Marcelo Alvarez: Living the high life
As Marcelo Alvarez attempts to rival Pavarotti as ‘king of the high Cs’ at Covent Garden, Jessica Duchen explains why hitting the top notes can make or break a singer’s career
Published: 12 February 2007
King of the high Cs: it’s a handy pun. But why are operatic high Cs such a big deal? The high C – actually, any inordinately high note sung long and loud – has a mystique all its own. Watching the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez soaring through the nine Cs of the show-stopping aria “Ah, mes amis” in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment at Covent Garden recently, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s about adrenaline. We’re pre-programmed to respond to high, loud noises with that old fight-or-flight instinct, an adrenaline rush. A tenor’s top notes, however refined, still provoke it. All he has to do is stand and deliver them, and the public goes bananas.
Verdi’s romantic blockbuster Il trovatore, currently showing at the Royal Opera House, features one of the most famous high Cs of the lot, in the aria “Di quella pira”. “There’s something apparently superhuman about a tenor singing a long, high note,” comments Marcelo Alvarez, the barrel-chested Argentinian tenor who’s singing it in the role of the troubadour Manrico. “Everyone responds to this astonishing sound that they feel they’ll never be able to make themselves.”
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