If you listen to classical music, you’ll probably know that women get to sing soprano or mezzo-soprano parts or even contralto parts but nothing much lower. And yet men’s voices range from countertenor to basso profundo. So what is this? Men can have high voices but women can’t have low voices?
I went to the modern fount of all wisdom (the internet) and discovered a lively debate going on among classical voice teachers whether “normal” women with deep voices exist or not. You can get the gist of it here, but be warned, some folks there have crusty ideas.
I found plenty of celebrated deep-voiced female singers outside the classical tradition (think Lauren Bacall, Eartha Kitt, Diamanda Gala, Tracey Chapman etc, to name but a few), particularly in musical styles influenced by the African Diaspora.
To my delight my search eventually led me to the works that Antonio Vivaldi wrote for the women of the Ospedale della Pietà (an orphanage), situated near his homein Venicein the early 18th century. The Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi is an all-female ensemble who perform these works today, clearly showcasing the vocal parts Vivaldi wrote for the female tenors and basses whom he mention in his records.
To learn more about the musical women of the Ospedale della Pietà and the women who are recreating their music today, you can watch this documentary and visit this website (worth a visit just for their summary of the crazy theories that have been put forward to try and explain away the existence of the women for whom Vivaldi wrote the music).