Countertenors, castrati or contraltos

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Countertenors, castrati or contraltos

In a recent review of a DG / Westminster recording of Handel's Serse the reviewer noted that 'as countertenors in those days were thin on the ground the role was assumed by a contralto' (as an excuse for casting Maureen Forrester). This made me wonder if the current prevailing practice of casting of countertenors in those type of roles is really the authentic choice - did the reviewer perhaps mean that 'castratis were thin on the ground'?

And, as a follow-on, I would appreciate some enlightening with regards to the choice of countertenors in lieu of mezzos or contraltos. I would traditionally have a penchant for Forrester, Baker, Troyanos singing the Handel heroes, on record anyway, though I accept that the visual impact on stage may alter my view. My recorded Handel is limited to Richter, Leppard, Mackerras, Priestman etc but I would very much like to supplement with Gardiner, Curtis, Harnoncourt, etc. However, I am struggling with accepting the sounds of countertenors in lieu of the formiddable exclamation of those ladys. What is it I need to adjust my ear to?

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