Opera for People Who Don’t Like It

Tenor rehearsing while trying to give himself the Vulcan peace sign
Tenor rehearsing while trying to give himself the Vulcan peace sign

Yes, tenors get their own chapter. You’ll see why.

Tenors and sopranos are natural enemies, passionate lovers or both. Whatever the state of the relationship, it is never dull.

Countertenor pointing a loaded finger pistol at the tenor
Countertenor pointing a finger pistol at the tenor
Tenors are the rock stars of opera. They sing almost all of the leading roles and they can sing higher than the other males, at least the ones that use their natural voices. Countertenors, most of whom are baritones who have figured out that they can make more money by singing Handel operas with an overdeveloped falsetto, can sing higher than tenors and even a few sopranos. To the mind of a tenor, though, this doesn’t count because (1) singing in falsetto is cheating and (2) countertenors are weird.

To many people the phrase “the mind of a tenor” is an oxymoron. Tenors are supposed to be stupid. All opera singers have a reputation for being stupid, but tenors have a reputation for being the most moronic of the morons. In truth, none of us are stupid, including the tenors. We’re eccentric. We are obsessive laryngeal hypochondriacs and we get hysterical over clogged sinuses. Add to this that we are the kind of people who like to show off in front of huge crowds, we are somewhat uninhibited, and our ideas of how something should be done don’t always mesh with those of conductors, stage directors and administration. The term “idiot”* just naturally comes out of the mouths of people who have to deal with us. For some reason, people think that tenors are more eccentric than the rest of us, probably because sopranos love to spread that bit of slander around. (See “natural enemies’ and “love-hate,” above.)

Opera singers in general and tenors in particular are often said to have resonance where their brains ought to be. It is easy to forget that that is scientifically impossible when you hear some tenors talk.

Almost all romantic leads in almost all classic operas are written for tenors. This is ironic, because tenors are not known for their good looks. With notable exceptions, the best tenor voices often belong to the short, dumpy guys. This can be comical when the soprano is taller than the tenor and the two of them are singing a love duet. Most of the tall, great looking male opera singers are either baritones or basses, and they are almost always relegated to playing villains (baritones) or old men (basses). Opera is not logical.

What makes things REALLY ironic, to the point of head scratching, is that a good tenor voice is a powerful female aphrodisiac. Even the short, fat guys can make women sigh and swoon when they come out with a couple of good high notes along with some silky tones leading up to them. I guess this is nature’s way of giving tenors an even chance of getting laid backstage.

This even chance is useless, though, to tenors who hold to the belief that they have to abstain from sex for a few days before a performance, to make sure their voices are in working order. This must be torture, because, along with baritones and basses, tenors are among the most randy males who walk on two legs. No sacrifice is too great for a good onstage performance, although the man’s wife, partner or girlfriend might not agree.

There are other tenors who believe that sex in the dressing room right before going onstage oils the voice very nicely. If the evening’s soprano** is of the same mind, some interesting goings-on can result, especially if one or both of them is married or otherwise tied to another person.

As much as they love it, I have now given the tenors enough attention.


*Also “fuckhead” and “asshole”
**In some cases the evening’s baritone

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6 thoughts on “Opera for People Who Don’t Like It”

  1. I think I would be the most moronic of the morons. I don’t understand why someone doesn’t write an opera about the trials and tribulations of Thirsty Dave? You just need to spend one day in that dude’s company and the whole thing would write itself!

    1. Well, Bill, all you have to do is hire a composer and someone else to write the libretto (or “book,” as they say on Broadway) and let them loose on him!

      Oh, and make sure they write a hefty part for a 60-something, overweight soprano, complete with showy high notes. Hey, I should get something out of this, since I am the inspiration! 😉

    1. Well, I intended to poke fun of tenors, but sopranos sneaked in there anyway. We like to do that.

    1. I don’t know. That would be an interesting subject for scientists to study, if they ever get around to it.

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