: Falsetto :

an excerpt by Heidi Koelz


Countertenors may be an acquired taste. So I thought when I first heard a man sing in what I used to consider a woman’s range. In a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, this middle-aged music professor sounded matronly, motherly—like a contralto but inarguably different. His wasn't a nasal sound, exactly, though it seemed to come not so much from his mouth as from somewhere else. I was reminded of a ventriloquist's act. That couldn’t really be his voice, I thought; it doesn’t fit his face. But much as I balked at the first few notes, when he sat and other soloists took the stage, already I was impatient for him to begin again. I fidgeted. I had to hear more, if only to put my finger on the source of agitation: I didn’t like this singing, quite, but then again, neither did I find it unpleasant.

I don’t doubt my interest was a little prurient—piqued by more than a disembodied voice. Had I eavesdropped from another room, what would I have heard? Not a woman, no, but perhaps a sound no less natural, if only I could discount the evidence of my eyes.

He sang once more, in a duet, and I couldn’t tease out the single strand of his voice. I left the concert unresolved, bothered more by the fact that I was bothered than by the strangeness of that singing. Casual listener that I was, I didn’t know then that I was about to go blundering back to the Baroque—the era that begat such oddly gendered music—though it would take a voice of a different caliber to send me on my way.