Countertenor Clint van der Linde

Countertenor Clint van der Linde

Countertenor Clint van der Linde started singing at the Drakensberg Boys`Choir School aged ten. In 1996 he was offered an International Scholarship to spend a year at Eton College, during which he was offered a four year BMus degree at the RCM, London. After completing his BMus and Post Graduate Diploma he has performed in concert halls throughout Europe, the US,  Australia and Japan, in venues such as The Carnegie Hall(US), the Lincoln Centre(US), Tanglewood(US), Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Bozar(Brussels), the queen Elizabeth Hall, London, St Martins in the Fields and the Crown Hall in Jerusalem. He has also been engaged in prominent music festivals in Europe.

You, like many male South African singers, were a member of the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir. What role did this play in your musical development?

CvdL: Yes, for a specific era there have been a number of very successful singers – not only in opera, but in other genres as well. From around the time I was at the school the following names should ring a bell: Jacques Imbrailo, William Berger, Dawid Kimberg and Niel Joubert. Year before me was Nicholas Nicolaidis, the Bala brothers.

All these guys are immensely successful musicians and well grounded people and it is no coincidence. I believe it was a golden era at the school and it can be mostly attributed to Bunny Ashley Botha, who was then the head of the music and conductor of one of the two choirs.

I owe pretty much every bit of credit to him. I don’t think I gained much more than 30% more knowledge related to music performance since then, and what I did learn was due to the foundation set up at the school and the appetite for improvement I received from Bunny. He also taught us how to listen to music, which I believe is most important for self-teaching. And of course the love for it. One man’s passion for something is very infectious…

At which point did you realize you were a countertenor and that your voice was not going to “break”?

CvdL: Ah well you see, my voice is broken. It is a very small group, (meaning I know of only of two) male high voice singers who don’t have broken voices. Guys who possibly didn’t develop fully during puberty. These guys still have really high voices like their soprano range, and in addition their timbre also seems “boyish”.

Regular countertenors have a choice really. Our voices break like any other and nearly all broken voices have a facility to sing countertenor. Some blokes just have a better facility than others, and then a better facility in the falsetto than in their chest, or “broken” voice register. The latter is certainly true in my case.

I realized this when I was about 18 years old. I started singing in choirs again and the easiest part to sing was the Alto line. Also, around that time I watched the King’s Singers in concert and was so moved by the alto David Hurley, I thought that it would be cool to sing like him.

Were you disappointed when you realized you were not going to be a tenor/baritone/bass?

CvdL: No, at the time not. But now I see the fantastic repertoire I am missing out on. The countertenor repertoire is quite restricted - generally to early music, or 20th century.

How did your studies and career unfold after school?

CvdL: I first started studying Piano with Professor Joseph Standford at the University of Pretoria. Later that year after doing a Choral Course at Eton College, I gave up university to go back to school. Yip, Eton College it was. My time at Eton set me up for the rest of my stay in the UK. I went to the Royal College of Music for five years after that, luckily and gratefully fully funded. I was involved in amazing projects at College. I performed the St John’s and St Matthew’s Passion of Bach with Peter Schreier; I did five fully staged operas, most of which were title roles. Then, by the time I left, Niel Mackie, head of the vocal faculty had set me up with my first agent to get started in the big wide world.

You have performed widely in Europe. Which opera productions stand out for you?

CvdL: In Europe itself, it must be when I did the title role in Handel’s Rinaldo, at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago. The also working with Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ). But worldwide it is my two visits to the USA last year. Firstly my Carnegie Hall debut with Bach’s Mass in B minor, and with Masaaki Suzuki and BCJ. Later I did Orlando (Handel) in New York and at the Lincoln Centre with Nicholas McGegan and his Philharmonia Baroque. We toured this version to Ravinia and Tanglewood. It was simply awesome!

Are you more comfortable on the opera or recital/oratorio stage?

CvdL: Definitely oratorio. I love making music with more than two people on stage, and I love to communicate directly to the audience. Opera is fun for other reasons. But I always feel so detached from the public. With oratorio you can have four arias, each with a completely different combination of chamber players with you, seldom more than five (depending on the orchestration). To make chamber music is the ultimate for me. Then to directly communicate with the audience at the same time…wonderful!

What is your opinion on countertenor singing “Hosenrollen” (trouser roles), as these parts were originally written for the female voice? Have you personally sung any of these?

CvdM: The countertenor as a solo voice type is a creation of the 20th century. Maybe only Purcell used them, as he himself was one. But it mainly existed in the choir tradition, and mainly in the UK. A lot of Handel was of course written for and done by male Castrati. Some were also done by women. Until the countertenor pitched up, women were doing trouser roles originally not intended for them (i.e. those from the Baroque era) for decades. This was fully accepted by everyone. The rule was to use the voice that can do it! So, I have no objections.

Yes, recently I was in a production of Handel’s Xerxes with the English Touring Opera. Handel wrote the title role for male castrati, and the role of his brother Arsemens for a female voice. However the title role is the higher role, so in our production we had it just the opposite - me in the trouser role, and the lady in the castrati role.

Which roles do you still dream of tackling?

CvdL: I think I have tackled the hardest ones, but I wouldn’t mind doing Giulio Cesare by Handel and if I get to sing any of the Mozart trouser roles I will be pretty thrilled. I do love Mozart.

Do the voices of countertenor have a shorter “lifespan” than other voice types? (I.e. do they need to retire earlier?)

CvdL: On average, yes. I believe they do tire out earlier, but this is not a rule. The voice seems to be having a quality of youthfulness to it, and beyond a certain age that very quality seems to fade. Also the ease of producing the sound becomes harder and feels less natural. At least that is what it sounds like when I hear some countertenor over a certain age. If I should put an age to it I would say around 50. Though there are some like James Bowman, the great legend, who was recording after 60. I did a concert with him years back when he was in his 50’s, still sounding world class. But I might have to retire earlier than other voices yes. I can hopefully stretch it another two decades.

What are your engagements for the next few months?

CvdL: Handel’s Saul in Bielefeld Opera House, Messiahs in Japan with BCJ and later on some more Agrippina for the English Touring Opera. I’ll also be doing The Messiah in the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall and at the Halle Festival.

Interview by Christien Coetzee Klingler
Published 24. 09.2012

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