When I started to think about this new post, the idea of doing a piece about a neglected vocal category came to mind. I had recently written about the Basso Buffo and about the Contralto, so I thought I’d do a piece about the Countertenor.

david daniels cencic scholl

That’s when I opened a Pandora’s Box of singers, not all that well known – dozens and dozens of them – all countertenors. All working professionals. All very good singers. Mostly Europeans, by the way. Does anybody need to be reminded of the existence of David Daniels or Max Emmanuel Cencic or Andreas Scholl?

Well, I thought, nothing neglected about that vocal category, thank goodness.  So I forged ahead still thinking I’d focus on a handful of well-known countertenors. But I wanted to dig deeper, so I searched further, limiting my focus to Baroque specialists who undertake the male leads in any one of Handel’s forty-two or Vivaldi’s forty-six or the several dozen operas that the Scarlatti brand (father and son) penned.

Those would be manageable parameters, I thought. Here was a field of over one hundred-fifty plus stage works, most written during a period of 60 years that straddled the Naples-Venice-London heyday of Baroque Opera.

And who were the singers for whom Vivaldi and the Scarlatti family in Italy and Handel in London wrote? Castrati would be the answer: the legendary, larger-than-life superstars of the 18th century who commanded fees and perks equaled in today’s world of Opera by a very chosen few if any.

There are obviously no recordings of the great Castrati of the 18th century. We can only read contemporary descriptions that defy one to keep a straight face given the over-the-top praise lavished on these vocal phenomena.

But go past all the lavish praise and the questionable critical writings of the time and you will unearth some valuable details.

The castrato was subjected to a brutal surgical procedure that allowed him to retain some of the physical characteristics of his pre-pubescent vocal apparatus, along with the loss of some of his male genitalia.

Those characteristics – range and flexibility uppermost – would be retained as the castrato grew to be a man. Throughout those years of maturation the castrato singer would undergo a rigorous regimen of voice lessons, dance movement, calisthenics, theory and solfeggio, repertory studies and gradually be groomed for a career as a singer.

By age 18 or shortly thereafter, the typical castrato was good to go on to a career.

The physical characteristics of the typical castrato were just about the same as those of many an operatic singer of our time.

Senesino,_Cuzzoni,_Berenstadt.jpgSenesino (Handel’s Radamisto and Giulio Cesare) and Bernacchi (Scarlatti’s go-to castrato) were large, tall, heavy-set, barrel-chested men. Bernacchi was praised for his singing but was described by a wag of his time “as big as a Spanish friar.” Senesino was frequently caricatured by the London press for his girth.

The castrati were in no way effeminate men, and their physical appearance, along with big voices equipped them to portray warriors and kings and lovers in the dramma per musica of Vivaldi, Handel and Scarlatti’s time. Many of the great castrati sang in a range comparable to that of the contralto of our day and age.

When today we set out to cast the many Baroque operas that have entered the “bread and butter” repertory of European Opera houses and that (at a glacial pace) is beginning to enter the repertory of American opera houses, we see managements in a quandary.

If the rolodex of General Director XYZ is long enough to cast a production of Giulio Cesare without breaking into a sweat, he or she may prefer to cast a singer who will look like Cesar did when he wooed the Queen of the Nile. Mind you, this is not the aging Cesar of Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar but rather the virile warrior who would lead his army by the day and conquer in the bedroom at night.


Who do we cast? When the New York City Opera decided to pair up Beverly Sills and bass-baritone Norman Treigle in the central roles of Handel’s Giulio Cesare it did so not with an eye on the artistic sparrow but with both eyes with glasses on the nose, on the box office. Treigle and Sills, not Handel were the big draws.

Today, no opera impresario would risk casting his Handel with any other than vocally-appropriate singers. There are many counter-tenors who could take on Handel’s warrior-lover. But I will not mention any names, but  note that the color of the voice that sings the role of Cesare should contrast with the color of the voices of the singers who undertake the other counter-tenor roles in that opera. And that vocal hue should tend towards the darker end of the spectrum.

There’s Ptolemy, a villain, There’s the young Sesto, originally sung by the soprano Margherita Durastanti, but singable by a countertenor. There’s Nireno, a supporting counter-tenor role. Achilla is a nice bass role, Curio a comprimario one. And there is Cesar.

