Walk like a man, talk like a man,” or so the song goes. When people think of a man with a high voice, they often think of Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, or Art Garfunkel. Michael Maniaci, a male soprano, is a 32-year old singer whose voice is being compared to that of many female sopranos. What’s the difference? Female sopranos are from Venus, and the male sopranos, from Mars, right? I’m afraid to ask.

Singing as a boy, Maniaci discovered a love for music and singing. Then, reaching puberty, his voice didn’t change, or at least, not much. To this day, as far as we know, he remains to be the only natural male soprano on the operatic stage today. I ask if his vocal range is the same as a female soprano.

More or less,” Maniaci replies, “I mean, my voice most naturally rests in sort of a high lyric mezzo tessitura. I call myself a soprano because I’m not a countertenor and the roles that I sing are substantially higher that what traditional countertenors can do.” He adds, “If people are expecting to hear a countertenor, then I will be far from what they expect.”

After graduating from Cincinnati Conservatory where he studied with David Adams, he applied to Juilliard School of Music, but initially, they wouldn’t accept him. Eventually, he studied with Marlena Malas, at Juilliard.

As his voice matured, it began to settle in the “middle-higher” range. Through “trial and error” Maniaci found himself singing “pretty much what was written for the soprano and mezzo-soprano castrati” – mostly music by Handel, Mozart and Monteverdi – and, in the classical repertoire, the “trouser roles” which were actually written for women portraying men.

He won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2003, the same year he sang the role of Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with Opera Atelier. A few years later, in 2006, he returned to sing an all-Mozart program with Tafelmusik, as well as appearing in OA’s production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. He reprises the role of Nerone later this month.

I’ve done it many times. Having had a chance to grow up with this role has been such a unique experience. I feel like I’m coming back anew with a wonderful amount of confidence, not only vocally and artistically, but with the opportunity to find more depth, insight, and drama than I would have before.”

In past seasons, Mr. Maniaci has sung for the Metropolitan, Glimmerglass, Santa Fe, Pittsburgh, The Royal Danish, Cleveland, New York City, and the Houston Grand Opera. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2002 with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

It hasn’t all been an easy ride for Maniaci. In fact, it has been difficult for some conductors and directors to accept him for operatic roles. He takes it all in stride.

With anything new, there’s always going to be confusion and apprehension”

Coming into a tradition where everyone wants to categorize, I don’t fit. It’s always going to be a challenge. That’s just part of my job as well as much as making sure I’m well-prepared for an engagement.”

Maniaci has been grateful for the ongoing nurturing relationship that he has enjoyed with Opera Atelier. "Working with Opera Atelier is one of those unique experiences that every artist hopes for throughout the course of a career.It's a thrill to go back into the arena with them and dive into the repertoire. Marshall Pynkoski as a director is one of the most straightforward, well-prepared, and dramatically astute directors I've ever worked with." He is also thankful for the generous four-week rehearsal period. especially considering the highly-animated staging that makes Opera Atelier unique.

What’s new? His highly-anticipated recording of Exsultate, jubilate and Mozart arias with Boston Baroque for Telarc is sure to perk up your ears.

Claudio Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea is described as a “lavish spectacle of love and ambition, power and greed.” There are very few operas like this one. (April 25, 26, 28, 20, May 1, 2)

Tafelmusik and Montreal’s Les Voix Baroques combine forces for a performance of Bach’s great masterpiece, St. Matthew Passion. They are joined by only twelve singers in this dramatic and powerful story. The international cast of vocalists, includes Hana Blazikova, Monika Mauch, Matthew White, Margaret Bragle, Hans Jorg Mammel, Stephen MacLeod, Sumner Thompson, and Charles Daniels as the Evangelist (April 2 – 5, 7). Website: www.tafelmusik.org

Speaking of countertenors, Daniel Cabena and Richard Whittall, are accompanied by Joëlle Morton (viola da gamba) and Sara-Anne Churchill (chamber organ) in a performance of François Couperin’s exquisite Leçons de Ténèbres which were inspired by the liturgy for Holy Week. These truly elegant settings of verses from The Lamentations of Jeremiah are musical gems of radiant beauty. The program also includes Couperin’s Magnificat, the Deuxième Suite (from Pièces de viole, 1728) and the Récit de Tierce and Duo sur les Tierces (from the Messe pour les convents, 1690). (April 18). Website: www.scaramella.ca

Frank T. Nakashima (franknak@interlog.com) is the President of the Toronto Early Music Centre, a non-profit charitable organization which promotes the appreciation of historically-informed performances of early music.

Music Quiz

The castrato was:

  1. an “artificial” male soprano

  2. a superficial female soprano

  3. a casting director

In celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of Henry Purcell, the Toronto Masque
Theatre, present King Arthur with great singers - Daniel Auchincloss, Benjamin
Butterfield, Teri Dunn, Anne Grimm, Daniel Taylor, Giles Tomkins, Agnes Asigovics -
actors, dancers and period orchestra directed by concertmaster Larry Beckwith (April 22,
23, 24).


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