Episode 263. Contralto Central

Episode 263. Contralto Central



Finally, the first in my long-promised series on the contralto voice! The contralto is a rara avis in the today’s opera and classical music scene, and yet back in the day, there seem to have been more of them before the public. And of course contraltos have always been a powerful presence on the popular music scene, whether in blues, disco, jazz, or as purveyors of the Great American Songbook. There is no way that I can cover all of the great (and near-great) contraltos in recorded history, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Today’s selections span a wide chronological range , even for this podcast: nearly 120 years, and include voices both fleet and monolithic (and sometimes both). We begin with a tribute to the late Polish coloratura contralto Ewa Podleś and along with way we hear the most famous contraltos like Kathleen Ferrier and Marian Anderson, and jazz and pop contraltos like Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson. We also sample singers from the earlier twentieth century such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Cloe Elmo, Clara Butt, Eugenia Mantelli, Kerstin Thorborg, and Sigrid Onégin (about whom I spill some major tea!) Throughout the episode are sprinkled some of the most beautiful voices of any kind that I have ever heard: the Scottish Caroline Kaart, the Romanian Florica Cristofereanu, the Czech Věra Soukupová, the Dutch Aafje Heynis, the French Germaine Cernay, the British Norma Procter, and the Russian Valentina Levko. And if like me you have despaired of ever hearing another true contralto again in our lifetime, we hear in young Jasmin White cause for rejoicing. And if your favorites are not heard today, fear not, for this is the tip of the iceberg: many more great singers will follow when the series continues in two weeks.


Traditional Spanish, arr. Robert Parker, Alice Parker: La virgen lava pañales. Florence Kopleff, Robert Shaw, The Robert Shaw Chorale [1957]

Christoph Willibald Gluck, Pierre-Louis Moline [after Ranieri de’ Calzabigi]: Amour, viens rendre à mon âme (Orphée et Euridice). Ewa Podleś, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal [live Festival International de Lanaudière 19.VII.1999]

Franz Schubert, Matthias Claudius: Der Tod und das Mädchen, D.531. Marian Anderson, Kosti Vehanen [1936]

Peter Warlock [né Philip Heseltine], John Fletcher: Sleep. Kathleen Ferrier, Frederick Stone [BBC 05.VI.52]

Gioachino Rossini, Cesare Sterbini [after Pierre Beaumarchais]: Una voce poco fa (Il barbiere di Siviglia). Eugenia Mantelli [ca. 1905]

Francesco Cilea, Arturo Colautti, [after Eugène Scribe, Ernest Legouvé]: Acerba voluttà (Adriana Lecouvreur). Cloë Elmo, Armando La Rosa Parodi, Orchestra Sinfonica dell’EIAR [1941]

Edward Elgar, Richard Garnett: Where Corals Lie (Sea Pictures, Op. 37/4). Clara Butt [1912]

Jimmy Webb: Wichita Lineman. Cassandra Wilson [2002]

Johann Sebastian Bach: Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54. Helen Watts, Thurston Dart, Philomusica of London [1958]

Gaetano Donizetti, Eugène Scribe [after Alfonse Royer, Gustave Vaëz; Italian version by Francesco Jannetti]: O mio Fernando (La favorita). Florica Cristofereanu [ca. 1930]

Richard Wagner: Weiche, Wotan, weiche! (Das Rheingold). Kerstin Thorborg, Karl Riedel, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra [1940]

Mikhail Glinka, Valerian Shirkov [after Alexander Pushkin]: Ratmir’s Romance (Ruslan und Lyudmila). Valentina Levko, Boris Khaikin, Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater [ca. 1964]

Gustav Mahler, Friedrich Rückert: Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n (Kindertotenlieder). Věra Soukupová, Václav Neumann, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra [1963]

Alphons Diepenbrock, Charles Baudelaire: Les chats. Aafje Heynis, Felix de Nobel [Radio Nederland 01.V.63]

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Hall Johnson: My Good Lord Done Been Here. Vera Little, Andrès Wheatley [1957]

Charles Gounod, Émile Augier: Ô ma lyre immortelle (Sapho). Ernestine Schumann-Heink [1909]

Georges Bizet, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy [after Prosper Mérimée]: Près des remparts de Séville (Carmen). Marguerite D’Alvarez [1926]

Jules Massenet, Édouard Blau, Georges Hartmann, Paul Milliet [after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Va, laisse couler mes larmes (Werther). Germaine Cernay, Orchestra conducted by Gustave Cloëz [1928]

Giacomo Meyerbeer, Eugène Scribe, Émile Deschamps [after Voltaire]: Ô prêtres de Baal (Le prophète). Sigrid Onégin, Orchestra conducted by Rosario Bourdon [1929]

Margaret Bonds, Langston Hughes: The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Jasmin White, Philippe Riga [live Brussels 24.V.23]

Alec Wilder, Arnold Sundgaard: Cedars Are Growing. Shannon Bolin, Milton Kaye [1955]

Traditional British, arr. Herbert Hughes: How deep in love am I. Norma Procter, Alec Redshaw [1955]

Traditional Scots, Robert Burns: A Red, Red Rose. Caroline Kaart, Cor Lemaire [1964]

Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Nina Simone [live New York 26.X.1969]

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