The put upon impresario who has programmed Giulio Cesare for next season and has four countertenor roles to cast twice – once for real, twice for covers – better start working that rolodex now.

stutzmannsonia prina as cesare

If I were on the driver’s seat and had to cast from the American regional ranks and I had a budget with which to splurge, I would fly myself economy-class to Paris or Milan and try to hunt down Nathalie Stutzmann or Sonia Prina and build my production around either one of those two formidable singers.

Get in touch with any number of artist managements that have a good number of singers in their rosters and you will have no difficulty in finding terrific American singers of both sexes who will happily agree to undertake Cleopatra, Cornelia, Sesto, Achilla and Ptolemy.

leah marie katherfine joly kayleigh

Just in my neck of the woods I know of a terrific Cleopatra. Her name is Katherine Jolly and she is on the Voice faculty at Indiana University. Leah Marie, a young dramatic mezzo with agility and the legato to play the captive Cornelia would be my first choice. Kayleigh Decker, based in Cincinnati would be my perfect Sesto.

All of these are beautifully-trained American singers who have talent, voice and acting chops. Hire Americans and you will have a great show. And if you are fortunate enough to find even one countertenor for your production of Giulio Cesare, hire him on the spot. In our country, music training institutions are just starting to legitimize the countertenor voice as  another important member of the operatic family.

Rafael de Acha





First, the necessary information:

The 2017-18 CCM Mainstage Series of theatre, musical theatre, opera and dance includes subscription packages with combinations of 3, 4 or 6 shows. They start as low as $69 for 3 shows.

Fully customizable renewal subscriptions are on sale now with priority seating available before July 7, 2017.

Subscription packages for new subscribers go on sale July 10, 2017.

Subscribers will receive priority access to all CCM events, prepaid parking and other exclusive perks.

To order subscriptions, contact the CCM Box Office at 513-556-4183 or email them at

And now, by category, here’s what is up ahead in CCM’s MAINSTAGE SERIES:

Theatre and Musical Theatre


September 27-October 1, 2017 – William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The play, one of the longest and greatest in the canon, is director-proof. Regardless of the set or costumes what makes this one tick is how the actors handle the Shakespearean blank verse and keep it from droning on  incomprehensibly. Here’s Laurence Olivier‘s take on the young prince’s meditation on life and death:

caryl churchill

February 7-11, 2018 – Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information

The resolutely anti-establishment English playwright returns once more to challenge our expectations and make us uncomfortable with her collection of 57 short scenes about how love and information are mutually dependent in our independently unhinged world. Here’s a sample:


October 19-29, 2017 – Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s Seussical

Enjoy “Oh the thinks you can think” from this little gem of a musical, with music by CCM alumnus Stephen Flaherty:

February 22-March 4, 2018 – Webber and Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar

As snarky as it ever gets, here’s Rik Mayal‘s delivery of Herod’s Song and Dance from the film version of the show:


christine chenoweth

November 16-19, 2017 – Leonard Bernstein’s Candide

Broadway super-star Kristin Chenoweth breezes through Cunegonde’ show-stopper Glitter and be Gay from Candide:


March 22-25, 2018 – Puccini’s Gianni Schichi and Suor Angelica

CCM Alumna Kathleen Battle delivers O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi in a 1994 concert:


miko fogarty

November 30-December 3, 2017 – The Art of Motion: The Little Mermaid with music by Léo Delibes and Antonín Dvoràk, Act III of Paquita with music by Ludwig Minkus, and the world premiere of Shaker Loops, with music by John Adams.

Indiana-trained and winner at age 16 of the Gold Medal in the Moscow International Ballet Competition, this is Miko Fogarty in one of the variations from the ballet Paquita:

April 12-14, 2018 – Legends of Dance: excerpts from La Bayadére and The Sleeping Beauty and a restaging of José Limón’s A Choreographic Offering.

ivan vasiliev

Russian premier danseur Ivan Vassiliev brings down the house with a 90 second variation from La Bayadére:
CCM will present additional special events and public performances celebrating its Sesquicentennial in addition to its typical lineup of chamber music, choral, jazz, and orchestral concerts.


