Baritone - The King...
The Baritone is the middle voice in the male voice family. It is also by far the most common of the voices in our society, be it trained or not. In fact, it is the normal male speaking voice. It is slightly higher than the Bass and slightly lower than the Tenor.
Much like the Mezzo-soprano, in music, it was first recognized in the middle of the 19th century. Now, it wasn’t that the voice didn’t exist before that, it was just labeled differently. Some Renaissance musical scores have the Baritone tag on them, but the meaning in those cases is always a low voice, e.g. a Bass.
Some roles from the classical period are called Basses but are actually written for what we today would call a Baritone.
On the other hand, the way the Tenors used their vocal cords were different back in the 18th, and 17th century. Back in those days the Tenors had much smoother voices and didn’t use full chest voice to reach the high notes. No one could even dream of the typical high C. Instead, they used a type of falsetto, or a mixed falsetto which was much more flexible and could go higher…. But it was also much weaker than today’s Tenors’ high notes.
In the middle of 1800, the Tenors started to change their whole technique, and they lost some of the nice, full notes in the lower register. And by doing so they couldn’t do justice to the middle voice repertoire anymore. That left a void in that particular register. The newly labeled Baritone voice filled that void.
In the chorus, the Baritone corresponds to Bass 1 in English-speaking countries.
For all you young singers out there, there are two warnings I have to issue:
- The classification of a voice or the distinction between different voice types is never, ever universal or even very scientific. It very much depends on preferences, size of and the acoustics in the theater, personality, etc… And it has changed a lot during the centuries.
- Labeling a voice this or that has to be done in person. Reading an article like this one can never substitute a voice coach, a colleague, or even a friend. And even they cannot really see what is inside of you, how you feel, what is comfortable and what is not. You are your voice’s greatest safeguard.
The color of a Baritone.
The color is darker than the Tenor and lighter than the Bass. That’s a no-brainer. But to have a voice labeled Baritone it must have at least some of the characteristic roundness. Some scores have a range close to a Dramatic Tenor. Still, the color should be different.
While a low voice can sneak into the Bass repertoire without issues, a high Baritone usually does not go well with low Tenor parts. The reason for this is to some degree the color. While a dramatic Tenor can do well without the gold or bronze in the voice, a Baritone can not. He needs the roundness.
The other big difference is in the way these two voices use their instrument. Without going into technicalities, a lyric or dramatic Tenore always has a natural increase in vocal ring the higher the note. It’s like a funnel. The voice gets sharper with increasing frequency.
Baritones and Basses don’t have that. And they shouldn’t have that. The darker voices should keep their open, round, and wide sound all the way to the top note. Sometimes you have to accept less volume with a less focused and less metallic sound, but that’s the way it is and it is the way it should be.
There are Baritones with Tenor tendencies. Some of the greatest Tenors actually started out as Baritones. For them, there are a few suitable parts out there, like Valentin in Faust. These roles are young, vigorous men and should be portrayed with a lot of glitter in the upper register. These parts also have a high tessitura (average pitch). Still, that is the exception. Normally the Baritone should always nourish his golden timbre.
The range of a Baritone.
Traditionally the range of a Baritone is from G2 to G4. For a lyric voice, the low notes are not often used, and if you have a good Bb2 that is usually enough. On the other end though, you definitely can score extra points if you can throw in an Ab4 or an A4.
Like the other voices, the middle male voice is divided into various categories, from light over lyric to dramatic. All of which has its own small variations of the range. Still, the difference between these is more about color and power than about range
Within this fach is included a hybrid called Bass-Baritone. This type should definitely have some good value in the lower register. It is a somewhat dramatic voice, with a good punch at least up to E4, F4. But even more important is the metal timbre down to at least G2, maybe even lower.
Just like the case with all operatic voices, range is not only a question about how high and how low you can sing. More so, it’s about how you sound at the extreme height and the extreme low.
The roles for the Baritone.
All this should be seen as a totally objectionable generalization. The variations are huge and a good performer should carefully value what is suitable for his voice and what is not. Remember to have a look at the Bass repertoire as well.
In romantic operas, the Baritone often portrays an older person of authority. It can be the father, a superior, a religious character, or the King. In classical operas (Mozart, Rossini) he’s also the young hero. But, of course, roles for the middle voice aren’t limited to these personalities.
The Baritone has a huge choice of repertoire for every one of the subcategories. And if you’re not a top-class singer, there is probably no voice type that has so many supporting roles. I would say that’s fair as there are so many Baritones out there.
Another great feature is that the roles for specific subcategories of Baritones from different periods require more or less the same type of output and the same handling of the instrument. A good modern performer can sing Händel one day and Puccini the next. For some of the female voice types that would be more challenging as would it for a Tenor.
