Dec 25, 2006 (Updated Mar 5, 2008)

The Bottom Line The operatic boys do have some of the best songs ever written to sing.


Before I get swamped with indignant mails from lovers of the operatic leading men for not including them in my previous write up, here are a few samples of songs sung by operatic men that even non-opera fans may enjoy. They aren't listed in any particular order. I like some more than the others at various times... and many of my current favorites aren’t included... because this list targets those not already seriously into opera. Most of you already know, but just to brush up. The voice categories for men are: (from highest to lowest)

Counter-tenor ::: Highest voice with (hopefully) all body parts intact. The vocal range is equivalent to the female mezzo-soprano, and so they mostly perform the roles originated by the castrati (who didn't have all their body parts intact).
Tenor ::: The touchy high voiced guys that get the girl (or spend the opera whining about not getting the girl)
Baritone ::: The lower voiced men who try to prevent the tenor from getting the girl.
Bass ::: Lowest voice type, usually sing support roles... being either a simpleton saint, a murderous meanie, or a buffoon.

PUCCINI: Turandot: Nessun dorma
The aria is sung by Calaf, the prince in disguise who made a wager with the blood-thirsty but impossibly beautiful Princess Turandot, whom he’s courting (hey, there's no accounting for taste or prudence in opera!), that if she doesn’t learn his name by sunrise the next morning she will have to marry him (but if she does, then he will be executed). And so the heralds went out proclaiming that not a soul in Peking will sleep that night until someone finds out Calaf’s real name. But, being a tenor, Calaf is (overly) confident that he will prevail when the day comes. Pavarotti's is the version to get, but if you can find one by Jüssi Björling or Franco Corelli, they are sublime as well.

2. GOUNOD: Roméo et Juliette: L’amour, l’amour/Ah leve-toi, Soleil
This is Roméo’s serenade to Juliette in the famous balcony scene, of course. If you’ve read the Shakespeare play, the lyrics is practically identical (though translated into French instead). It is a very corny song the young man sings to implore his lover to rise up like the sun from the balcony so he can be blessed by her radiant light. And when it is sung well, it would take a seriously unromantic girl to not pop right up like the weasel as the last note fades from the amorous serenader's mouth. My favorite version is sung by Ramon Vargas in his L’Amour, L’Amour album.

3. VERDI: Rigoletto: La donna è mobile
Another opera number that’s used a lot in commercials and films. Chances are good you’ve heard this waltzy song before. It is sung by the Duke of Mantua (though under a simple soldier disguise at the moment), echoing Don Alfonso (from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti) in his proclamation of how all women are unfaithful lovers. I know, I know, it's one of the lamest excuses around for not getting laid... but when it is sung well, you just have to let the man vent!

There are many many great rendition of it around, including one caught on the DVD of the opera from the Met by one Luciano Pavarotti. My favorites are tied by the very subtle Jüssi Björling, the drop dead gorgeous Franco Corelli, and the very lovable Enrico Caruso however.

4. MOZART: Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute): Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön
The tenor Prince Tamino is given a locket portrait of Pamina, the daughter of the mysterious Queen of the Night, and upon looking at it he falls head over heel in love with the girl (or at least with her painting... which is why operatic diva would pay thousands of dollar for professional PR photos ). This 'love at first sight' song is a quintessential Mozart aria with lyrical vocal line accompanied very sweetly by the clarinets, bassoons, and horns. It is one of the many beautiful songs in Mozart’s last (and probably most popular... in spite of its decidedly weird story) opera. If you can find a version sung by Michael Schade or Kurt Streit, they really make this thing fly!

5. DONIZETTI: L'Elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love): Una furtiva lagrima
Remember that film Love Potion No.5 and its soothing musical theme? That’s an instrumental version of the aria Nemorino (Little Nobody, literally) sings as he sees his beloved Adina looking all sad and teary. The film itself is a modern remake of the opera. It is a slow and very sensitively romantic song, requiring superbly smooth legato singing (blurring the string of notes for smooth transition... in a smooth legato line you can’t tell when one note ends and the other begins).
Ramon Vargas, Giuseppe DiStephano, Marcello Alvarez, and Jüssi Björling tie at the top of my pick for this song. The great Enrico Caruso takes the cake, to me, however... if you can find one of his with acceptable level of static in the background.