Aug. 25, 2017: CCM opens its sesquicentennial year with a 150th Birthday Party and Welcome Picnic for students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends.

moveable ffeast

Jan. 19, 2018: CCM presents a Moveable Feast Gala Benefit celebrating 150 years of CCM’s “stars of tomorrow.”

musical valentine Feb. 18. 2018: CCM presents a Valentine’s Day-Themed Concert, which celebrates 150 years of CCM love stories with performances by students, faculty members and more.

th untitled

April 21, 2018: CCM presents a Showcase of Alumni Talent such as triple-threat alumnus Max Clayton and Broadway star alumna Pam Myers 

bernstein In January of 2018, CCM will kick off a year-long Leonard Bernstein Experience including concerts and special events part of the world-wide celebration of Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

For further programming details visit later this summer.

Rafael de Acha


CCM MID-1990'S

Since you are a reader of Rafael Music Notes you must also be a fan of our University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

And even if you do not live within driving distance of CCM’s campus, you must by now be used to my frequent previews and reviews of its more than one thousand annual arts events.

Moreover, whether or not you regularly attend any of CCM’s concerts, operas, ballets, musicals and plays, you are reading this!

I hope that you will go from reading about CCM’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary to actually catching at least some of its upcoming celebration and buying a pair of tickets to one or more of the events lined up for the 2017-2018 season.

Here’s some history.


In 1819 the University of Cincinnati was founded in our already growing city by the Ohio River. No music school existed in the State of Ohio until 1867, when Clara Baur rented a room in Miss Nourse’s School for Young Ladies and established the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Within the year, Chicago and Boston had founded their own conservatories, and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music had established itself as the only residential music conservatory in the country.

CINCINNATI COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC 1955Enrollment grew to 1,000 students and the faculty of the school grew exponentially, as did its physical plant, when the former Shilito Mansion was purchased along with the land on which to add future buildings.

CICNINNATI COLLEGE OF MUSIC 1878Meanwhile another music school had come into being in 1878: the College of Music of Cincinnati.

Its location close to Cincinnati’s Music Hall, its close ties to the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education, and a world-class faculty contributed to its growth as a training center for young people seeking an academic degree in Music Education.

By 1955 it had become obvious to the managements of both the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and  the College of Music of Cincinnati that, by uniting both institutions great things could be accomplished.

Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music was born.

CCM 1967

In 1962 the hyphenated title of the school changed once more when CCM became the 14th college of the University of Cincinnati.

Immediately thereafter construction began on the CCM complex on UC’s campus. By 1967 construction had been completed and the School’s one hundredth anniversary was celebrated in the state-of-the-art Corbett Auditorium with the Cincinnati premiere of Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor.

That is but some of CCM’s history. More details about CCM’s history can be found in the excellent article by Rebecca Butts on

In my next post I will share details about what’s up ahead at CCM.

Rafael de Acha



For over 36 years LINTON chamber music has let audiences get close to the music
by bringing together world-class musicians to perform in truly intimate
performance spaces.

Sunday, October 1, 2017 and Monday, October 2, 2017
Jaime Laredo, violin, Bella Hristova, violin, Cynthia Phelps, viola, Sharon Robinson, cello, Peter Serkin, piano
Bach, Beethoven, Brahms

The Ehnes Quartet
Sunday, October 29, 2017 and Monday, October 30, 2017
The Ehnes Quartet & Stephen Williamson, clarinet
Bartók, Mozart, Beethoven

Sunday, November 26, 2017 and Monday, November 27, 2017
Timothy Lees, violin, Truls Mørk, cello
Michael Chertock, piano
Beethoven, Prokofiev, Dvořák

January 14, 2018
Randolph Bowman, flute, Ilya Finkelshteyn, cello, Gillian Benet Sella, harp,
Soyeon Kate Lee, piano
Foote, Rameau, Haydn, Ravel, Weber

March 11, 2018 and March 12, 2018
Soovin Kim, violin, Jaime Laredo, viola, Sharon Robinson, cello, Gloria Chien, piano
Mozart, Ravel, Fauré

April 22, 2018 and April 23, 2018

The Ariel Quartet, Timothy Lees, violin, Gabriel Pegis, violin, Christian Colberg, viola
Ilya Finkelshteyn, cello
Kurtág, Beethoven, Mendelssohn

