Andreas Scholl, the countertenor voice and “gender-bending”

The countertenor voice can be deeply moving to some, a curiosity or even confronting to others. In a recent Canberra Times interview Scholl says “the high male voice stands for somebody who transcends the cliche of what is masculine or feminine.” In the words of the Guardian’s Tom Service, “to be a countertenor is to appreciate that gender is, essentially, a performance, and not something that’s dependent on physical protuberances.”

This is a theme which Andreas Scholl revisits periodically. He has attracted criticism for performing Carmen’s Habanera. Last year he gained attention performing Purcell duets with fellow countertenor Phillippe Jaroussky, including the love duet My Dearest, My Fairest.

Scholl tries to put the duet in context. “I sang Maria Magdalena in Scarlatti’s John Passion, and it’s not about travesty, it’s about humanity. We had Cate Blanchett play Bob Dylan in the movies, and we have Katy Perry singing I Kissed a Girl and nobody has a problem. So why shouldn’t Philippe and I sing a love duet? It doesn’t have to be tacky or ambiguous. If our intention [is] sincere, it can be a great moment. We don’t mean it as a provocation.”

In Australia, Scholl will potentially court more controversy, performing Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, traditionally a woman’s role. Deciding to include the aria in his Australian program was, as Scholl tells Shirley Apthorp, at least in part an answer to the trend to cast male operatic roles like Handel’s Giulio Cesare with women singers.

“If we can live with a female Caesar,” he says, “why not a male Dido? In the aria, Dido says, ‘I hope that remembering me will not cause you too much grief.’ It’s a human message. I want to sing it. Of course I know that it’s a bit provocative. But I’d like to do it, and the audience can judge whether or not they think it’s good.”

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