6. ROSSINI: Tancredi: Pensa che sei mia figlia
This majestic and authoritative high flying aria is sung by Argirio, the head of the ruling counsel of Syracuse, in beseeching his daughter, Amenaide, to put duty before her own feelings and marry a knight she doesn’t love. It is one of the best tenor showcase arias Rossini wrote, I think (and the guy doesn't even get to woo any girl in this opera ). Lots of touchy coloratura runs, with some exposed high notes (coloratura refers to virtuosic decorating the melodic line with many notes sung in fast succession. An exposed line has the singer singing with very little or no orchestral background... so any vocal flaw is easily heard).
My favorite take is sung by Ramon Vargas in the RCA label's CD of the opera conducted by Roberto Abbado on, though Stanford Olsen also does a great take on it on the Naxos label.

7. LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Recitar ...Vesti la giubba
This is a bitter aria sung by Canio, the clown who puts on a smile to entertain others even as his heart bleeds (his wife Nedda loves someone else). It is a heart-break song with a subtle rage undercurrent... since Canio, it turns out, is about to put on a most memorable tragic comedy show on stage... literally.
There are quite a few great rendition of this aria on record. The definitive version, to me, is by Enrico Caruso, though Giuseppe DiStephano is a most convincing Canio as well. There is also a great take on it by Vladimir Galouzine in the Berlin Opera Night DVD.

8. MOZART: Idomeneo: Fuor del mar
There are 2 versions of this song... It is an indignant rage aria Idomeneo sings, lamenting the cruelty of the Sea God Nettuno (Neptune), in demanding the blood of Idomeneo's only son to fulfill his rash promise earlier in the opera. The original 'Munich' version is one of the most fearsome virtuoso aria for the tenor, while the subsequent 'Vienna' version is not as florid. My favorite take is done by Ramon Vargas on the DVD of the opera from Salzburg 2006.

BIZET: Carmen: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador Song)
This is another ubiquitous opera song that most have heard but don’t know what it is from. It's that song that always shows up in association with Spain and bull-fighting. Here Escamillo the bullfighter (Toreador) shows how to boast and swagger stylishly. There are lots of good renditions of this thing around. A few of my favorite takes are by Jose van Dam, and Sherrill Milne.

2. MOZART: The Magic Flute: Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja!
If you have seen the film Amadeus, you might remember the scene toward the end where Mozart collapses while conducting an opera that features a guy in bird costume (beak and feather and all) wooing an equally birdy gal on-stage... He is none other than Papageno, the lovably childish bird-catcher, and this is his entrance aria to Mozart's last opera. It is a very cute and catchy tune with a folksy touch, and is famous for its pan-pipe refrains.
There is no beating Simon Keenlyside in this role... though Hanno Müller-Brachmann in the Claudio Abbado CD of this opera is very engaging, too.

3. ROSSINI: The Barber of Seville: Largo al factotum
You have heard this thing. Yes, you have It is Figaro (AKA The Barber of Seville)’s entrance aria, and it bares his cocky personality out in the open in a most catchy manner. The man knows he's the best Jack of All Trade in town It is famous for its' patter (fast singing of many words per each note) that bodes well for Figaro's future as an auctioneer should he ever gets tired of his day job. There are many great renditions of this thing on record, too. My favorite is done by Bryn Terfel.