Subscriber Bonus Program:
February 11, 2018 (Sunday only)
Elena Urioste, violin, Tom Poster, piano
Kreisler, Schumann, Dvořák, Grieg, Beach, Gershwin

⦁ Exchange Sunday/Monday concert tickets any time.
⦁ If, for any reason, you cannot use one of your 2017-18 Linton tickets, mail your unused ticket to us and we will send you a certificate good for any future Linton concert or to a variety of other wonderful local chamber music organizations. Or let us know you would prefer a tax receipt for your ticket donation.
⦁ Every season subscription order will receive two free vouchers for any Monday Encore! or select Sunday Linton Chamber Music series concert to give family or friends (2 subscriptions = 4 free vouchers). SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY.
⦁ Single tickets will not be available for purchase until August 14, 2017 at a cost of $35 per ticket.
⦁ To purchase your subscription, please use the enclosed subscription form card, call (513) 381-6868, or visit ⦁

1 Sunday Series. 6 Sunday Concerts at 4pm. Presented at the historic First Unitarian Church at 536 Linton Street Subscription Price: $165
2 Monday Series. 5 Monday Concerts at 7:30pm Presented at Congregation Beth Adam at 10001 Loveland-Madeira Road. Subscription Price: $137.50
3 Encore! Plus Series. 6 Concerts, including the 5 Monday concerts in Loveland, PLUS the 1 Sunday concert in Avondale on January 14, 2018. (+ February 11, 2018 complimentary bonus concert) Subscription Price: $165
Single tickets will not be available for purchase until August 14, 2017 at a cost of $35 per ticket.



Cincinnati ‘La boheme’

panikkarnicole cabell

My review of La boheme on today’s Cincinnati Enquirer:

Moving performances impress in ‘La Bohème’

Both the uninitiated and the inveterate opera fan will be impressed by the lovely singing of soprano Nicole Cabell and tenor Sean Panikkar and by the antics of the quartet of bohemians that provide the Cincinnati Opera audience with as much humor as can be expected in an opera based on the novel “Vie de Bohème” by French writer Henri Murger.

In “La Bohème” there are neither bad guys nor hard-hearted gals, just plenty of passion and heartbreak in 1840s Paris, and Puccini’s librettists Illica and Giacosa deliver a now feel happy/now feel sad libretto tailor-made for Puccini’s music.

The story is straightforward: Rodolfo, a struggling writer (Panikkar) and Mimì, a seamstress (Cabell), encounter each other in an unheated attic after Alcindoro, the landlord (baritone Marco Nisticò) has cut off the electricity until he gets paid for the monthly rent of the rundown quarters shared by Rodolfo and his friend Marcello, a painter (Rodion Pogossov).

Tentatively at first, and then impulsively, Mimì and Rodolfo swear to love each other.

It is Christmas Eve, and Marcello, Schaunard (Edward Nelson), a musician, and Colline (Nathan Stark), a philosopher have gone down to the Café Momus. The two lovers soon join them, but the celebration is interrupted by the arrival of Marcello’s ex, Musetta (Jessica Rivera) who makes a grand entrance in the arms of Alcindoro (Marco Nisticò), her sugar daddy du jour.

After the fun and games of Act I are over, the action takes us to winter, a year later. Mimì and Rodolfo have parted company because of her flirtatiousness (says he) and his jealousy (says she). The real reason is that she is wasting away due to an unnamed disease and Rodolfo is terrified to lose her.

While Marcello and Musetta hurl insults at each other, Mimì and Rodolfo vow to stay together until spring comes. But spring comes and they again break up, and it is only at the end of the opera that Mimì returns to die in the arms of Rodolfo.

The production – the same one seen here in Cincinnati a few years ago – has a set that evokes a black-and-white movie of Paris in the 1930s, a backdrop for the mostly black and gray costumes of both chorus and principals.

An unabashedly romantic opera that premiered in 1896, originally conceived to be set in the 1840s Paris of Murger’s novel, could be an uncomfortable fit into the Paris of the 1930s, but as conceived by Jonathan Miller, this production’s original director, the concept works.

