Ryland Angel has a hard time defining himself.
"I'm a singer-songwriter with classical roots and training in opera," he says after several attempts at pigeonholing himself.
The 39-year-old British singer — who will sing two solo concerts with La Follia Austin Baroque this weekend — could also refer to himself as a classical crossover artist (he's sung and recorded pop songs) or even an entertainment lawyer (he did after all go to law school in his native England). And as a countertenor, he's a male singer whose vocal range is equivalent to that of an alto, a typically female range.
For this weekend's concerts, though, Angel will be all classical, headlining with the noted Austin baroque ensemble in a program that includes Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater" as well as sacred sonatas by Corelli and motets by Scarlatti.
"It's a beautiful program," Angel says. "I absolutely love the Vivaldi 'Stabat Mater' — it's such a powerful, haunting piece."
Growing up in Bristol in southwestern England, Angel — yes, it's his real name — took a cue from his opera-singing mother and began singing in choirs as a boy. Though his voice broke at age 14, Angel continued to develop his falsetto range and by age 16 was singing solos as a countertenor.
Countertenor roles and parts were originally written for castrati — boys castrated as prepubescents in order to preserve a singing range equivalent to a soprano or alto. While the rage for castrati reached its peak in Europe in the early 1700s in the height of the Baroque period, the practice was, by the late 19th century, outlawed in most countries. By the mid-20th century, however, a resurgence in popularity of Baroque music was met by new generations of male singers — like Angel — who through modern training developed their falsetto range.
Nominated for a classical Grammy in 2005 for his work with the Tiffany Consort, Angel has performed with a roster of prestigious ensembles including William Christie's Les Arts Florissants, the Ensemble of Early Music of New York and the New York City Opera and appeared on more than 20 albums.
Though he has been based in New York for years, Angel is a budding Austinite, in the process of putting roots down here while maintaining his Manhattan home and a classical career that frequently takes him to Europe.
Already Angel has made some surprising connections in the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." Making a guest appearance on Angel's recent self-titled album: Rick Del Castillo of Latin rock band Del Castillo. The rock 'n' roller accompanies Angel on a soulful acoustic guitar version of "Salve Regina," the medieval Catholic liturgical song sung in Latin. Also on the CD, which was released on the EMI label and partly recorded at London's famous Abbey Road studios, are his own soft pop songs along with classical selections such as "Ave Maria."
"Each (genre) feeds the other," says Angel. "When I sing pop, it's loose and more immediate, and it makes me challenge the range of colors I produce with my classical voice."
After this weekend's concerts, Angel will next appear in Austin on Dec. 6 as part of the St. Cecilia Music Series' "Baroque Festival" at First Presbyterian Church.
So could a pop gig at an Austin club be next for Angel?
"Sure," he says. "I'd love that. I just love live music of whatever kind."
'Sacred Music of Italy with Ryland Angel'
When:8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31
Where:Friday at First Presbyterian Church, 8001 Mesa Drive; Saturday at First English Lutheran Church, 3001 Whitis Ave.