Russell Oberlin was America’s first well-known countertenor. According to The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, a countertenor is a high “male [voice] not to be confused with male alto, falsetto, or castrato, and with a strong, almost [instrumental] purity of tone.” Countertenors were popular in Handel’s and Purcell’s time, and had a revival in the mid-20th century.
Oberlin (October 11, 1928-November 26, 2016) performed extensively during the 1950s and 1960s and gained exposure through the new medium of television as well as film. He stopped performing in the mid-60s to devote his time to teaching. He was on the faculty at Hunter College for 30 years.
Leonard Bernstein selected Oberlin for a 1955 recording of Handel’s Messiah, and he was cast in the role of Oberon for Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Oberlin was a founding member of the Pro Music Antiqua (now New York Pro Musica), a vocal and instrumental ensemble devoted to medieval and Renaissance music.