Category Archives: beefs with denis forman

Countertenors – milk and water?

I said before that I dig on Sir Forman’s humorous overview of opera. In some ways, though, his views are dated. It’s no wonder, the book was published in 1994.

Countertenors: “Countertenors and male altos can be frightfully refined singers but they are milk-and-water stuff in comparison to a real tenor and however skillfully they pipe away in their head-voices or falsettos, it is generally better to transpose the castrato part down one octave and give it to a tenor with balls and to hell with the purists.” (A Night at the Opera, pg. 853)

Fast forward to 20 years later. Would anyone today think to have a tenor sing Giulio Cesare or Rinaldo? Thought so. Would anyone ever again think to have a tenor sing Giulio Cesare and Rinaldo? Quite possibly. Times have changed and they can quickly change back. However, countertenors have proven their appeal is not just a fluke. One of the most exciting things about opera is the multitude of vocal expression, so the more the merrier, especially when they can rock both a falsetto and a staff – in a man-skirt. Now that’s theatre.