Baritones and Basses
Baritones are the sex gods of the opera world.* A baritone voice and hot looks seem to go together. The irony is that baritones, the hottest guys on the opera stage, are usually relegated to the roles of villains. When they are not playing villains, they are somebody’s father, brother, sidekick, best friend, hunchback clown, or whatever. The baritone never gets the heroine, even if he sees her first. He takes a lot of cold showers. The short, fat tenor gets her, even if someone has to die, usually the tenor or the woman, or both.
It isn’t all that bad, though. Baritones get to play interesting characters and sing some of the best show-stopping music in the whole operatic repertoire and, even if they don’t get lucky onstage, they see plenty of action offstage. Sometimes they even get to have some fun throwing the soprano around onstage. This is more fun for the baritone than for the soprano, and it is wise for him not to get carried away. Female opera singers pack a punch, and they don’t mind using it, even on baritones.
The audience’s suspension of disbelief is stretched to the breaking point when a romantic hero is played by Short, Fat Tenor and a lecherous villain is played by Sexy Baritone. The soprano has to do all her romantic scenes with Short, Fat Tenor and give Sexy Baritone the equivalent of, “F*^# off, you vile, disgusting worm!” It is my theory that this is how sopranos got their reputation for being touched in the head, or at least nearsighted.
Once in a blue moon a baritone gets to play a sexy part. The best example is Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Don Giovanni is a baritone,^ and his little black book has 1,003 names of his Spanish girlfriends alone. He also has a boatload more in Italy, Germany, France and Turkey. In the course of the opera, he fails with every woman he tries to make time with and ends up in Hell, but he’s just having a bad couple of days. He has had a lot of fun traveling around Europe: the original sex tour.
Like baritones, a lot of basses are handsome and sexy looking. Others are short and fat, like tenors. The short and fat ones often specialize in comic roles. The tall, handsome, sexy ones usually end up playing someone’s father, a priest, a king or an old man. Also like baritones, basses get some great music to sing and some interesting characters to play, which makes up for having to put on all that makeup and pretend you’re not as good looking as you are.
Basses with high enough voices will often tackle the role of Don Giovanni, too. It’s hard to resist playing a guy with 2,065 names in his little black book.
Basses who specialize in comic roles not only get to be funny, they get to impress audiences with things like rapid patter singing, which I hope, for the singers’ sakes, is easier than it sounds, although I suspect it isn’t.
It’s a sure applause winner.
*The slang term for a hot looking baritone is “barihunk.” Remember that. It will be on the quiz, if I ever get around to making one up.
^Sometimes this role is played by a bass. They kind of pass it around.