Jake Arditti © Musichall
Jake Arditti
© Musichall
October is Baroque Month here at Bachtrack. Recent years have seen the unstoppable rise of the countertenor – they're everywhere! We thought it was about time we caught up with some of today's leading countertenors to find out more. Jake Arditti  studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under Andrew Watts and the Royal College of Music‚ with Russell Smythe. He has been described as "a rising star countertenor" (The Observer).

How do you explain the explosion in popularity of countertenors?

It is the resurgence of Baroque opera and the early music movement of the 20th century that is to blame for this explosion. As well as our constant desire for new works, it seems audiences and practitioners, similarly have the same hunger for old musical treasures. 
Whilst the castrati were considered far superior to their non-mutated distant countertenor cousins in the Baroque era, the practice of castration is fortunately no longer allowed! Thanks to our godfather, Alfred Deller, and other leaders of the 20th century countertenor revolution, such as James Bowman, it has become common practice worldwide to see countertenors on the operatic stage. 

However, with the rise in popularity and a resurgence of Baroque opera, countertenors have acquired a stardom comparable to that of the castrati. The castrati were considered the pop stars of the 18th century and I am thrilled that audiences today seem to have a similar love and fascination for the countertenor voice.             

Which is your favourite opera role and why?

I am still considered a relatively young artist, so I’ve yet to explore the full countertenor repertoire. That being said, there are several roles to date that I have absolutely adored singing. I am happiest singing strong, dramatic, Handelian characters, such as Rinaldo and more recently Xerxes. Right now, I am having a lot of fun as a sprightly Amore in Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea at Theater an der Wien, where I look forward to singing the role of Nerone again in a new Robert Carsen production of Agrippina. As far as I’m concerned, the more diverse and dramatic the role the better. First and foremost I look for parts that are vocally suited to my range and everything else is a bonus. If I can sing it, I’ll do it!

Jake Arditti as Nerone at the Gottingen Handel Festival © Alrico Theodoro da Silva
Jake Arditti as Nerone at the Gottingen Handel Festival
© Alrico Theodoro da Silva

When did you discover your countertenor voice? 

After a nasty accident! No, not really! I started young, as a boy treble, singing in several operas with ENO and then singing Yniold (Pelléas et Mélisande) at Glyndebourne. Inevitably my voice broke around 13 or 14 and I had a miserable few months wondering if I would ever sing again. After a summer of rest, I began work on my modal voice. It was a somewhat traumatic experience and my voice felt extremely foreign. I no longer had the ease of singing that I once had and wasn’t sure where I was going with it. It was whilst messing around at the piano with my mother, a violist, that I discovered I was countertenor. She was playing her favourite piece, Bach’s Prelude in C major with her usual handfuls of wrong notes and I started singing Gounod’s Ave Maria over the top. What started out as mere mockery, ended up being the start of my life as a countertenor.

What is your approach to da capo ornamentation? Is there a balance to be found between florid fireworks and good taste?!

The da capo form was used by composers to allow singers to make variations and embellishments to arias when the main theme returns. It is a tool for artists to show skill and finesse, to colour music and text, enhance drama and to woo an audience. When approaching ornamentation, of course one has to think about style, but fireworks and vocal acrobatics are extremely important too. As long as ornaments are dramatically viable and remain within the realms of good taste, why on earth not, I say go for it!

What’s the strangest thing you’ve been asked to do on an operatic stage?

Most recently in a production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, I was playing an extremely fat and stroppy US president as an interpretation of Prince Go-Go. In the scene with Gepopo (the chief of police), I had to perform extreme acts of a sexual nature on the coloratura soprano. Poor Susanne Elmark sang stratospheric vocal passages whilst bent over a desk being abused by a man in a fat suit. Well, you did ask!

Click here for Jake Arditti's performer page on Bachtrack.