Performed by Angela Christine Smith.
Uploaded by Angela Christine Smith.
Aria of the Week #178 "When our Gallant Norman Foes" by W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
Performed by Angela Christine Smith.
Uploaded by Angela Christine Smith.
Aria of the Week #122: "Weiche, Wotan, weiche!" by R. Wagner.
Performed by Gwendolyn Brown.
Score: IMSLP (pg 192 of score, 196 of viewer).
Uploaded by Gwendolyn Brown.
Congratulations to American Dramatic Contralto Sharmay Musacchio will perform as one of Nefertiti's daughters in LA Opera's production of Philip Glass' Akhnaten in November this year. Sharmay will also be covering the role of Nefertiti.
It is "an all-new production by renowned director Phelim McDermott, led by the brilliant young conductor Matthew Aucoin, LA Opera's new Artist in Residence."
There will be six performances, for which tickets can be purchased here.
I am very excited by the fact that this recording of The Birth of Flowers, recorded by Dame Clara Butt and her three sisters, is now available on YouTube.
Dame Clara Butt was a true Dramatic Contralto, with a wide range, and a luscious dark tone. Her recorded range is from E3 to Ab5, but various reports make it far wider. She regularly performed Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen, ending on the low D3. Sir Adrian Boult told Michael Scott that he heard her vocalizing "between four B flats."
In an article in The Mercury, "her great range...being from lower C in the bass clef to A above the treble clef." While there are other articles which describe the full extent of her range as F2 (Sarastro's lowest note) to C6!
In Liza Lehmann's The Birth of Flowers, Clara holds a sustained C3, truly the lowest note of hers on any recording found so far.
The C3 starts at 3:16. Enjoy!
The phenomenal Dramatic Contralto Gwendolyn Brown will perform under the baton of John Demain in Madison Symphony Orchestra's production of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on the 8th, 9th, and 10th May.
Gwen will join Soprano Melody Moore, tenor Eric Barry, bass Morris Robinson, and the Madison Symphony Chorus to revisit the work ten years after MSO's performed it at their first season at Overture Hall.
Gwendolyn Brown's powerful, fiery, and intense Contralto voice will add a fierce potency to Beethoven's masterpiece, which also benefits from the cavernous tones of Bass Morris Robinson. Tickets are still available and can be purchased via the MSO website.
The performances take place at the Overture Hall in the Overture Center. The times are Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm.
Dramatic Contralto Gwendolyn Brown will create the role of the Black Madonna in Ethan Gans-Morse's new opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna at the Newmark Theatre, Portland, Oregon, on 5th and 6th September 2014.
The opera is set in Louisiana in 2010, this potent story chronicles the journey of an American soldier returning from Afghanistan with PTSD as he struggles with his shattered soul, his strained marriage, and the crumbling economy in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill, while his wife faces courageous sacrifices to stand by the man she loves amidst an ecological disaster which radically changes their lives.
Brown will also be performing in recital at Bethany Lutheran Church, Crystal Lake, IL, on 12/10/14. She will be performing works by Brahms, Strauss, Mahler, Price, Adams, Bonds, and others.
Gwendolyn Brown has a voice which will blow your mind: unbelievably strong, deep, rich and powerful. She is definitely a Contralto to watch.
The Canticle of the Black Madonna will run from the 5th to the 6th September.
The Contralto is the lowest female voice category, and can be split into five vocal fach: Coloratura Contralto, Lyric Contralto, Dramatic Contralto, Contralto Profondo (Female Tenor) and the Oktavistka (Female Bass).
Normally, the Dramatic Contralto would tend to have both a heavier and lower voice but, like the Lyric and Dramatic Bass voices, the lighter voiced Lyric Contralto may have a longer chest register extension, and thus a lower range, without having such a dark and powerful sound. An example of a Lyric Contralto is Jeanne Gerville-Réache, while a Dramatic Contralto would be Dame Clara Butt. The Coloratura Contralto can be split into two sub-fach categories, one with a lighter voice, and one with a heavier one: for example Sonia Prina is a Lyric Coloratura Contralto, while Ewa Podles is a Dramatic Coloratura Contralto.
