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The accidental countertenor

The award-laden Iestyn Davies performs in London

Michael Church | January/February 2016

It was in 2008 that fans of Baroque music in Britain and America began to notice a remarkable voice: a gravely beautiful, compelling countertenor. Built like a whippet, Iestyn Davies didn’t seem made for stardom, but when he started singing opera there was no stopping him: personal magnetism, plus a talent for physical comedy, put him straight to the top of the bill in role after role. Laden with awards, he has just starred in an acclaimed West End show about the great castrato Farinelli; as a recitalist he’s in demand all over the world.

Davies began as a boy treble, and as a teenage tenor he formed his own pop group. He discovered his countertenor voice by accident, fooling around when he should have been singing bass in the school choir. He describes his hero Andreas Scholl as “creating a column of sound which doesn’t weaken, and stays absolutely even” – his own performances emulate this. Asked what it is about the countertenor voice that drives some audiences, particularly gay ones, wild, he says with some amusement that it’s “an outsider thing”.  ~ MICHAEL CHURCH

Iestyn Davies LSO St Luke’s, London, Jan 14th; Raskatov’s “Green Mass”, Southbank Centre, London, Jan 30th

 

classical AT A GLANCE

South Pole (Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Jan 31st). The young Czech composer Miroslav Srnka’s new opera, with an English-language libretto by Tom Holloway, revolves around the race to the South Pole in 1911. The cast is promising: Thomas Hampson will play Amundsen and Rolando Villazón Scott, with Tara Erraught as Scott’s wife.

L’Etoile (Royal Opera House, London, Feb 1st). Chabrier’s anarchically comic fairy tale has had to wait 138 years for its Covent Garden premiere, and although it will be directed by Mariame Clément – whose recent Glyndebourne “Poliuto” was a spectacular flop – Mark Elder will conduct and the brilliant tenor Christophe Mortagne will lead the cast.

Daniil Trifonov (Wigmore Hall, London, from Feb 12th). This remarkable young Russian pianist has been given the honour of a Wigmore residency. He will kick it off alongside the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and it continues with recitals featuring his tutor, the pianist Sergei Babayan, and the baritone Matthias Goerne.

Turandot (Metropolitan Opera, New York, screened live in cinemas, Jan 30th). These broadcasts are always superbly presented but the draw here is Nina Stemme – widely regarded as the greatest dramatic soprano in the world – in the title role. This production, created by Franco Zeffirelli in 1987, is one of the longest-lived in the game. ~ MC

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