Natascha Metherell does a splendid job of directing her principals and chorus on a two-tiered set where space is at a premium. She makes things work while keeping everyone on stage away from any kind of operatic posturing.

Making his Cincinnati Opera debut, CSO Music Director Louis Langrée elicited terrific playing from his musicians, but many ragged moments in which coordination and balance between pit and stage were at loggerheads kept the evening from what could have been a great performance.

The choral passages, however, were perfectly sung by Henri Venanzi’s choristers, including the children in the Café Momus scene.

Cabell sang and acted an impassioned Mimì, her big lyric soprano voice soaring when soaring was needed, most notably in her second-act encounters with Marcello and in the ensuing farewell aria and duet with Rodolfo.

Panikkar was the perfect Rodolfo: good to look at, sincere in his acting, and rock solid vocally in his big solo moments.

Pogossov and his fellow bohemians, Rivera, Nelson – one of the best Schaunards I have ever seen – and Nathan Stark were a terrific quartet of bohemians.

The Cincinnati Opera’s “La Bohème” is a joint effort between our opera company, now in its 97th season, and the English National Opera. Puccini’s opera is on stage at the Aronoff Center for the Arts June 17, 22 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.


Five international ensembles and one great pianist will play in Chamber Music Cincinnati’s upcoming 2017-2018 season.

The Chamber Music Cincinnati season at a glance:


Marc-André Hamelin, piano – Monday September18 at 7:30 pm Memorial Hall

Danish Quartet – Thursday October 10 at 7:30 pm Memorial Hall

Tetzlaff Quartet -Tuesday January 23 at 7:30 pm Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center


Apollon Musaget – Tuesday February 20 at 7:30 pm Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center

Artemis Quartet – Tuesday April 11 at 7:30 pm Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center

Early Bird subscriptions are now on sale through July 31 for a discounted $75 for 6 concerts – a discount of $55 off the regular $130 price that goes into effect on August 1, after which date single tickets, if available, go for $30.  Call 513 721 3344 or go to for more information

Rafael de Acha

Matinée Musicale Cincinnati’s 2017-2018 season


First of all, Matinée Musicale Cincinnati’s 2017-2018 season (its 105th) will be presented mostly in the newly refurbished Memorial Hall, in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine area.
Secondly, four of the five concerts will be given in the daytime, as it has been the tradition of Matinée Musicale for well over a century.

The season, which begins in October, can be enjoyed by purchasing a $60 suscription ($12 each concert.) Subscriptions are now on sale from the Memorial Hall Box office, 513-977-8838, and can be exchanged, in advance, for any recital in the 2017-2018 season. Subscribers wishing to purchase additional single tickets save 25% on the cost of a single ticket. Season subscribers will receive complimentary recital parking in the Washington Park Garage, if they purchase their subscriptions by Sept. 15, 2015. Visit for more information.

The season, at a glance:


VIOLINIST JOSHUA BROWN – Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, 3 p.m. at Memorial Hall.
claire hunagci

PIANIST CLAIRE HUANGCI – Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 11 a.m. at Anderson Center
jamie barton

JAMIE BARTON, MEZZO-SOPRANO – Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall
julian bliss

JULIAN BLISS, CLARINET – Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, 3 p.m. at Memorial Hall.

yolanda kondonassis

YOLANDA KONDONASSIS, HARP, AND JASON VIEAUX, GUITAR – Sunday, April 8, 2018, 3 p.m. at Memorial Hall.

Below, an insightful description by our colleague, Rick Pender:

“For more than a century — since 1912 — Matinée Musicale Cincinnati has presented recitals by instrumentalists and singers on their way to illustrious careers. Legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein performed at the Netherland Hotel’s Hall of Mirrors in 1938. In 1955, 21-year-old Van Cliburn played for Cincinnatians in a Matinée Musicale recital, three years before he won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Coloratura soprano Beverly Sills sang in Cincinnati in 1969, the same year she debuted at the renowned La Scala opera house in Milan. In 1983 violinist Joshua Bell, then 16, performed his very first professional recital with Matinée Musicale. Today he’s one of the world’s most respected performers. Thanks to a generous bequest from philanthropist and classically-trained musician Louise Dieterle Nippert (1911-2012), Matinée Musicale’s tradition of musical excellence continues.”