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Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

The Brooklyn-born countertenor is making a mark in Baroque and contemporary music.
By Henry Stewart 

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Photograph by Dario Acosta
Grooming by Affan Graber Malik
Wardrobe by Marlon Corvera

Jacquard wool/silk Martini suit by Dolce & Gabbana
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Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, set to be King David in California
© Dario Acosta

ARYEH NUSSBAUM COHEN is just twenty-four, but he’s already a counter-tenor on the rise. On Kenneth Fuchs’s Poems of Life, released on CD in August, he sounds remarkably secure, gracefully traversing a tessitura that can cause some in his fach to strain. “Most countertenors are struggling baritones [who] realize, ‘Oh, I have a pretty nice falsetto—let me give this a whirl,’” he says, chuckling. “I’m the rare case in that I’ve always been a countertenor. But not by any plan—by luck and ignorance. I was in children’s choir, and my voice dropped. But I liked singing in the choir, so I kind of finagled and managed to keep singing alto. I always joke that my range dropped a minor third when my voice dropped.”

Raised in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Nussbaum Cohen was discovered, so to speak, in middle school, at a friend’s American Idol-themed karaoke birthday party, where one of the moms was impressed by his singing. His parents brought him to audition for Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and there he learned the basics—and got the chance to perform behind pop stars. “I always say I peaked at age thirteen, singing backup for Elton John at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.”

He discovered opera while at Princeton, where he was majoring in public policy, when he won a ticket to La Bohème at the Met. “Little did I know La Bohème was the perfect first opera,” he says. “I’m sure I was [also] entering for Capriccio.” Mind blown, he changed his major, but after graduation in 2015, he was rejected from various postgrad programs. So he studied independently, his efforts culminating in a 2017 win at the Met National Council Auditions and a rave review in The New York Times. “Things changed overnight,” he says.

This season, he’s an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera and sings with various ensembles around town, including a New Year’s Eve concert with American Bach Soloists, featuring the Handel and Gluck rep he’ll then record for his first solo album, planned for the spring. In April, he’ll sing King David in Handel’s Saul around the Bay Area with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. “My mom posted on Facebook, ‘Most Jewish parents want their kids to be a lawyer or a doctor—but I’ll take my son being King David any day.’” spacer



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