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My sincere thanks to Andreas for taking trouble of proof-reading the article as well as answering my questions.
The original German article is here
Musik & Theater October 1998 Stimmbezeichnung «Sopranist» Jörg Waschinski
Voice designation "Sopranist"*
Jörg Waschinski

Xerxes, by Händel. A dream role. It was sung by castrato 250 years ago. After the extinction of castrato, it was sung by female. But now the men re-conquer this soprano role writen for them in the best way. We will get used to the vocal designation "Sopranist" in the same manner we accostomed to countertenor and male alto 20 years ago. One of them is the young Berliner, Jörg Waschinski. He sang Xerxes at the Stadttheater in St. Gallen last spring, with an unbelievable ease, with virtuoso sparkling agility, with unquivering purity, with a rich voice with splendor and various emotional expression.

What is that after all, a sopranist? What differentiates it from countertenor or male alto? Waschinski only laughs: "A question, about which Jochen Kowalski has already talked till he is blue in the face. Basically, I would rather say "countertenor" is a register indication, a generic term. And because now more and more countertenors emerge, it proved to be reasonable, to further differentiate the register like in other voice categories. 'Alto' and 'Sopranist' then simply would become vocal pitch description. But there is no uniform terminology within this area. Many altos also understand this designation as a differentiation from the countertenors and want to express the fact that they [i.e., countertenors] sing quite bodyless.1) That would correspond to for instance the contrast between lyric and dramatic."

Jörg Waschinski belongs to second, if not already to the third generation of countertenors. Nevertheless it is still by far not regarded everywhere as natural that men sing alto parts in the Baroque music, let alone that they are able to tackle the major castrato roles in the Baroque opera without physical mutilation. Of course, we do not know how the castratos of the Baroque time did sound and the film "Farinelli where the voice of Derek Lee Ragin was mixed with that of a female soprano by a computer can merely be an interesting attempt of a tonal approximation.2) But what we know today to some extend is how these parts were sung, ornamented and phrased. And we also know that it is possible for a man to reach this soprano-bright range. A voice trained in such a way has completely different timbre from a female soprano, has an enticing sensuality combined with a masculine strength.

Jörg Waschinski as Xerxes in St. Gallen (Photo: Ernst Schär)

Although it is a common knowledge now that male alto belongs to the Baroque music, Jörg Waschinski must break the ice again and again for his soprano register even in the world of music. "I took an entrance examination in 1994 at Hanns-Eisler-Hochschule in Berlin. I achieved the full score and they would have to accept me, but none of the teachers were ready to instruct me. There were enormous anxieties. If Renate Faltin, who then became my teacher, had not agreed, I would not have been accepted. Purely from the point of view of singing technique, the handling the voice of a male soprano is exactly the same as that of any every other register."

Perhaps he would have found open doors at a conservatory specialized on Early Music, like the Schola Cantorum in Basel? "I actually did not think about it at all. I was already 28 years old and a active church musician. A book concerning castorato brought me to an idea of singing soprano. I began all alone trying out the high voice and I noticed that I came up to very high and that it also sounded quite good."

Jörg Waschinski had a quite normal tenor voice, interestingly enough with some difficulties in the high range: "My voice has already inclined to the falsetto because I could not tackle the change of registers. It was much strain for me to hold the note without inclining to the falsetto." Well, then a special physical disposition required for men to sing in the soprano range? "Every singer can sing falsetto and with healthy voice, that can also cause no harm. How it sounds and how one can use it, that is another question. I think that the quality of the sound and the resonance depends already a few of the physiognomy and anatomy."

Waschinski's top note is c''' (C6), on the good days even d''' (D6). He sings very high in comparison with other sopranists. "That is my niche market!", said Waschinski. This niche market led him to the dream roles such as the Ruggiero in Händel's "Alcina"3) or the title roll of the Hasse's opera "Adriano in Siria", or even to the Xerxes: "an incredibly rewarding role."

Waschinski's career has just began. He performed at an important Baroque festivals in Melk [Austria], last spring he enchanted the audience with Farinelli arias at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival which took place for the first time. The record companies also begin to discover his voice: He can be heard in Handel's dramatic cantata "Clori, Tirsi e Fileno" (NCA), in a marvelous solo cantata by Giovanni Bononcini under Ton Koopman (a production of the Barocktage Melk and the ORF) and on an interesting CD of sacred works by emperor Leopold I under Martin Haselböck (cpo)4).

The play with the gender roles has a quite special, almost erotic appeal for Jörg Waschinski. "It is a fun for me to flirt with it. But naturally I do not want to find myself leaving a feminine impression." It would be likewise something else, if he would sing Norma.5) Surprise, laughs Waschinski. He already did Carmen once for fun!
[Reinmar Wagner]
Translator's Note

1) After the decline of the Baroque opera and the castrati, falsetto singing was preserved only in English church choirs, where the countertenors were required to sing in rather asexual and incorporeal style.

2) Derek Lee Ragin (countertenor) and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska (soprano) were chosen because of the similarity of their timbres. A further description of this intriguing vocal morph process can be found at e.g. Sony Online site.

3) Georg Friedrich Händel: Die Zauberinsel der Alcina (Deutsche Grammophon Junior 449 595-2)

4) For further information on those CDs, please see Andreas's Male Soprano Page.

5) Famous opera by Vincenzo Bellini.
© 2002 by Cleofide
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