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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nicholas Spanos: A Brilliant New Greek Alto.

It is always a pleasure to be able to note the rise of brilliant young singers, and Nicholas Spanos is a case in point. It is the rise, or revival of certain genres that almost instantly creates new artists responding to new opportunities. The rise of Baroque and Ancient Music in general over the course of the last 25 years has been a thrilling and inspiring artistic experience for those of us who esteem the music of the past so highly. Over half the operas ever written were written before 1800, and those earlier operas are a wonderful field, ripe for mining. Opera is returning, slowly but surely, to its pre-verismo roots. Thank God. Don't misunderstand—there are wonderful late romantic and even a few "verismo" operas that are just plain good listening any day. One must be sensible. However, the slow return to a period of greater elegance and refinement, of art for its own sake, is most welcome. Like literary "naturalism," "verismo" is a misnomer to begin with. What exactly is "real" or "true" about Commedia dell'arte clowns having an emotional meltdown and murdering a rival in the audience in a fit of wild-eyed rage? Not a typical daily newspaper item, certainly.

Nicholas Spanos was born in Greece and began his studies as a young man in his early twenties. Studying first in Greece, he came to the U.S. in 2000 to study at the University of Maryland, where two years later he graduated with an M.A. in Voice/Opera Performance. Since then he has sung widely in Greece, and additionally with the Bach Sinfonia in the United States. In 2002, he was named "Best Young Artist of The Year" by the Theater and Music Critics' Association of Greece for his interpretation of Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes with the National Opera of Greece. His exposure and recognition have, since then, grown apace. From an occasional presence on Youtube a year ago, the numbers of videos showcasing him have increased exponetially. He clearly is a young artist on the rise. Here is his rendering of "He Shall Feed His Flock," from Handel's Messiah. His English is excellent:

That is simply beautiful, and very artistically rendered! I immediately notice that while a few of his low notes, coupled with the piece chosen, clearly spell "alto," in point of fact he is not far from a soprano. This augers well for the future, because there is altitude to spare in his voice. His stylistic and musical sensitivity are also immediately apparent. He has been extremely well trained, and has an absolute grip on the music he is singing. This is inspiring.

Here is a classic warhorse that one must approach with great care, because it has been sung and recorded by some of the greatest singers in the world, including the nonpareil Marilyn Horne:

Beautifully done, I think you will agree! Notice the floating line, the beautiful legato, and the extremely controlled nature of the vocalization. One has the feeling that there is much more there in reserve, and this lends an air of assurance and controlled calm to the presentation. Very, very well done!

Finally, we hear Spanos in what is possibly the best known piece of opera music from the 18th century, "Ombra mai fu," from Handel's Xerxes:

Smooth as silk, and absolutely correct in style and intonation. Here we see evidence of what I mentioned earlier about Spanos' voice. There is an F natural in this piece, which he handles very intelligently. That is high for a male alto, but he knows what to do. He does NOT try to over-support the tone. This kind of male singing is the one instance I can think of in classical music where support is not a good idea, because the tensing, the opening up of the laryngeal passages generally, and the increased volume that will result, all invariably thicken the voice at the top. Far better to sing as a choir boy does, and approach it gently and clavicularly—that kind of approach has a vocal future, witness Gigli!

This is a young man to keep an eye on. From all appearances, he has it all: a beautiful, pure, and uncommonly high alto voice, superb musicianship and innate musicality, and he is a very good looking young man—not an inconsiderable factor for public performance. We wish him well!


JD Hobbes said...

I am glad you are leaving it open for a while to see what happens. I agree that there are only so many topics for a limited readership. But it has been done well, reflects quality and personal experience of yours, and was well worth the effort. I have enjoyed it and reading the comments of the other readers.

Well done!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very, very much. I appreciate your comment. You have been among the most faithful or correspondents, and it means a lot to me.

corax said...

esteemed colleague, dear friend -- i know you have forbidden mourning at this announcement. too late -- i am despondent at the news. all the same, i certainly understand the concept of blog fatique.

of course there is no reason to take the blog down; and every reason to leave it up. i am sure it will continue to attract readers -- it is a very valuable repository of information; no one else but you could have written the text you provided, and the youtube links are a tremendous asset as well.

it may be that after awhile you may find yourself itching to add another entry. please don't resist! and know, meanwhile, that your devoted fans in the blogosphere owe you a lasting debt of thanks for a job superlatively done.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Oh, I'm going to dissolve in tears:)

Well, I left it all intact. Maybe the desire to get out there in the blogosphere will prove irristible after while...I'm such a never know:) You're the Godfather of the Blog anyway, so I have to take what you say seriously:) I'm involved in retiring (at least semi-retiring) from the univeristy anyway, so perhaps the leave-it-all-behind mood has temporarily overwhelmed me. If I get my blogging energy up again, I'll let you all know. I owe you a lot, my friend xoxoxoxoxox SMOOOCHHHH!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, I didn’t know this wonderful singer. A very warm and agile voice.I hope he will be as popular as Jarussky.
The thought about “over supporting” the voice is very interesting. On opera forums everyone seems to think only about support and power . Your words are refreshing.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you. Yes, when the discussion turns to male altos and sopranos, it is another matter. The rules change. That's not to say that one does not support the tone at all, but in a much gentler way. A female soprano's voice can tolerate some significant support and projective power. The cords will thicken slightly, but it will still be the voice of a woman. A man, generally speaking, does not have that extra reserve built in. The least thickening of the finer folds on the vocal cords will result in the return of a masculine sound to the voice, and that is not desirable because the voice will begin to plunge perilously close to high tenor. It's not only the case with the upper register; the traditional husky sound of some female altos, such as Marilyn Horne, needs to be avoided likewise, or the same deadly plunge can occur.

sotevag said...

I hope that I'll see my very good friend be well known sometime soon!

Edmund St. Austell said...

I hope so too! He is an excellent singer!

Agnes Regina said...

Thanks for a wonderful article. I discovered your blog via youtube and have been discovering a multitude of amazing voices I'd never heard before. Do leave the blog up, if you're still considering taking it down... I love this and I am sure you still have tons of awesome singers to get to!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much. Oh, yes...I leave them up, I think there are over 80 now:) I try to put one up every week, on Sunday, but I sometimes don't make it:) Thanks again. Edmund