Meet the countertenor on a mission

ByDavid Wadsworth Localish logo
Friday, June 7, 2024
Meet the countertenor on a mission
"The more that we do these shows, the more I realize that I'm reaching an audience who is not having their needs met."

NEW YORK -- Jordan Rutter-Covatto is professional countertenor based in New York City.

People hearing him perform for the first time are sometimes taken by surprise, because his singing voice sounds much higher than they expect.

"The simplest way to describe a countertenor is to say this: in opera, it's a man who sings in a woman's range," Rutter-Covatto said.

Countertenors often have tenor or baritone chest voices, but sing in falsetto or head voice much more often than they do in their chest voice, giving them their unusual range.

Rutter-Covatto explains that when he was in college, he studied and performed as a baritone. He sang well, but his voice teacher actually recommended that he not plan on a career as a professional opera singer.

But then one day, "when we were doing certain warm-ups, he started to hear something and asked me if I had ever considered singing as a countertenor," said Rutter-Covatto.

He tried it out. The results weren't just good - they were exceptional. And his teacher's suggestion turned out to be life-changing.

"It was difficult for me because it required me to give up a lot of my own hang ups about my masculinity," said Rutter-Covatto. "But in exchange, I was suddenly in a place where the voice was really commercially viable. And I ended up in New York at Manhattan School of Music for grad school. And I've been working ever since."

Professional countertenors are rare and therefore in demand. But the amount of music written for them is limited, so Rutter-Covatto spends time creating new opportunities for himself to perform.

He recently founded the arts collective Counter Codex with his husband, Vincent Rutter-Covatto, an arts administrator at Opera America, a service organization supporting opera companies and related groups across the country.

Together, they mounted an original production called POLYMATH, which premiered in March at the Cell Theatre in New York Citys Chelsea neighborhood.

"The whole idea of the project was to deconstruct the form of a recital," said Jordan. "I want to reclaim queer narratives. So we're doing classical music and horror. These are two genres that have huge queer followings."

In addition to several staples of classical repertoire, POLYMATH featured a number of original songs.

Several were written by Rutter-Covatto for a fellow performer, soprano Sydney Anderson, who is active as a soloist and producer in New Yorks performing-arts scene. Others were written for the countertenor by a friend and longtime collaborator, composer Joseph N. Rubinstein.

"This is a pretty personal collaboration between me and Jordan," said Rubinstein. "We talked a lot about this piece and what we wanted, and we tried to find a subject that both of us cared about: places where this world overlaps with the next world."

There was also a live reading of a horror story by the writer Andre Salas, read by NYC-based actor Saul Nache. And accompanying the whole production was pianist Mila Henry, who specializes in contemporary music.

In keeping with the multimedia theme, there was also a photography exhibit by the New York- based photographer GDM, who created portraits of Rutter-Covatto that adorned the walls of the performance space.

And behind the scenes overseeing the entire production was Vincent Rutter-Covatto.

"Jordan, my husband, brings the artistic vision, and I am helping to bring that vision to life," said Vincent. "We want this to be social and fun and thought-provoking and emotional. I want it to do all of the things that make me love art. I want to give that experience to each one of our audience members."

Opening night, featuring several world premieres, was sold out, and the house was packed for two additional performances.

Judging by the thunderous applause at the end of the shows, the pair appears to have met or even exceeded their expectations.

"The more that we do these shows, the more I realize that I'm reaching an audience who is not having their needs met," said Jordan. "When you take a medium, any medium, and create it in a way that is welcoming and engaging, the interest is there."