Also, just as the Bass can extend far beyond the D2 mark, like the famous Russian Basses or Oktavists, so many a Contralto can sing comfortably below D3. Polish Contralto Ewa Podleś, for instance, has performed an A#2 in concert. Many women sing in the Tenor range, as my own mother can, and some can even sing down to C2, like the Lady-Bass Margaret Jackson-Roberts from Vivaldi's women. Unfortunately, Contraltos are not encouraged to explore this dark, rich lower register, and consequently have to make do singing in the higher reaches of the voice. They are also allocated voice categories which have to be prefaced by the word "Female": Female-Tenor and Female-Bass. I propose that, instead, we use less male-specific words: Contralto Profondo for Female Tenor, and Oktavistka for the Female bass.
So, the Contralto Profondo (Female Tenor) and the Oktavistka (Female Bass) would be the female equivalents of the Basso Profondo (think Kurt Moll) and the Oktavist (think Vladimir Miller). Here, there would be a very large chest register extension, droping down to Bb2 for the Contralto Profondo (Female Tenor), and between A2-C2 for the Oktavistka (Female Bass). An example of the Contralto Profondo would be Ruby Helder or Bally Prell, and an example of the Oktavistka would be Margaret Jackson-Roberts. I will be writing a fuller post about the Contralto Profondo (Female Tenor) and the Oktavistka (Female Bass) at a later date, but I think it important to introduce the concepts here.
Usually, the Lyric, Dramatic and Coloratura Contraltos should be able to sing, when given an average level of training, the two octaves from E3 to E5. Most Contraltos do not need to sing lower than this, as the prevalent custom is to extend the voice upward, allowing the very lowest notes to atrophy. See the Telegraph article "Where have all the Contralto's gone?" for more about this trend. Many Contraltos could probably easily sing down to D3 or C3 if given proper training in this area of the voice.
In his excellent article, "Training the Contralto Voice: Developing Diagnostic Tools for Understanding a Rare Voice Type", David L. Jones lists the major characteristics of the Contralto voice:
He also mentions the fact that the ability to crescendo in the middle register is a quality of the true contralto voice.
Negatively, they may have:
Jones also lists the ranges of the various registers for the Contralto voice:
Many of the arias performed by the Contralto, such as those written by Bach and Handel, were actually written for another voice type: Bach's music, with its average range of B3 to E5, was almost certainly written for falsettists, and his Cantata for lower Alto, "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" was most likely composed for a High Tenor, or Haute-Contre. Many of the "Alto-ranged" Handel and Vivaldi arias were in fact written for the Castrati.
Thus many of the "Alto-ranged" arias were not actually written with the Contralto voice in mind. This is not to say that Handel, Vivaldi and other Baroque composers did not write for the Contralto voice, as they most certainly did, but that perhaps many of the "Alto" ranged arias did not take advantage of the full potential of the Contralto voice. Many Contraltos have taken roles normally associated with Mezzos, such as Carmen, Dalila and Amneris, and sing them to great effect, but here the Contralto is left singing "out of fach". This trend is also lees likely to occur now, as opera houses are less willing to transpose arias down, or to omit troublesome high-notes.
I find it strange that the Contralto voice is so painfully underused, under-admired and under-engaged, given that in the world of popular music, much is made of the lower end of the Contralto spectrum. Singers such as Mariah Carey, Tionne Watkins, Toni Braxton, Beyonce and Alicia Keys all use the lowest area of the Contralto voice, C3 and below, in their music. The roles these women portray in their videos and through their music are varied, ranging from strong to tender, innocent to... well, not so innocent! They are not restricted to the rather limited "witches, bitches and britches" stereotype that operatic contraltos are relegated to.
Perhaps it is time for the new generation of composers to wake up to the potential of this great and beautiful voice.
Dame Clara Butt
Angela Christine Smith