Upper register Armitage

This is mostly a curiosity, posted in response to fitzg’s comment that if Mr. Armitage were a tenor we might react differently to his voice. I’m absolutely sure that’s true, though I am not sure exactly what it means (does a different reaction mean liking it less?). Anyway, fitzg’s comment made me think of this early scene from Macbeth (Act One, scene three) in which Mr. Armitage is almost breathless and thus speaking nearer to the top of his pitch register. (A rarity, in that his more recent roles he’s moved his voice ever deeper.)

I’ll confess that the moment I like most in this snippet is at 0:27 when Armitage, playing Angus, says “thanks” (“We are sent to give thee from our royal master thanks,” l. 105). I have this thing for how Mr. Armitage pronounces that particular digraph: th. For readers like me who enjoy the hopeless academic complication (or analysis) of everything, this sound is an example of the voiceless dental fricative. I also like the particular short “a” vowel he achieves in this word as well.

Read all of Macbeth.

Watch the scene from which this snippet comes.

Watch all of the 2001 RSC Macbeth.

Annette’s commentary on the 2001 RSC Macbeth and Mr. Armitage’s participation in it, including mentions of press coverage.

~ by Servetus on October 30, 2010.

44 Responses to “Upper register Armitage”

  1. Actually, the comment reflected only a strong personal bias; a personal non-reaction to the male tenor voice. (Sorry, any tenors who happen to read this blog).

    Thank you so much, servetus, for posting the RSC MacBeth. It’s just an extraodinarily flexible voice. Can still hear the “chocolate” quality, even in the higher registers.


    • Did not mean to pick on you for not liking tenors; I just thought it was an interesting comment. 🙂

      This is a strong production of Macbeth. I know everyone is now looking at the Patrick Stewart one. I’m not an expert on interprs of this particular play or Shakespeare; I like a lot of what I see, and I did think Anthony Sher was great. And Richard Armitage, of course 🙂


  2. Gosh, it’s been ages — senior year in high school, when we read it aloud in class and (yippee!) I read Lady Macbeth’s part — since I read the Scottish play, although I have watched a few movie versions of it since then.

    I first become familiar with RA’s voice as Guy, in which he did pitch his baritone even deeper than normal. I loved that dark chocolate rumble. Very sexy like the leather-clad man himself.

    The first time I heard him in an interview he sounded so different to me. And yes his Guy voice seemed like and was a perfect fit for the character. It certainly wasn’t that I disliked his “natural” voice; it’s wonderful. But I realized, unlike some actors who basically sound the same for every part, RA subtly changes his for each role.

    I prefer deep voices in men. Come to think of it, I don’t care for excessively high-pitched voices in men or women. It’s almost akin to nails scratching on a chalkboard for me to listen to it.

    But it’s not just that his voice is deep; it’s so–flexible. Think of how he raises the pitch for his female characters in audio books. How gently and soothing he can sound. And how stern and unyielding. Brutal and harsh. Tender and gentle. His voice seems to have as much of a chameleon-like quality to it as his body and face.

    I’m still not sure he’s entirely human. Mind you, I have no complaints . . .


    • I read it for the first time in the fall of my senior year in high school as well. I also know we had to write an essay on it, but I don’t remember what I said. Our teacher was a crazed Anglophile. It was probably good for us. I didnt really get into the play until I started to understand its historical significance, i.e., in grad school.

      His voice is amazing. Probably even better now than back then since he has done all the audiobooks.


      • I remember being prescribed heavy doses of English lit of the British kind in high school–and how I loved it. I tried not to let it be known to my classmates quite how much I liked Shakespeare, though.

        I felt as if I walked to the beat of a different drummer quite enough, thank you. ( ; I will have to watch that entire production with RA in it.

        And I would say, yes, his voice is even more amazing, just as his command of his expressive face, his physicality, all have improved as he has continued to grow and develop as an actor. And he’s gotten more beautiful, too. *sigh*


        • I don’t object to anything about my high school English education except for the massive, massive doses of Dickens. That was unnecessary. But I know why they did it.


  3. I’m listening to the audiobook of The Hobbit read by Rob Inglis who does a deep barritone voice for both Gandulf and Theorin with a slight variation. It is quiet exciting to visualize RA’s rendition and I hope the singing will remain in the script!


