Ferrier centenary - contralto coverage


Thumbs up to Woman's Hour for another contralto-related feature on Friday 2 March, Kathleen Ferrier's centenary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01cks49#p00pn7z6  and good luck to Kathryn Rudge & James Balieu with their Manchester centenary recital of Kindertotenlieder, which is happening as I write.

It is interesting that presenters on this mainstream radio channel and other commentators have expressed such interest in the relative absence of contralto singing from our concert platforms. I recall recent mentions in features on Karen Cargill; Clara Butt's diamond brooch was one of the 100 History of the World objects (click here for details); a recent Clara Butt tribute recital; a Times column in 2010 (see blog entry of 2 June 2010)... The contralto voice appears to be of great general interest!

Is the contralto voice really rare? Maybe. As a teacher I have in ten years worked with many soprano and mezzo voices but only one contralto serious enough to pursue her singing into higher education. My friends and family have experience of glorious contralto singers who have become just another mezzo on the advice of college and opera house experts, losing the sumptuous qualities of their contralto singing. 

It's true that there are fewer opportunities for contralto singers, but there are also fewer of us! Surely there's no real problem. I wonder if the contralto has any more of a repertoire problem than the Queen of the Night soprano. If one had to be limited to just one opera role, Erda's pretty hard to beat! OK, it's not a huge part, but if I want to sing all evening, I do a song recital.

While pay has never been equal between voice types, one doesn't commit to a career in classical singing to make a load of money anyway. Surely the enduring love of the public for Kathleen Ferrier's recordings is priceless. What makes her sound special? Warmth of tone and directness of communication. Imagine the loss to musical art if she'd been trained upwards at music college and become yet another steely mezzo-soprano or soprano.

Singers - glory in your strengths! Make music as only you can! Be yourself, not a pale shadow of somebody else! 

April 2020