Gerville-Reache had a brilliant but short career, premiering the role of Geneviève in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, before dying aged 32 from Ptomaine poisoning, while Thorborg, who had to move twice to escape from the Nazis, was regraded as one of the finest actresses in Opera. The last of these Contraltos, Larsson, is still singing, and is due to sing with Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra at the Armstrong Concert Hall on 18th March this year.
After reading an article about Contraltos in the Classical Singer magazine, Jean decided to write in to us here at Show Me Something Interesting. Jean says:
"Contralto voices are so rare that many people don't realize there are differences within the category, just like with Soprano and Mezzo voices. Many seem to think that a Contralto is essentially a female Tenor or Baritone."
It is indeed true that many concert houses (and some opera houses) persist in labeling all non-Soprano voices as Mezzos. It is this lack of exposure, and the denial sections of the industry of the very existence of the Contralto voice, that leads many singers do be trained as Mezzos, or indeed to leave the classical world altogether to join the Jazz, Blues, R&B and Pop worlds, where the voice type receives much greater appreciation.
This situation is beginning to change, as more and more women are calling themselves Contraltos in their own marketing. Many great Contraltos can be found now in Scandinavia, such as Larsson, and there are more main-stream Contraltos from all countries, such as Prina, Mingardo, Mijanovic, and Lemieux. Of course, the breakthrough in the modern era was the great Polish Contralto Ewa Podles. YouTube also plays a great role in creating exposure for the Contralto voice, as Jean herself says:
"Thanks to YouTube, I've discovered Eula Beal, and the next generation of Contralto voices plus recordings of other Contralto voices I've heard about, Maureen Forrester, Dame Clara Butt and Jeanne Gerville-Reache."
It was via YouTube that I myself found out about many of the Contraltos listed here. Beginning with Gerville-Reache, I shall be producing YouTube playlists for each Contralto so it will be easier for Contralto enthusiasts to find recordings of their favorite performers.
Finally, Jean also has an interesting hobby: she makes bead and chain maille jewelry! Many thanks to Jean for writing in, and for shedding light on these excellent Contraltos. If you know of any Contraltos that you think should be a part of the Contralto Corner, please contact me via the Contact page.