    • Absolutely — the songs are really important in characterizing the dwarves, e.g., at the beginning, where they sing about what Bilbo Baggins hates!


      • I love that Bilbo song–and having had a taste of his singing in Clarissa, am dying to hear RA do more singing! Would love to hear him sing and also to see those elegant hands plucking away at a harp.


        • Richard’s voice is wonderful – it is a not too heavy baritone, not Wotan or Flying Dutchman, but Wolfram von Eschenbach in Tannhäuser, or Marquis Posa in Don Carlos. Amfortas possibly – although it might be a stretch (you see, unlike Harry, I like my Wagner 🙂 ). And I love to imagine my favourite actors’ voices in operatic roles! Robert Lindsay who his a very clever comedian who was also in a few musicals, for instance, has a very clear tenor voice – he would be a wonderful evangelist in Bach’s Passions.

          Come to think of it – the only voices who come close to Richard’s, in my world, are Oscar Werner and Matthew Macfadyen’s.


    • Did Rob Inglis actually sing? And did Tolkien write or approve any melody for the songs? Just questions whirling round my head randomly.


  4. I really like his voice in this clip! Better than when he’s trying to make it reeeeally low for some roles like Lucas (though I also like his voice there too…)


    • There’s an interesting way that he backs off the end of the last line (“o’erthrown”) in volume as well as in timbre that makes you incline your head closer to hear him.


  5. Servetus, first let me “thank” you for providing the link to this production with Mr. Armitage. I had not seen it and am happy that I have now done so.

    I also appreciated the instruction as to the dental fricative. It also seems that the “Thanks” here is the same as the “thanks” in North & South and wonder if it is a by product of the accent he is using.

    Master’s level course, at least! 🙂


    • Learning is so much fun, isn’t it?


    • We do our best 🙂 I learned a lot here, as well. For instance:

      Initially, I found this whole distinction in means of making the “th” sound confusing. I understand the distinction between the positioning of the tongue in regards to your teeth, and the resulting sound, but the explanation as to the use of the vocal cords in producing the sound confused me for a bit.

      I listen to this sound a lot because many of my European friends (native speakers of German and French) struggle to make it. I was practicing saying “thanks” with my conversational French tutor just this week.

      Further study of the wikipedia article on pronunciation of “th” in English suggested that Armitage’s pronunciation here is indeed emphatically North English, as opposed to the “th-fronting” (a term I learned yesterday) that we hear in many of the Londoners in the show (e.g., in 7.3, where they say bruvver instead of brother). Cf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_of_English_th


      • ok, I’m still stuck at the fact that you have a “conversational French tutor”.


        • Like a lot of people in my generation of historians I took a course in French in order to be able to read secondary literature in that language. It has never been a problem to read French (I have extensive coursework in Spanish, and brief coursework and a lot of experience reading Latin, which help a lot) but I have no idea how to actually speak French. Never had more than the very very basics of pronunciation. I’m doing some favors for someone who’s a native speaker of French, and she suggested that she’d trade teaching me how to speak the language. That’s really the whole story. It’s been a lot of fun.

          She’s looking for a teaching position in the US this year, and she feels she needs to work on her English pronunciation, so she was saying words involving “th” during our last lesson and I was encouraging her 🙂


          • servetus, you are the only person I know that can “name drop” multiple languages and not sound arrogant. 🙂 My French is rustier than my Latin and that’s saying something!


            • Ann Marie, don’t let me fake you out — there are so many things I’m basically incompetent at. And even linguistically by the standards of the academy I am rather a loser. My college boyfriend by the time he graduated could speak fluently Russian, French, German, Spanish, and Yiddish — and he had studied Latin. In grad school he went on to master Polish and Czech. I’ve lost track of him recently but I suspect he’s moved on even further.


              • Dollars to donuts he couldn’t run this gentle asylum as graciously as you do.

                Just to make you laugh I was talking to my bff who is also fluent in several languages and was cracking her up with my version of my really rusty French. It comes out like the French in the Pink Panther (bumph, rhoom, etc). Good times.


