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Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto

Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto

by Dan H. Marek


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Everyone is familiar with the words diva or prima donna, which have come to mean a (usually) outrageous operatic soprano, but there was a time when the star of the show was more often a contralto, or a soprano singing in today's mezzo-soprano range. This performer was referred to as an alto. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the male and female leading roles were likely to be sung by emasculated males, the alto castrati, although there were many great female altos during this period as well. The music for these fantastic artists, written by such composers as Porpora, Vinci, Hasse, and even Handel, has been largely forgotten. At the beginning of the 19th century, as the castrati died out, their roles were often assumed by female altos referred to as musici. New repertoire continued to be written for them by Rossini and others, but gradually, this musical tradition and technique was lost. Now, however, because of the talent and industry of such gifted artists as Marilyn Horne, Cecilia Bartoli, and Joyce DiDonato, and the sudden ease with which the performance of these forgotten works can be obtained, there is a resurgence of interest in the performance and preservation of this lost art.

Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto examines the careers of nearly 320 great alto singers, including the great castrati, from the dawn of opera in 1597 to the present. The music of the composers who wrote for the alto voice is discussed along with musical examples and suggestions for listening. The exploration of the greatest altos’ careers and techniques offers inspiration for aspiring young singers as well as absorbing reading for the music lover who wants to know more about the fascinating world of opera.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442265059
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/16/2016
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Dan H. Marek is a distinguished international singer, teacher, and writer who has appeared as a principal tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and the Salzburg Opera. He is a teacher of voice at Mannes College of Music in New York City and is the author of Singing: The First Art (Scarecrow, 2006) and Giovanni Battista Rubini and the Bel Canto Tenors: History and Technique (Scarecrow, 2013).

Table of Contents

Part I: The Alto Voice in the Baroque Era
Chapter 1. Mezzos and Contraltos
Chapter 2. Why Castrati?
Chapter 3. Altos in the Dawn of Opera
Chapter 4. Altos, Neapolitan Style
Chapter 5. Mr. “Hendel’s” Altos
Chapter 6. Faustina Bordoni and “Il Caro Sassone”
Chapter 7. Gluck’s Basses-Dessus and Mozart’s Altos
Chapter 8. Intermezzo
Part II Altos in the Romantic Revolution
Chapter 9. Cambio di Voce
Chapter 10. The Swan of Pesaro and I Musici
Chapter 11. The Maestro and the Prima Donna Assoluta
Chapter 12. Giuditta Pasta
Chapter 13. Caroline Unger (Ungher), The Forgotten Prima Donna
Chapter 14. Maria Malibran
Chapter 15. Pauline Viardot
Chapter 16. The Altos of Grand Opéra
Chapter 17, “La Favorite,” Rosine Stoltz
Chapter 18. Altos in Opéra Lyrique and Opéra Comique
Chapter 19. The Bel Canto Altos of Bellini and Donizetti
Chapter 20. Verdi and Verismo Altos
Chapter 21. German Romanticism, Wagner, Strauss, and the Alto Voice
Chapter 22. The Russian Altos
Chapter 23. Altos in the English Speaking World
Part III Altos After 1900
Chapter 24. Twentieth Century Altos
Chapter 25. Contemporary Alto Singers

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