Saturday, September 08, 2007


Tomorrow's Times Week in Review has an article by Daniel J. Wakin about the mystique of the tenor high C, inspired, of course, by the death of Luciano Pavarotti.

Now, I like a good high note or high register as much as anyone, but some operaphiles fetishize high notes to the point of absurdity. If you don't believe me, visit the archives of opera-l and take a look at postings about Zinka Milanov singing the phrase "Enzo adorato," etc. in La Gioconda.

Right in the middle of Wakin's article comes this:
Then, with the rise of Romanticism and a taste for bolder singing — and perhaps a distaste for gelding — the modern tenor voice was born. The first notable tenor to hit a modern high C was the Frenchman Gilbert-Louis Duprez. He sang the note not with a falsetto but with a chest voice, at the first performance of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell,” in 1831. Rossini was not pleased. The sound, he said, was like “the squawk of a capon with its throat cut.”

But there was no turning back, especially with the heroic tenor voices demanded by Wagnerian opera.
Wagner's tenor roles are notably punishing, but primarily because of their length and the size of the orchestra. If anything, they lie of the low side compared with Italian roles. And just how many high Cs are there in Wagner's tenor roles, anyway?? Are there any?

Getting back to high Cs, Wakin's article is called "High C: The Note that Makes Us Weep." Speak for yourself, Dan. What made me cry in those Pavarotti videos wasn't any particular note, it was his glorious sound, involvement, line, and diction.


Maury D'annato said...

Here's hoping you get comment notification or you'll probably never see this comment on an older entry. I'm doing a little blog catching-upping. There is a C in the last act of Gotterdammerung that mostly exists outside of the score as a yelp, except of course when Melchior sings it firmly and longly as if it were a middle C. That is, I believe, Siegfried's only C, Siegmund certainly has none, and I don't think Tristan does.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Right you are - "Heil, heil, heil" at the end of the Dawn Duet - and right you are about Tristan.