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Evaluating Countertenors Like They're Fine Wines

January 18, 2011

counter.jpegA conversation with my friend Laetitia following the countertenor David Daniels' concert with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Berkeley on Saturday night reminded me of oenophiles comparing notes about wines.

We agreed about Daniels' effort that evening: A lackluster performance of Vivaldi's Stabat Mater (Daniels' just didn't seem to like the music all that much and was overly uptight in his delivery and carriage) was followed by an utterly captivating approach to several arias from the Handel operas Agrippina, Radamisto, and Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Daniels came to life in the second half of the concert. He is such an emotional singer and clearly much more suited to performing repertoire that is overtly dramatic than muted, church-oriented music.

Concert appraisal aside, where Laetitia and I disagreed somewhat, was on what makes a great countertenor.

We're both immense fans of Andreas Scholl, a singer who can still sound like a six-foot-something, barrel-chested bloke while pinging those high Fs and Gs.

But while I love the thrilling, faultless pyrotechnics of Philippe Jaroussky, that singer leaves Laetitia cold. "He's just too perfect for his own good," she said. "He sounds too much like a woman."

I don't think Jaroussky sounds girly, actually, though his voice is as perfect as a rose, petals and thorns combined.

Laetitia isn't overly impressed with Daniels either. He's not top of my list, but I appreciate the plummier sound he makes. He reminds me of an old-school countertenor like Alfred Deller.

Excellent vintages, all.

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