ACO 2024: Meet countertenor Iestyn Davies
Award-winning countertenor Iestyn Davies’s performances have been described as “a pleasure that verges on the sublime” (The Guardian).
In 2024, the British singer makes his Australian debut, bringing the captivating music of JS Bach and Arvo Pärt to life during Silence & Rapture, our new collaboration with Sydney Dance Company and Choreographer & Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela.
Davies was born in York, in England, and started his music studies with the piano and the recorder. He was from a musical family (his father was a professional cellist) and he began singing as a countertenor when he attended Wells Cathedral School.
Iestyn Davies has performed at world-famous opera houses, including Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
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What is a countertenor?
Davies has a heavenly countertenor voice. Countertenor is a typically male voice type which has the same range as the mezzo-soprano or contralto, so just under the soprano, which is the highest voice in the typical choir.
Speaking with Classic FM in the UK, Iestyn described his range as that of an alto:
“The range that I sing is probably a couple of octaves – from the G below middle C to the G two octaves above that. And there are some countertenors who may sing a whole fourth higher than that,” he explained.
Davies also pointed out that there are very few countertenors around. “It's not a voice that, in inverted commas, is natural. When boys' voices break the voice they tend to sing with is their speaking voice. If you go to a football crowd you don't hear people singing countertenor, they naturally shout out in their bass, baritone or tenor voice.”
Iestyn actually did that for a while; sung 'naturally' as a bass for a bit. He sings falsetto to perform with the top range of his voice.
When he made his debut at the Met Opera in 2011, Davies became the first ever British countertenor to grace the stage there.
“Iestyn Davies reigns supreme among countertenors.”– The Independent
Honours and awards
His recital discs have won three Gramophone Awards, and he performed on the Grammy-winning recording of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest.
Davies won the Audience Prize at the London Handel Singing Competition In 2004 and he was named “Young Artist of the Year” by the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010.
He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to music.
He is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.
A stint on Broadway
In 2017, Davies began playing the singing voice of Farinelli in Farinelli and the King at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. He performed in the role in London West End and at Shakespear’s Globe.
He was nominated for an Olivier Award for the performance.
Subscribe to the ACO 2024 Season at aco.com.au/2024.