THE VOICE

Christopher was a baritone, and he was beginning to make a name for himself. His voice had a rotund quality: it was strong without being coarse, subtle without being querulous. He hoped in time that he might succeed in the great operatic roles, but for the moment he concentrated on oratorios, since they paid well. The baritone voice was, he thought, both virile and sensitive when handled properly.

 

But what he really loved was Lieder, and he worked hard at his German until he was competent enough. He tried all the great cycles, Winterreise and so on. But he preferred those song-cycles which were about romantic yearning, and which celebrated and grieved for the feminine. Soon he became jealous of those song-cycles written for the female voice, Frauenliebe und Leben and so on. Why should women be the only ones to sing this sublime music? And so he had the songs transposed for the baritone voice. To be sure, they sounded a little odd here and there, but no matter. If his voice attested to a sense of strain, it was all the more dramatic. Sometimes he could not find the key, but that could be exciting. Audiences might have to work a little harder. Often they would crowd into the auditorium, chattering loudly, and the shock of his voice - a male performing a female song - would silence them.

 

He began to wonder whether he couldn’t attempt the great operatic contralto roles. But the critics would be gunning for him, and he needed to prepare himself by assiduous rehearsals. But then something terrible happened. His voice went on strike. It was broken, totally and completely broken. His voice had always been a “chest” voice - rumbling up from the depths of his body. But now nothing, nothing would come. That glorious power and embonpoint had gone.

 

Standing in front of the mirror, Christopher tried to make new sounds. Suddenly it was as if his body was in a lift, and had soared from the basement to the penthouse. A new voice came roaring out from his mouth. But it was a “head” voice: high, piercing,  female and strong at the same time. Without wishing to, he had become a countertenor. This was alarming, as there was (to him at least) always the aroma of femininity about it. Or worse. He recalled that the countertenor phenomenon had originated with the castrati, boys emasculated in order to maintain their vocal purity and range. Did his new voice mean that his masculinity was somehow impugned? Was there a secret message being transmitted from his body? Christopher’s first response was to grow a large, unambiguous beard. He would have to change his apparel, and decided that, to appear more manly, he would wear cowboy clothes - jeans, plaid shirts, leather chaps, Stetsons, high boots and spurs. 

 

His musical technique was unchanged, though. He applied himself diligently to the countertenor repertoire, and realised that it was varied and demanding. Moreover, there  was a gap in the market. Many of the major countertenors were dead or retired, or else they were too expensive for the smaller venues to hire. Accordingly his bookings flowed in thick and fast. There was always a gasp of astonishment when he strode onto the stage. The cowboy outfits led  audiences to expect a number from Seven Brides and Seven Brothers, or Oklahoma!, but instead this soaring, sweet, semi-feminine sound issued forth. It knew Italian. It was full of decorum, with an undertow of rebellion. 

 

Christopher never knew why it had all happened. It might have been his hubris in stealing and adapting the female songs. Either his body, or the music, had taken its revenge. But his ambiguity - on stage at least - brought the profits rolling in. He just  hoped that his voicebox didn’t decide to change into a bass. That repertoire was much more limited.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |