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Fun point about castrati

Not that Plant was, but the point still stands. The female vocalists they use here. Couple to get the range (Plant has a v unusual range for any one voice). But Plant’s voice has vastly more power to it than any of these. Which was the point of castrati – to get male power in the higher range.

BTW, when’s someone going to see Mermans in Kinshasa? That’s not bad harp playing at all.

10 thoughts on “Fun point about castrati”

  1. The register of male vocalists seems to be climbing. Tenor seems to be the lowest range I hear, outside of some metal growling. Pop vocalists have gone up an octave and a half in the past 40 years or so.

  2. BiS

    Spot on. Just about no one in pop sings with their normal voice anymore.

    However the conservatoires are churning out counter tenors at an alarming rate. Techniques and training have improved so much that lady mezzos are being edged out of a lot of traditional trouser roles.

  3. When fourteen year old Mozart turned up in Milan in 1770 the carnival organisers said, “Knock us up an opera, Wolfie.” “Sure,” says he, “What singers have you got?” “Well, we’ve got two soprano castrati, an alto castrato, two sopranos and two tenors. Now here’s the script, get on with it.”

    So Wolfgang wrote Mitridate, Re de Pontus and a great success it was too.

    The last version I saw had two counter tenors and a soprano en travesti playing the castrati roles. In Mozart’s day there was no distinction between soprano and mezzo-soprano roles so while counter tenors can sing Arbate, the governor, they struggle to manage Sifare’s high notes.

  4. Dennis, Correct And Therefore Hateful

    Good to see them fucking up the one song Led Zeppelin did that I actually like.

  5. I’ve just checked this with my father-in-law, who is a professional counter-tenor. He says that he can generate more decibels than a female alto because of extra muscle power, and because of their tendency to add breathy vibrato to everything, which eventually ruins the voice if you belt it out. When he sings in my wife’s church he has to turn the volume down a lot, to prevent complaints.

    But he reckons that a castrato voice is reedy and weedy in comparison. Losing the bits just keeps the boy’s vocal cords and larynx in their original state, so you essentially have a large plump musically intelligent choirboy. Certainly, the recordings of castrati sound very weak. There is, he says, a tendency now for male altos to adopt a weaker more female sound, especially among those trained in Germany.

  6. Can you send me now?

    Is power just decibels, or lack of distortion? If I play loud without distortion, do I have more power than someone who plays louder with distortion? (I.e. is Louis Armstrong’s trumpet more powerful than any rock musician’s louder electric instrument, with the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix?)

  7. Sam Vara

    Well I’m surprised. Having been up close, Mezzos such Ann Murray and Ann Sofie von Otter can really belt out a number. If they are miked up one can hear them straining not to let rip.

    The problem that CTs have is that they have to relax the larynx a lot and so although they will have greater muscle and wind power, it is still difficult to create the same noise as a lady.

    But as I mentioned, training and technique in the last 25 years has produced new generations of really quite loud CTs.

    In Germany and East Europe it is the influence of guys such as Scholl and Cencic and earlier Kowalsky, who all concentrated on being able to hit the high notes. American CTs also go for high registers, I find.

    Chaps, try this at home – relax your vocal chords and try to imitate Mickey Mouse, we can all sing falsetto, but only a properly trained singer can actually control that noise.

  8. Led zep version is awsome, Robert Plant’s singing just sublime, one of my fave zep songs. The original by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe is definitely “the original” but a minor blues record compared to the magnificent re-working by The Zep. Interesting to note that Plant,Page,Bonham and Jones never lived in any danger of the forces of nature whereas for Minnie and Joe the Missisippi breaking the levees and wrecking havoc was a real thing.

  9. Can I just say that Kurt Cobain demonstrates decibels and distortion with control in the last sung chorus of his MTV Unplugged version of Ledbelly’s In the Pines? Would Louis Armstrong have approved?

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