currency." - Newsweek
Read the full article here.
Aria of the Week #57: "Hear de lambs a-cryin'".
Performed by Marian Anderson.
Uploaded by Homoclassicus.
This week the 100th Contralto Profile was added to the Profiles Section of the Contralto Corner.
I would like to thank all the fans of the Contralto voice who support this website, and the Contraltos themselves, who sing so beautifully for us.
The Contraltos listed there are from all categories (Coloratura, Lyric, Mid-Weight, Dramatic, Profondo and Basso) and from all stages of career (historical, current, and up-and-coming).
To celebrate this milestone, I have pulled together a sample of ten arias and scenes which, for me, showcase the Contralto voice in all its glory.
I hope you enjoy listening to them!
All the best,
It is 75 years since the great contralto Marian Anderson was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of the colour of her skin. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in direct response to their treatment of Anderson. A clip of the concert can be seen below.
When Schubert wrote “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden) I wonder if he realised just how perfect a song he had created for the contralto voice?
With the singer expected to portray both the Maiden and Death in less than two and a half minutes, one could expect difficulties in characterisation occurring. However, Schubert helps the singer by writing the music for the Maiden and Death in the head and middle/chest registers respectively.
The music for the Maiden encompasses a semitone less than one full octave, from E4 to Eb5. By keeping the music in the lighter head register, Schubert helps to produce the characterisation of the young maiden through the sound of the voice itself. In the contralto head register we can hear the Maiden’s youth. We can also hear her fear, in the high phrase around the Eb5, the upper end of the contralto head voice (not counting the upper extension posses by many of the great contralti). Her fear turns into resignation at the end of her phrase as the music moves gradually to the E4, the lower end of the head voice.
After a couple of bars with which to adjust the registers, Death enters on a D4, which is to be sung in either the middle or chest registers. I believe it is better to sing it in the mid-register, as the warm, velvety timbre of the contralto mid-register is the perfect vehicle to express Death’s attempt to comfort the Maiden.
The final phrase sees the singer move from the mid to chest register on the final word, “schlafen” (sleep), with a cadence from A3 to D3. The register change displays both the preternatural strength in Death’s “Armen” (arms) and the final command the Maiden hears, and the life leaves her physical body.
This is one of the best songs for the contralto voice, and can also be useful to young contraltos, or those just starting to sing classical music, as the registration changes allow the singer to understand the fell of the different “voices”, their sounds, qualities and character. There are other songs and arias which do this, but this is also one of the simplest, requiring the singer to concentrate on phrasing, breath control and characterisation, and the simple necessity of conveying to the audience the meaning of the text.
For a copy of the score, click here.
Below are are few contraltos singing the aria:
Hello everybody. Having seen quite a few contraltos in concert recently, I thought I would post a few lovely voices that are capable of reaching those wonderful tones below F3. All of these lovely ladies have full and powerful lower registers, and it is a pleasure to listen to them. Most of the very low notes are at the end of the videos, but where possible I have put in a time reference for at lease one of the notes in each video. I hope you enjoy them. Oh, and if you know of other videos with ladies hitting notes below F3, why not pop them in a message at the end of this post.
The first video comes courtesy of the great British contralto Dame Clara Butt. The song is The Enchantress, by J. Hatton, and in it she hits a wonderful E3 at 0:52.
Next up we have the Swedish contralto Anna Larsson, singing the role of Daphne's mother, Gaea, in Richard Strauss' opera Daphne. In it she hits an Eb3 a number of times, but a good example is at 2:18.
Giving us a fantastic D3 is American contralto Marian Anderson, singing the song Der Tod und das Mädchen, by F. Schubert. It happens at 2:15.
To guide us by the hand in to the realm of the contralto profundo is the Venetian contralto Sara Mingardo. In an interpolated ornament at the end of "Fac ut Portem" from the Stabat Mater by G Pergolesi, she saunters down to a stunning Db3! The ornament starts at 4:01.
The holy grail has been reached! Swiss contralto Ursula Ferri gives us a rock solid C3 (contralto bottom C) in the song "No,no, non si speri", by Carissimi. It happens at 5:41.
But to take us into the realms of the baritone, we can only rely on the force of nature that is Polish contralto Ewa Podleś. In "Pour Une Femme De Mon Nom" from La Fille Du Régiment, by G. Donizetti, she hits an interolated A#2: yes, that's right, A#2, at 0:39. All hail the contralto profundo! But wait, it's not over yet...
Back in the early to mid 1700's, Antonio Vivaldi was in charge of an institution known as the Ospedali Pietà, which housed abandoned and unwanted babies. For those female children that stayed in the Ospedali, those with musical potential could join the Figlie di Choro (musicians), the élite of the Pietà. The chorus was all female, with known contraltos and female tenors, and also female basses, like the famed Anna dal Basso.
In this excerpt from the "Vivaldi's Women - Gloria" DVD, Margaret Jackson-Roberts sings the bass role in the "Gloria Patri" from Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus, in which she sings multpile A2's. A nice long-held A2 comes at 1:23. Margaret states that she can sing "down to F below the [bass] stave ... and ... down to C below the [bass] stave on a good day." Wow! Go Margaret!
I hope you enjoyed this trip into the contralto depths. Until the next time! James.