Meet Daniel Cabena, Canada's next countertenor superstar. Cabena is one of CBC Music's Next! artists for 2013. Next! presents eight rising Canadian stars in classical music, recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio 2's In Concert. Below you can learn about Cabena, listen to him perform and let him tell you all about being a countertenor, one of music's rarer voice types.
Cabena studied at Wilfrid Laurier University and l’Université de Montréal before relocating to Switzerland to study at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, one of the leading early music conservatories in Europe. He has also taken part in numerous workshops and academies, including the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, l’Académie Internationale de Musique de Comminges, l’Académie baroque européenne d’Ambronay and the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme.
Cabena is the 2012 recipient of the Virginia Parker Prize and a past recipient of the Bernard Diamant Prize, both from the Canada Council for the Arts. He was also the third prize winner of the 2011 Froville International Baroque Singing Competition of France. In September 2012, Cabena made his debut at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in a new Robert Carsen production of Philippe Fénelon’s opera for the Jean-Jacques Rousseau tercentenary, JJR (Citoyen de Genève).
Listen to an excerpt from CBC's exclusive recording session with Cabena.
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Ditty (from A Young Man's Exhortation), Gerald Finzi.
Countertenors sing in a range similar to altos or mezzo-sopranos, and they are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. New operatic roles are composed specifically for them, re-popularized baroque operas require them and since no castrati remain in the singing world, countertenors are asked to sing their repertoire as well.
Deviants among us?
Despite their popularity, countertenors seem to be widely misunderstood. In an email to CBC, Cabena describes a personal experience that illustrates this: “After I won a singing competition some 10 years ago, the organizers of the competition in question received an anonymous letter expressing shock and dismay at the jury [for] having awarded a sexual deviant (read: me!) with the first prize.”
A particular misunderstanding is that countertenors only perform a small, period-specific repertoire. Cabena posits that “it's a mistake to associate the countertenor voice most closely with the early music movement. We sing opera roles that were composed for castrati, we sing lute songs and we sing repertoire that would have been sung by boys."
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Down by the Salley Gardens, Benjamin Britten.
The sex appeal of falsetto
In a vocal world dominated by barihunks and sultry sopranos, is there any room for the countertenor? Cabena thinks so.
“I think people find something impressive, perhaps even heroic, about a man singing high," he says. "We sing in a range often occupied by female singers, but we stand onstage as men. Nor is our tonal quality particularly 'masculine' or 'feminine.' I think the ambiguity itself can be sexy.”
Countertenors are in demand, they're sexy and can sing almost any repertoire. Does anything hold these guys back? Cabena suggests that “the countertenor almost always has less sheer power than his colleagues. This, however, is not a hindrance if he chooses repertoire to fit his instrument's strengths; and music written specifically for the male falsetto voice carefully brings out its unique qualities.”
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Silent Noon (from The House of Life), Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Tune in to CBC Radio 2's In Concert on Sunday, March 24, to hear Cabena's performance and clips from his CBC interview where you'll learn things such as:
- The five composers he enjoys the most.
- What he loves watching while doing his ironing.
- Why he would've been a doctor or dog trainer if not a singer.
- The three most unusual things on his iPod.
For more information, visit DanielCabena.com. To hear the rest of his CBC Music studio session, visit Concerts on Demand.
Cabena's upcoming engagements:
March 29: St. John Passion with Berlin Baroque in Berlin, Germany.
April 14–30: Purcell's Indian Queen with Le Concert Spirituel in Schwetzingen, Germany.
May 4–5: Bach Easter and Ascension Oratorios with the Zürcher Sing-Akademie in Zurich, Switzerland.
May 10: Duet recital with Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano, in Venice.
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