One of the best things about music festivals in general and the Northern Lights Festival de Febrero in particular is that they often present repertoire and sounds with which we are not familiar. Such is the case with the program “For the Love of Opera” to be presented in the Auditorio de la Ribera Sunday, February 17, 4 p.m.
This event will feature four successful young singers: Colombian soprano Amalia Avilán, who is also appearing on February 20 (my apologies for spelling her name wrong in a previous article), U.S. tenor Andrew Fuchs, bass Alex Rosen and countertenor Daniel Moody. I say “successful” because they are all making a living performing in concert halls and festivals around the world. It will be a privilege to hear them sing.
Of particular interest to me will be the performance of Moody. My experience of listening to countertenors has been limited to hearing the great Michael Chance in the John Elliot Gardiner recording of Bach’s B Minor mass and in a concert in Guadalajara several months ago, so it will be good to hear some more of this unique voice type. I had an enjoyable phone conversation with Daniel the other day and he mentioned that the origin of men singing very high notes (basically falsetto) was in the 1600’s because at that time it was considered immoral for women to perform, either in opera or in church music. Some of the male singers from this early time were the famous castrati, who had been castrated at puberty. The resulting hormonal imbalance in their bodies made them grow especially tall, with barrel chests that allowed them to sustain notes for an extremely long time. The last castrato singer was Alessandro Moreschi, who died in 1922 and who can be heard in a recording on YouTube.
The countertenor voice is much more natural sounding and beautiful, at least to my ear. I asked Daniel, whose normal singing voice is that of a baritone, why he chose this voice and he said that the sound captivated him from the time he was 16 years old, and from that time he entered into the same rigorous training as any singer. He and the others will be singing sections from operas of Mozart (who also employed castrati) as well as music of John Dowland, Giuseppe Verdi, and from the great 20th century composer Benjamin Britten. After the Baroque and early Classical eras there was a lack of new music for countertenor, but since the early 20th Century more composers have written for the voice.
Daniel, who is here at Lakeside for the fourth time, is looking forward to the concert with great enthusiasm, partly because he has enjoyed collaborating with the other singers in the past, and partly because he loves singing here.
“It’s such a joy to be back here; the public is so receptive, and when you give all you can people really love what you do. It’s an incredible experience,” he said.
I mentioned that long ago I sang in a choir but had to quit because I would be so moved by the music that I couldn’t control my voice enough to keep singing. I asked how he deals with that.
“When I’m in control of my technique and singing well, it’s very easy and it really feels like nothing,” he replied. “On the other hand, emotionally when I sing, I feel the music deeply and what I try to achieve is to share the emotions and guide the listeners to also feel them.”
I’m looking forward to what should be a very emotional concert.
Dr. Charles Nath has been a part of the musical world of Guadalajara since 1988, with 26 years as principal clarinetist of the Jalisco Philharmonic as well as many chamber music presentations. He also wrote a column on music for the Informador newspaper and made numerous music appreciation presentations on radio and television.