or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Cut Above

Now, here's what I wanted to get to yesterday before I was so pixilated with grammar:

You really need to watch this Youtube video, a Vivaldi aria by a countertenor named Philippe Jaroussky. Maybe you don't like opera, maybe you don't like Vivaldi, maybe you don't like countertenors, but you ought to listen to it anyway, because it is the most perfect thing of its kind ever. The orchestra is playing rather desperate staccato figures over which the singer's voice floats in a plangent song about love which is about to be lost:

Vedro con mio diletto
l'alma dell'alma mia
Il core del mio cor pien di contento.
E se dal caro oggetto
lungi convien che sia
Sospirero penando ogni momento...

What pleasure it will give me
to see the soul of my soul
the heart of my heart
filled with happiness.
And if I must be parted from the one I love
I shall spend every moment
in sighing, and suffering...

I am obsessed with this. I have listened to it dozens of times in the last few days. I've heard plenty of countertenors and enjoyed some of them, but Jaroussky has a glorious tone, never forced or squally, even in the uppermost register. I do not think any living being of either sex could sing it more beautifully.

In Renaissance times, women were not allowed to sing in church, so boys whose voices had not changed and occasionally men who could produce a good falsetto sound sang the highest parts. Eventually it became the practice to castrate boys to keep their voices from changing by forestalling puberty; as their bodies matured, their chests, ribcages, and lungs expanded, but their vocal cords hardly lengthened or thickened at all, making it possible to continue producing a high sound, but with the power and intensity of a man's voice.

"Castrate" comes from Latin "castrum", "knife", which in turn derives from an Indo-European root which I can't believe I haven't done yet, and which I will have to get to tomorrow, because it is time to get ready for work. You know what I'll be listening to on my iPod on the way there.


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