Performed by Sharmay Musacchio.
Uploaded by Sharmay Musacchio.
Aria of the Week #150: "Nel silenzio di quei raccoglimenti" by G. Puccini
Performed by Sharmay Musacchio.
Uploaded by Sharmay Musacchio.
Aria of the Week #149: "Auf dem Flusse" by F. Schubert (Winterreise)
Performed by Birgit Breidenbach.
Score: IMSLP (pg 136 of score, pg 27 of viewer).
Uploaded by Birgit Breidenbach.
A Wonderful Addition to the Contralto Repertoire: "Of That So Sweet Imprisonment" A Song Cycle by Composer Juliana Hall
Prolific American art song composer Juliana Hall has composed a new song cycle for the Contralto voice. Titled Of The So Sweet Imprisonment, the cycle is set to seven poems from James Joyce's early book of poems, "Chamber Music." Hall says of the poems that make up the song cycle:
"There is a gentle narrative from the first to the last poem, following love (Orpheus perhaps) to the speaker’s desire to find her love, a declaration of wanting to be “imprisoned” by this love, a longing to be in a special place of love, a movement away from being a girl towards becoming a woman, a scene of harp music celebrating love (heaven perhaps), and finally a simple scene of lovers being together forever in a place special to them – all of which promised to elucidate Joyce’s beautiful vision of human love through the exquisite prism of the textures and colors of the contralto voice."
When Hall approached Mezzo Soprano Stephanie Blythe and asked if she could write her a song cycle, Blythe responded immediately: "YES!" She added:
“All I ask is that you consider writing the piece for the contralto voice. It is where I live so happily now, and there is just not enough out there for this particular voice type.”
The result was this haunting and mesmerising series of sings which reach deep into the soul, conjuring a deep and complex emotional response from the listener. It is a wonderful addition to the Contralto repertoire, and we are thankful to Hall for her creative magic, and Blythe for her suggestion to compose for the Contralto voice.
Blythe's masterful delivery of Hall's haunting music can be heard in the video below. Copies can be ordered (and previews seen) by clicking here.
Each year I repost the links to these articles written by David L. Jones, The Voice Teacher. David has developed an international career as author, vocal pedagogue, and teacher of singers and teachers in Europe and the U.S. His website, www.voiceteacher.com, contains articles based on the concepts of the Swedish-Italian Singing School.
Many voice teachers do not believe the Contralto voice exits anymore, so it's great that David is a keen supporter of the Contralto voice, answering sentiments such as "There are no contraltos these days!" with the response that "it is a valid vocal category and it needs to be known that it IS a true vocal fach and DOES exist!"
Many Opera Houses and Concert venues regularly bill Contraltos as Mezzo Sopranos, calling them "true Mezzos" as a code for a Contralto timbre, without admitting that the voice type exists. Yet David has worked with many Contraltos over the years, helping those who have been trained in the wrong fach to find their true potential and individual beauty of expression. David's work is so incredibly important, as he helps heal the damage done through incorrect vocal classification, which has left many singers feeling hopeless and with very real vocal issues.
He educates students and teachers alike through his Masterclasses and his literature, and he also shares his knowledge and his professional insights through his website and his Facebook Page, The David Jones Voice Studio. Many singers, and many Contraltos, have found their way back to health and to the joy of singing through David's help and guidance. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.
David has very kindly agreed to allow me to host the following articles on the Contralto Corner website:
Training the Contralto Voice
Types of Contraltos
On the Contralto Singer
A Little More on the Contralto
Unusual Vocal Characteristics
You can also check out further information at the Resources Page of the Contralto Corner website.
I was saddened to hear that Contralto Mira Zakai passed away on 20th May 2019. Professor Zakai was an Israeli Operatic Contralto born in Jerusalem. She studied at the University of Tel Aviv at the Rubin Academy of Music. She won a Grammy for her recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with Georg Solti. In her later career, she turned to teaching, becoming a professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, University of Tel Aviv.
Mira Zakai had performed all over the world with leading orchestras such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and orchestras from Chicago, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Zurich, Vienna, Montreal, Toronto, Washington. She worked with prominent conductors as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Luciano Berio, Gary Bertini, Sergiu Comissiona, Michel Corboz, Colin Davis, Christoph Eschenbach, Carlo Maria Giulini, Rafael Kubelík, Eduardo Mata, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, and many more .
Zakai was known for her wide and varied repertoire, including Handel Cantatas, Prince Orlovsky, Ulrica, and Erda. This was reflected by her many recordings, including her famous 1980 recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with Georg Solti, for which she was awarded a Grammy for Best Overall Classical Recording at the 1982 Grammy awards. She also performed at a special concert for Pope John Paul II, for whom she sang Bach's heart-rending "Erbame dich, mein Gott." She was the only soloist chosen for the concert, hand-picked by Yehudi Menuhin, who himself play the violin obligato part. A selection of her performances and recordings can be heard below.
In 1990, the Arts and Culture Council awarded Zakai a prize for the best performance of the year, in recognition of her recital of Israeli compositions, dedicated to Israel’s 40th anniversary. She also received a special award for her dedication, contribution, inspiration and performance of Israeli contemporary music from the minister of culture and education, in honour of Israel's 50th anniversary. One such piece of contemporary music performed by Zakai was the 1974 composition "October Sun" by Mark Kopytman, a reflection on the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Zakai said of Kopytman's works:
"I had to reach the very edge of my vocal limits, and the limits of my interpretive ability as well. His vocal and emotional register was like an invitation to tour new and exciting realms"
When Zakai was asked why Koptyman specifically chose her to perform the piece, she said:
“A lot of things I sang at the time were the sort that deterred other singers, because they didn’t want to scream or ‘stand on their heads.’ This piece is powerfully written for the voice. I guess that’s why he came to me. I had previously sung ‘Yod-Aleph Matzevot’ (‘Eleven Tombstones’) by Leon Schidlowsky, who composed it in response to the murder of the Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics. I gave the debut performance of that, too. Schidlowsky asked me to scream and cry: ‘Go mad and be on the verge of a breakdown.’ I had sung pieces like that written by young students at the academy ... about rituals of tearing out hearts in South America and ceremonies from India, alongside Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot lunaire’ and Pablo Neruda poems and tricky Inuit pieces. So when Kopytman came, I was already ‘shout-proof.’ I’d already screamed it all.” 
Zakai was loved and respected by her colleagues and her students. Her kindness, encouragement, and support have left their influence on the musicians of tomorrow, and for that, she will always be remembered. Her musicality and authenticity will be much missed.
Aria of the Week #148: "E pur dolce ad un'anima amante" by A. Vivaldi
Performed by Delphine Galou.
Uploaded by Accademia Bizantina - Topic.
Dame Clara Butt
Angela Christine Smith