Monday, June 24, 2013

Artist Profile: Countertenor Gus Mercante

Gus Mercante sings very high notes – and when he does you can feel the audience jerk awake wondering how a man can produce notes in the stratosphere normally reserved for altos and mezzosopranos.  Yet, the quality of upper notes in a countertenor are smoother than a soprano voice, more boyish and without that extra strain that can irritate the listener when an untrained soprano reaches a bit too high in her range.  The countertenor uses a trained upper range that is not a falsetto like Smokey Robinson’s voice (which I also love, by the way), but more like a pure and directed sound which many describe as ‘head voice’.  The trick is to make the transition from that upper range to the lower notes without changing the quality of the vocal production. 

When Gus sings his very high range, it seems as if his voice is landing downwards from a gentle height.  His rounded, well-controlled tones are exactly what has garnered him myriad awards.  He won the 2007 Austrian American Society prize, a 2009 Fulbright scholarship to Germany  which included performances with opera companies in Augsburg, Nurnberg and Munich.  

This week Gus will perform in the Tanglewood Music Festival – a summer training and performing school which has been used to launch giants of American music such as Leonard Bernstein.  Originally, Tanglwood was the site of summer concerts for the Boston Symphony under the baton of Serge Kousevitsky, and it has now grown to a full-time music center which attracts over 350,000 visitors and attendees each summer.  For Gus to perform in the American premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, conducted by the composer – one of Britain’s prominent musicians -  is quite a coup for our local talent. 

Fame won’t change Gus.  He is always helping others – making calls to organize musicians and delivering scores to be transposed, handing out programs at the Italian festival with the calm of any old volunteer – yet, minutes later, he is singing his heart out to give a startlingly passionate rendition of Di tanti palpiti from Rossini’s Tancredi . His voice soars and resounds – especially in such a reverberant church.  In spite of thunderous applause, Gus’s first reaction is to study what he could have done to improve, which is no doubt why he is so good.

When he is not studying or helping others organize concerts, Gus is an active contributor to charities and worthy causes.  He makes his music work for others with his organization Lifesongs with which he raises money for charities and individuals as well as community-centered projects. 

I encourage you to listen to Gus while he is still a local artist, because those days may be limited. 

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