The different types of Baritones.
Warning! This is not an absolute classification, and I probably do not agree with some of you. How the voice is supposed to be handled, and what singer should sing this or that repertoire is a constant argument among experts. These are my thoughts, and I acknowledge any contradicting opinion. Still, at the end of the day, a singer can cross over any boundary as he/she finds suitable.
I also apologize for not mentioning many great artists who undoubtedly deserve to be on my, or anybody’s list.
This voice is sometimes tied to the famous French singer Jean-Blaise Martin. and in that case labeled Baritone-Martin. The latter could mean a particularly smooth and agile voice that notably is suited for French repertoire. He is often a young man, and sometimes a funny one.
In this category, you also find specialists in German Lieder like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Thomas Quasthoff.
Example of roles for Light Baritones.
- Il Conte di Almaviva, Le nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Guglielmo, Così fan tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Raimbaud, Le comte Ory (Gioachino Rossini)
- Dandini, La Cenerentola (Gioachino Rossini)
- Mercutio, Romeo et Juliette (Charles Gounod)
- Pelléas, Pelléas et Mélisande (Claude Debussy)
- Fra Melitone, La forza del destino (Giuseppe Verdi)
Example of famous Light Baritones.
- Gerard Souzay
- Michel Dens
- Pierre Bernac
- Bruno Praticò
- Pietro Spagnoli
- Christian Gerhaher,
- Bruno De Simone
- Benjamin Appl
- Bruno Taddia
- Simon Keenlyside
This is the most common and most used voice in the opera setting. It should be a warm, full, and rich voice. The elegance and impeccable legato make it a perfect representative of romantic ideals. This is the king, Duke, or father. It is also the young hero, but one who trusts his brain more than sheer force (unlike his Tenor counterpart).
Example of roles for Lyric Baritones.
- Dottor Malatesta, Don Pasquale (Gaetano Donizetti)
- Belcore, L’elisir d’amore (Gaetano Donizetti)
- Alfonso, La Favorita (Gaetano Donizetti)
- Figaro, The Barber of Seville (Gioachino Rossini)
- Filippo, Beatrice di Tenda (Vincenzo Bellini)
- Lescaut, Manon (Jules Massenet)
- Marcello, La bohème (Giacomo Puccini)
- Frank, Edgar (Giacomo Puccini)
- Zurga, Pearlfishers (George Bizet)
Example of famous Lyric Baritones.
- Herman Prey
- Dominic Cossa
- Alessandro Corbelli
- Giorgio Caoduro
- Leo Nucci
- Roberto de Candia
- Mario Cassi
- Carlo Tagliabue
Dramatic Baritone, etc…
The etc. stands for all the variants of this type of voice. There are a whole lot of labels that you might see from time to time, such as Kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, Baryton-noble, as well as the usual combining of different words like Lyric-dramatic, Lyric-spinto, etc. To me, being all that specific doesn’t really add anything. We already have a lot of singers moving freely between the different fachs, and even into the Tenor- or the Bass-register. Therefore I’ve lumped them all together here.
Example of roles for Dramatic Baritones.
- Amonasro, Aida (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Conte di Luna, Il trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Falstaff, Falstaff (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Germont, La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Iago, Otello (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Nabucco, Nabucco (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Rigoletto, Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Schaunard, La bohème (Giacomo Puccini)
- Wozzeck, Wozzeck (Alban Berg)
- Scarpia, Tosca (Giacomo Puccini)
- Jack Rance, La fanciulla del West (Giacomo Puccini)
- Amfortas, Parsifal (Richard Wagner)
- Wotan, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Richard Wagner)
- Escamillo, Carmen (Jasques Bizet)
- Alfio, Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni)
Example of Dramatic Baritones.
- Piero Cappuccilli
- Renato Bruson
- Ludovic Tezier
- Dmitri Hvorostovsky
- Sherrill Milnes
- Sesto Bruscantini
- Apollo Granforte
- Ettore Bastianini
- Giorgio Zancanaro
- Giangiacomo Guelfi
- Tito Gobbi
- Robert Merrill
The name actually tells it all. A color and register that approaches that of a Bass. Among these are some of the classical roles invented when there still wasn’t any name for the middle voices among the gentlemen. And, of course the great Wagner roles.
Example of roles for Bass-Baritones.
- Figaro, Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Don Alfonso, Cosi fan Tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Leporello, Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Wotan, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Richard Wagner)
- The Dutchman, The Flying Dutchman (Richard Wagner)
- Sachs, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Richard Wagner)
Example of famous Bass-Baritones.
- Samuel Ramey
- Bryn Terfel
- Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.
- George London