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Questions for American Countertenor Steven Rickards

American countertenor Steven Rickards answers questions about his voice type and aspects of his career.

three men in suits

Photo: anonymous

The three countertenors in John Adams' "El Niño" (Brian Cummings, Steven Rickards, and Daniel Bubeck).

Steven Rickards is an internationally recognized American countertenor. He is also a teacher, composer/arranger, and author. His latest book, “Twentieth Century Countertenor Repertoire: A Guide,” was published by Scarecrow Press in 2008.

What is a countertenor?

A countertenor is the highest natural male voice. As opposed to a castrato, which involves a prepubescent medical procedure that prevents the changing of the voice.

A countertenor is equivalent in range to a mezzo-soprano or contralto depending on the natural disposition of the instrument. There are differences in timbre between male and female equivalents, however.

In listening to the countertenor voice, like other voice types, there are a variety of personalities and approaches to the execution of the art. Countertenors can be more operatic in nature while others may possess a voice that lends itself to choral or more intimate repertoire.

An exciting aspect of “countertenordom” is that countertenors can focus on repertoire that naturally suits their voice and artistic temperament.

What kinds of music does a countertenor sing?

There’s a wide variety of music that a countertenor can sing—from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and baroque periods to contemporary repertoire written in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

You have spent you career championing early and modern works. What composers do you feel most at home with?

Two names immediately come to mind—John Dowland and Thomas Campion, both composers of lute song who were unusually skilled in setting the English language. They both brought out its natural beauty and finesse.

Other composers I would mention are Henry Purcell, who added a sense of drama and humor, as well as Benjamin Britten, who took what Purcell started and further refined it as an expression of the 20th Century.

Britten and Purcell are to song what Shakespeare is to theater and drama.

Tell us about some of your current projects.

In addition to my academic responsibilities as professor of voice at the University of Indianapolis and Butler University, I’ve just founded a new ensemble called “Echoing Air,” which specializes in the music of the English baroque with a unique emphasis on the wealth of repertoire for two countertenors and instruments.

We have a Florida tour coming up and look forward sharing this wonderful music.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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