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The original German article is here
BZ Oct. 27, 1998 Kowalski, der Sirenemann (PDF)

Kowalski, the Siren man1)*
BZ discusses with the countertenor, who sings his 100th "Orfeo ed Eurydice" today at the Komische Oper

To the 100th times. Kowalski, 44, will sing as Orfeo at the Komische Oper this evening with his bell-bright voice that has made him famous. From a butcher's son in Wachow, Brandenburg, to a star at the MET in New York, he has an unusual career. He kept his boy's voice after the puberty vocal change. It is neither the result of castration, nor he attains it by the "falsetto", i.e. by the training of the vocal cords. According to Kowalski, meningitis which he has contracted at age of eleven, is the reason for the celestially beautiful voice. The illness prevented the laryngeal growth, so that his vocal cord can swing only at the edge 2). "A type of defect", says Kowalski. A defect, that made him a world star: As the most famous countertenor of Germany, he has been singing Gluck's " Orfeo ed Eurydice" for last 11 years. BZ reporter Benjamin Blumenberg met Kowalski at the Unter den Linden.

BB: You are just as much in demand in Japan as in the MET or in the Covent Garden in London. Was it a long way to a fame?

JK: Everything began with a crib play. There I sang for the first time, discovered my voice. Now I play "Die Fledermaus" for the MET on 24th December. That is very amusing.

BB: You never grew out of your boy's voice. What was the reaction of your surroundings at that time?

JK: For that, it was quite normal. It could only affect me in such a way.

BB: Are you a countertenor, alto or castrato singer?

JK: They are all the same to me. In the past, I got excited about the different notations placed on me. These days I no longer get angry so fast.

BB: Would you also sing a female role?

JK: Never. Women know it much better. I often get offers. In the musical "Chicago" I ought to sing a female role. But I do not like women in male roles either.

BB: Hundred times of "Orfeo ed Eurydice" - was that actually different each time?

JK: Naturally. Hundred times - that is unique in the opera history. It is my dream role and it is a part of my destiny. It is something worthwhile to live for - by itself, in order to sing.

BB: Does it ever get tedious for you to appearing on the stage?

JK: Not at all. It is always a tremendous stimulation. And it was a major international success. There were surprises again and again.

BB: For example?

JK: Our appearance in Jerusalem. When my guitar slipped out of my hand, it hit the stage floor and landed on a neck of the violin of the concert master. The violin costs 100,000 Marks. And this violin was broken.

BB: You sang with Joan Sutherland and Pavarotti. Were you excited?

JK: I met the two during the performance of the "Fledermaus" at Covent Garden in London. They were marvellous. But the requirement for them was also high because they themselves achieved so much. That last to the bitter end.

BB: In the "FAZ" someone writes about you: "He gives a visionary aura and the spiritual charisma in his singing."

JK: Can you translate that for me? I cannot begin anything with that. I would like to sing for simple human beings. As an audience, I like films much better than opera. I have over 1000 films at home and I never find the ones I'm looking for.

BB: By singing as Orfeo for 100 times, will your private life be faded?

JK: One must separate occupation and private, otherwise one goes insane. After the play, I remove my make-up and I am again Jochen Kowalski, a quite normal human being.

BB: And how does a day in the life of this quite normal human being look like?

JK: Unspectacular. I take a bath every morning, drive to the rehearsal and meet my friends.

BB: MET went crazy after you.

JK: For that I am very grateful. Aside from myself, the only artist from Brandenburg who went to the MET was Lotte Lehmann from Perleberg. When I was at the MET, I saw an oil painting of her portrait hanging on the wall. I said to her: Help me, Lotti. And so she did.

The following article appears in PDF file only
Culture history of the high male voice -- From castrato to laryngeal defect
The first Eunuch sang 1137 in Smolensk. Castrato comes from castrare (lat. cuts). In the Middle Ages, the testicles of the young boys were removed before the puberty vocal change in order to protect the voice from break. Thereby they keep their boy's voice while the lung strength increases. Reason for this mutilation: Women were not allowed to sing in the church and boys were to replace their high voices. Specialists for the castration were trained until the church forbade the castration in 1587. Dr. Karsten Nubel, 35, is a specialist for laryngeal problems at the Benjamin Franklin University Clinic. He explains the castrate phenomenon: "the larynx makes an enormous growth thrust for men. As is the case for the piano, where the tone becomes deeper with a length of the string, the voice becomes deeper with an increasing laryngeal size. In castratos, this growth thrust from a hormonal reason is missing. Their larynx is feminine. "Is it possible to replace castrato? Dr. Nubel laughs. "In no case. At best, countertenors train their voice and use it consciously."

The Singer's Larynx
The larynx thus produces sounds: The glottis closes and the air is pressed down by the vocal cords. For Kowalski, the vocal cords are underdeveloped.

Caption for photo
Kowalski strolls about Unter den Linden.
As Orfeo at the Komische Oper
photo: Koester, Lagenpusch

Translator's Note

1) For the detailed explanation for Sirene, please see see this page.

2) Some critics claim that it should also be categorized as falsetto.
© 1999 by Cleofide
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