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Opera Singers The Tenor

18th Mar 2011

Opera Singers – The Tenor
Opera singers are classified by several different voice types and these are based on their range, agility and strength. There are basically 5 main operatic voice types:
Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Bass
In this blog, we will focus on the Tenor who tends to be the one of the most popular at our Singing Waiter shows and Opera Galas due to the fact that most composers wrote the majority of the well-known “opera hits” for this voice type and the repertoire is so popular with audiences whether opera buffs or not.
Tenors are male singers who can reach the high notes and some would say that the tenor is the most popular voice type. This may be due to the fact that the tenor voice has the ability to create the right emotions. Needless to say, there are other reasons for the tenor’s popularity – he usually plays the lover and the hero in an opera, has dashing good looks, charisma and great acting ability. The classic tenor, possesses a special quality to his voice that sets him apart from the rest, like a fine painting or a superior wine.
It may cause some surprise to learn that the tenor was a latecomer to the operatic scene. Up until the beginning of the 19th century, the male hero was the “castrato”, who had been surgically “modified” at an early age to create an artificially, pure vocal sound.While the types of roles for other opera voices were established during the Baroque period, the tenor came into his own with the advent of "Grand Opera".  Before that, inconsequential roles were given to tenors.
Within the tenor voice category there are 4 main sub-divisions:

Light lyric tenor: Often called "Rossini" tenors, their voices have an easy upper extension of high notes which they use for embellishments and vocal virtuosity.  Famous light lyric tenors include Juan Diego Florez and Frtiz Wunderlich.
Lyric tenor: This is a warm voice with beauty of tone and a bright full timbre. A medium- weight voice with the power to carry over a full orchestra with elegance and style. Famous lyric tenors include Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.

Dramatic tenor;  Also called the "tenore di forza" in Italian which literally means "powerful tenor".  These tenors need the power to carry over heavily orchestrated operas with ease.  The voice also requires dramatic colour and fire.  Famous dramatic tenors include Placido Domingo, Giuseppe di Stefano and Carlo Bergonzi.

Heldentenor:  The German equivalent of the Italian dramatic tenor but has a more baritonal quality.  Famous heldentenors include Jon Vickers.

The scope of dramatic possiblities offered to the tenor is possibly the largest of the main voice types.  However, as legend has it, it is one of the rarer voice types and therefore singers have had to be flexible and sing roles across their classification.  A recent example are "The Three Tenors" ( Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti) whose varied concert repertoire is testament to their versatility as performers.