                • Well, you know, communication goes beyond language. Humor is an important piece 🙂


                • When I was teaching French I mimicked Inspector Clouseau for my students as an example of how NOT to speak French. Gave them a good laugh, too. *grin*


      • I thought of the way some Londoners also say “bovver” instead of “bother” as I read this. And that Catherine Tate show character–the teenage girl?
        Quite a few languages don’t have the “th” sound we have in English, I’m thinking. When I taught French I noticed after a day spent speaking a lot in that language my voice was more tired than usual. I was using my vocal cords differently.

        I employed a Russian/Eastern European accent most of the day Friday in my guise as gypsy fortune teller and, as I am out of practice “talking funny,” my vocal cords felt strained again. But it was worth it. *grin*


  6. I also forgot to inquire, didn’t he smoke at one point and that could affect the voice…


    • Jury is still out on how much he smokes, though he has been photographed smoking very occasionally. I’ve seen one picture, and I’ve heard tell of a second.


      • I’m thinking at most he is likely a social smoker–I know a few of those–rather than a two-pack-a-day kind of guy.

        Mainly because how in the world could he have maintained such a punishing regimen when preparing for some of his roles (particularly Strike Back) while indulging a heavy smoking habit?

        A couple of my young co-workers smoke pretty heavily, and my gosh, they have the most horrible coughs sometimes. I half expect them to hack up a lung some days.


        • I think the discourse on smoking in the US paints anyone who smokes at all as a heavy smoker / nicotine addict. This is a cultural pattern rather than an actual state of affairs. I’ve known plenty of people who smoke a cigarette every now and then for whatever reason. Not to say there aren’t plenty of people with a problematic relationship to smoking, just that that’s not the only way to consume cigarettes.


          • Good point. Also down here in the Bible Belt if you drink at all, some would paint you as a dipsomaniac. The Evil of Strong Drink.
            Trust me, if the nice newspaper lady showed up at the ABC store (state-controlled liquor store) rumors would abound she was a lush. (Doesn’t help that one of my predecessors at the paper back in the 90s WAS a lush, of course.)

            I have a drink every now and again, but I definitely don’t have a problem with alcohol, I am happy to say. So it could be the same sort of situation with Mr. A.


  7. BTW, did you know that there is a MacBeth Navigator on google that lets you look up any character and know what scene(s) he is in…it was very helpful…


    • This reminds me of the iPhone and iPod Touch . . . “there’s an app for that.”

      There really does seem to be something for everything you might want to do online these days. It’s amazing to me.


  8. “Voiceless dental fricative” is such a hot word. Now, finally, I know what “stimmloser dentaler Reibelaut” is in English. 😀

    Thank you, Dr. Servetus!


    • Anything for you, Nietzsche 🙂

      I found out recently that the German term “Auslaut” is actually the standard term in English as well. (This was an important thing for me as for my first year in German instruction I couldn’t really hear the difference between “e” and “a” in Auslaut, e.g., between Friede and Frieda).


  9. 🙂 Never thought you were “picking on” me for baritone bias, servetus! I do appreciate beautiful tenor voices in song, they just don’t MOVE me in the same way.

    @angie, I also played Lady M in high school. And was Shakespeare-mad. Sat little brother down to read through plays (assigning him the lesser parts) – he appears to have forgiven me, or maybe the trauma has been buried).

    It is a unique voice, and agreed, not heavy. Mellifluous in the extreme. I do admit to being stirred by the bass voice, too – Chaliapin and Song of the Volga Boatmen; have been trying to track down a reconstituted, converted-to-CD of that! So far, only Red Army Chorus, which is glorious.

    However, I’m going to watch Gisborne on mute to see what Khandy sees, to see the details that I’ve missed from being mesmerized by the voice. Myopia and astigmatism requiring lenses appear to sharpen the hearing sense – I still test acute of hearing. Time to look from another perspective. For further insight into this actor’s talent.


    • Note in particular the position of his head when he’s speaking to other characters — is he holding it upright, tilting it to the side, bowing it slightly? This says a lot about how he sees his position in the scene.

      Looks like I’ll have lots of time to write about these things now.


      • Might as well look at the bright side of things. *sigh*

        Oh, Porter.


        • I was discussing this with one of my colleagues and she said, “you’ll have time to break down all of his work scene by scene” and I said, “exactly! That’s the plan!”


  10. Happy Halloween!


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