Magazine article Gramophone

Russell Oberlin

Magazine article Gramophone

Russell Oberlin

Article excerpt



Born October 11, 1928

Died November 25, 2016

The American countertenor who, alongside his British counterpart Alfred Deller, was integral to the early music movement in the post-war years, has died aged 88. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Oberlin was not simply a tenor singing falsetto. 'I have a naturally high tenor voice which enables me to sing the countertenor repertoire without resorting to falsetto voice', he said.

Oberlin was born in Akron, Ohio, and was soon performing as a treble in the church choir and further afield. He started singing professionally at the age of six, one of his first assignments being to provide the vocals for a radio jingle advertising toilet paper. At the age of 12, he won a nationwide radio talent show, and he went on to study as a high tenor at the Juilliard School in New York. He graduated in 1951 and soon became an important figure in Noah Greenberg's Pro Musica Antiqua, which celebrated the repertoire of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was Greenberg who encouraged Oberlin to switch to countertenor: 'I simply found that the more I sang the higher parts the easier they became', Oberlin told a newspaper in 1961. 'I can sing falsetto, but I really can't go much higher that way than I can otherwise, and the quality is not the same.'

That quality--rich and seamless across a range of more than two octaves and without a hint of Anglican 'hootiness'--led to numerous professional engagements throughout the 1950s and '60s, with Pro Musica (both at home and on foreign tours), opera companies, orchestras (including the New York Philharmonic) and ensembles. …

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