The chapter in Divas and Scholars called “Higher and Lower” brings to light certain things about the operas of Vincenzo Bellini that were new to me. Bellini composed many of his tenor roles for a man named Giovanni Battista Rubini, a man with a seemingly abnormally high voice, higher even than Manuel Garcia, the tenor for whom Rossini often composed, including Otello and Arnold in William Tell, a man apparently with high C's to burn.
Rubini had a high F. That’s the F that is a fourth above the normal tenor’s high C, called by Gossett “stratospheric.” That makes him the male equivalent of the Queen of the Night. Garcia and Rubini sang with a floating larynx, and weren’t trying for the kind of tone associated with tenors of Verdi and Puccini who use a forced down larynx.
This stuff all seems huge to me. Gossett talks about transposing, but the end result always sounds unsatisfactory. If you transpose the tenor down, often you must also transpose the soprano down as well, making the role a mezzo in those parts while leaving her a soprano everywhere else.
Bellini is considered one of the all time great Italian composers, and yet besides Norma his operas are rarely performed. Perhaps this is the reason. Fashion in tenors changed during this period toward a heavier, pushed up chest style, and Bellini was caught in the cracks.
Does even Juan Diego Florez have a high F? David Daniels has one, certainly, but do we want a falsettist singing Bellini? Perhaps Rubini simply was a falsettist, and David Daniels would be the right person to replace him. His high F had to be falsetto.
Speaking of women in music...
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