You know how jazz musicians transcribe each other's solos for educational purposes? I decided that this might be a good idea for figuring out how to ornament a da Capo aria, so I took a stab at it. I haven't got it quite right, but I think it was educational. Here's what I came up with (guess the singer!):
It can be a challenge to find contralto repertoire, at least for "classical" singing (I mean classical in the broad sense, including Romantic, Baroque, and whatever). This sort of makes sense: in the old days, there was no such thing as a microphone, so to sing in a large hall, it was useful to be able to sing high. High notes naturally project farther than do low notes, moreover, if you are singing with an orchestra, you'll find that often you are competing with the violas.
Well, I'm up for a challenge, so I'm trying to figure out what's available. As I get it figured out, I'll put it here!
My opinionated opinions about music
Songs I've Done
(in public, singing in the shower doesn't count here!)
From "24 Italian Songs and Arias"
Per la gloria
Alma del core
Vergin, tutto amor
O del mio dolce ardor
Pieta Signore (a personal favorite)
The trees they grow so high
Prepare thyself, Zion (Bach, from Christmas Oratorio)
O rest in the Lord (Mendelssohn, from Elijah)
O thou that tellest (Handel, from Messiah)
Understudy - Why do the nations rage so furiously together (an octave higher)
But who may abide (Handel, from Messiah)
He was despised (Handel, from Messiah)
Return, O God of Hosts (Handel, from Samson)
When I am laid in earth (Purcell, from Dido and Aeneas)
Gretchen am Spinnrade - this one is particulary meaningful to me. My ancestors (on my Dad's side) left Germany in the 1870's because the gov't was having the umpteenth war with France. They were sick of getting killed, raped, etc, in wars with France. I can imagine one of them sitting at her spinning wheel, thinking stuff like this. One of my aunts, Gay Logan, has done a lot of research on Denke family history.
Chacun a son gout (in English, Strauss, from Die Fledermaus)...has an A-flat above treble clef, highest note I've ever sung in public!
Adieu, forets (in French, Tchaikovsky, from Jeanne D'Arc)
Me voici dans son boudoir (in French, Thomas, from Mignon)
Voi, che sapete (Mozart, from Figaro)
Che faro senza Euridice (Gluck, from Orfeo)
Ombra mai fu (Handel, from Serse)
The Ke (Barber)
Der Tod und Das M�dchen - This one has the lowest note I've ever seen in a classical song for alto...a D below middle C! I can sing lower than that (I've sung a low C in public, but with a microphone), but a D is a toughie if you need to project the note. I can produce pitches down to an A-flat most of the time, and down to a bottom line G or sometimes an F, first thing in the morning. But hey, there's a huge difference between producing pitches and singing! The really low stuff is only there first thing in th e morning: if I drink a coffee, the low notes go away! I might have bit off more than I could chew...I think the previous lowest note I'd sung without a mic was maybe F-sharp below middle C. Maybe I should have worked my way down to a D over several semesters!
I think my voice has gotten a little lower than it was when I was in college. I'm 35 now, so I guess that's not unexpected. I feel like I haven't got much control over my lower register, and this is something I'd like to work on.
It always kills me to see what search engines think I mean! Ummm...whatever! I wish Ms. Summers lots of "salary success." (At least it's not like the MS Word spell checker, which invariably thinks my name is "Lice Dense!")
List O' Contraltos - in no particular order - just a place to store this info so I can look up recordings by these gals in my "abundant spare time"
Bernadette Greevy - sang in Berlioz's Les Troyens
Helen Watts - sang Ursula in Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict
Carol Brice - sang Addie in Blitzstien's
Berthe Kal - sang Marton in Boieldieu's Ma Tante Aurore
Sylvia Fisher - sang Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring
Nancy Thomas - sang Mrs Baggott in Britten's "The Little Sweep"
Heather Begg - sang Mrs Baggott in Britten's "The Little Sweep"
James Bowman (countertenor) - sang the Voice of Apollo in Britten's "Death in Venice" and Endymion in Cavalli's "La Calisto"
Stefania Malagu (mezzo) - sang the (alto) role of Afra in Catalani's "La Wally"
Grace Hoffman - sang the role of Bostana in Cornelius's Der Barber von Bagdad (that's "barber" not "butcher" ok?
Monica Sinclair - sang Mistress Benson in Debussy's "Lakm�"
Jean Allister - sang Clotilda in Delius's "Koanga"
Marilyn Horne - sang (among other things) the contralto role Maffio Orsini in Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia"
Shirley Verrett - sang Maffio Orsini in Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia"
Birgit Finnila Contralto
Jochen Kowalski (male) Contralto...hmmm...I always thought the guys were countertenors...
Anne Collins Contralto
Linda Finnie Contralto
These 4 people (and others!) recorded an album of Vivaldi that can be purchased here: Vivaldi
Marian Anderson was the greatest contralto of her time (but you knew that). I have some CD�s of Anderson, some recorded as early as the 1920�s. I�ve gotta confess that I don�t much like listening to them. She must have recorded every SASAD (Slow Alto Song About Death) that was ever written! She did all the gory Christian songs too, Stabat Mater, etc.
People get the idea that classical alto songs are all slow and dreary! For a long time, I figured doing classical stuff meant those awful Mahler symphonies. They suck so bad that even Kathleen Ferrier couldn�t rescue them. The only good part is the one with the schizophrenic trumpet/contralto duet.
But it�s not true that all songs for alto are agonizingly slow. It�s just not true. Here�s a list of fast ones:
Nisi Dominus (Vivaldi)�several fast movements. Nathalie Stutzmann does a particularly bitchin� job on the fast ones.
Venti Turbini (Handel, from Rinaldo). Starts off with an �unsingable� coloratura.
Condotta ell�era in ceppi (Verdi, from Il Trovatore�right after the famous Anvil Chorus). One of those opera songs about �my mother is being devoured by the flames of Hell�don�t know if Anderson did this role, but it certainly doesn�t make me think of a pious, calm person like her!
Several arias from La verit� in cimento�a Vivaldi opera with 2 contralto roles and 1 countertenor role recently (2003) recorded on Na�ve. The Vivaldi Turin collection was uncovered in the 1920�s. Before that, people believed that Vivaldi hadn�t written much in the way of vocal music. Here�s an excerpt from the CD liner notes: �The National University Library in Turin houses several extremely importan musical collections. With the purpose of exploring this immense heritage and bringing to life many unpublished works�[these people] have undertaken to record a complete edition on CD of the Vivaldi scores held in Turin.� Too bad Anderson wasn�t around to record this good stuff!
People always write about Anderson�s life during the civil rights era as if she was some beatific archetype of a person (rather than an actual person). I can understand about bearing one�s burdens gracefully, but do you suppose she never felt like throwing a fucking rock thru somebody�s window? I bet she did.
Anderson was kind of like Martin Luther King in that she was the non-threatening Negro. She didn�t have an attitude like some other altos, say, Grace Bumbry, or God forbid, Mary J. Blige. King was the same way: he was famous for non-violence. But SOMEBODY had to be violent. If nobody had gotten violent, then non-violence would have been a non-issue, and King would have never been famous.
When people find out you�re a contralto, they often bring up Marian Anderson. So often, you get a little tired of it. But I think it�s just that people feel like they need to sound smart about classical music. I guess you just have to think of it as an opportunity to drop a few other names, so they know what to look for at Amazon.com. (You can�t find CD�s by contraltos in stores�they only have the same old stuff over and over, mostly orchestra stuff and damn little that I care about).