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Countertenor for a rockstar era

13 December, 2019 — By Michael White

Jakub Józef Orlinski

There was a time when countertenors were, if not a joke, at least misunderstood. They were the pale, intense young men who sang falsetto in cathedral choirs. And when they broke out of the choir stalls into concert halls and opera houses – for the most part singing music that was written for castratos centuries before – it took a while for audiences to accept them.

Alfred Deller was among the first to find fame in the 1960s/70s, and there’s a much-told story of a German woman who demanded of him: “You are eunuch?” To which he replied: “I think you mean unique.”

These days it’s a different story. Countertenors pour out of conservatoires. And far from pale, they cultivate a showbiz glamour – typified by Jakub Józef Orliński, the young Polish poster boy for the falsetto voice who sings at Wigmore Hall on Saturday, December 14.

Orliński is a serious artist who delivers baroque repertoire with style and won a Gramophone Award for it the other month. But alongside the vocal pyrotechnics he has rockstar glamour. When he isn’t singing Handel or Vivaldi you can find him posting breakdance videos on YouTube (nobody in opera does it better). And because he’s easy on the eye, he also has a modelling career, appearing in campaigns for Nike, Levi and Mercedes-Benz.
He’ll certainly attract a different sort of audience to the Wigmore, which however wonderful can sometimes be a touch staid.
If you want to be a part of it, his concert – with the period opera group Il Pomo d’Oro – is 7.30pm, £18+, Saturday December 14. Wigmore Hall, Wigmore Street, W1, 020 7935 2141, wigmore-hall.org.uk

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