4. MOZART: Don Giovanni: Deh vieni alla finestra
Mozart's Don Giovanni (Don Juan) is considered by many to be the Perfect Opera. And considering its abundance of wittily suggestive arias like this one, it is hard to argue against that designation. Most of us are already familiar with the infamous literary play boy, of course. He is the ultimate equal opportunity womanizer. His primary target, Donna Anna, has just turned her back when he starts hitting on her chambermaid with this suave aria. It is worth playing an immoral cad just to get to sing this thing, I think. Bryn Terfel does a very slick version of it on his Opera Arias CD, but if you can find a version by Thomas Hampson, that’s sublime as well

5. MOZART: The Marriage of Figaro: Non piu andrai
This is another tune you hear all the time from various TV shows and commercials... and should remember if you’ve seen the film Amadeus. This is sung by the same character, Figaro, in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (which is the prequel to Mozart’s opera) who is giving an uncharacteristically sage advice to the horny page Cherubino.
It will be hard to beat Bryn Terfel in any of Figaro’s arias, though Simon Keenlyside does a great take of this song on his latest CD.

6. DONIZETTI: Dom Sébastien: O Lisbonne, o ma patrie (Oh Lisbon, oh my fatherland)
Dom Sébastien is Donizetti’s last complete opera. It is one of the lost masterpieces that has only very recently been re-introduced to the repertoire of major opera houses again thanks to the emergence of singers capable of doing it justice. This song is sung in Act III by the minor character Chamoën, the poet/soldier who follows his hero Dom Sébastien of Portugal into a doomed crusade against the Moors of North Africa. Wounded from the battle, he returns to find the country in turmoil as the Inquisition of Spain now reign over Portugal and so launches into this gorgeous patriotic song. Dmitri Hvorostovsky does a gorgeous rendition of this on his Songs of Love and Desire CD.

MOZART: Don Giovanni: Madamina Il catalogo (Leporello’s Catalog Song)
The suave cad Don Giovanni has an equally slick side kick named Leporello. Who is heard here listing his master’s conquests of the women of Europe.... Some 2000 done deals with a rather alarming high number of bagged Spanish girls...Mille et tre! (1003!).
The German basso René Pape is a most devilishly delicious Leporello, and so is Samuel Ramey. Close behind them is the Welsh wonder Bryn Terfel.

2. MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Abduction from the Seraglio): Oh wie will ich triumphiren
This is a rage song Osmin the guard sings after his nemeses were captured during their escape attempt. It is one of the few virtuoso basso arias in opera and contains the lowest note written, a low D2 for the deep bass. And since real basso profundo (deep bass) are extremely rare, I only have one favorite for it by Franz Hawlata. I would love to hear it sung by Luca Pisaroni and Réne Pape, as well.

3. MOZART: The Magic Flute: In diesen heil'gen Hallen
The Priest Sarastro comforts Princess Pamina and tells her of his brotherhood's enlightened ways of doing things. The Magic Flute is filled with Masonic symbolism, and more than a few is expressed in this short aria. It really sounds so simple that one often forget how difficult it really is to sing with smooth legato line with a steady bass voice while traversing up and down nearly his entire vocal range! The clip shows Matti Salminen as Sarastro from the DVD of the opera from Opernhaus Zürich.

4. ROSSINI: The Barber of Seville: La calunnia e un venticello
This splendidly gossipy air is sung by Don Basillio, who lists all the slanderous gossips he can think of to help his pal Dr. Bartolo discredit his music student (Rosina)'s lover, Count Almaviva... the man can compete with any veteran old house wives as a master gossiper

These are just a very few samples of great opera arias for men that even non-classical fans should have no trouble enjoying. If you enjoy the sample clips, why not check out a few opera DVDs from you local public library? I bet you won't have much trouble finding something to like about the opera.

More about the opera:
A Few Words To Opera Newbies,
Dance Thru Opera History with Munkus, Commandments for the Operafans, 10 Beginners-Friendly Opera, Some Friendly Diva Opera Arias (the ladies), Some Friendly Operatic Duets, Some Friendly Operatic Ensembles, Tips In Opera Reviewing, 15 Favorite Opera Youtube Clips (2007), Newbies' Guide to German & French Opera, Newbies' Guide to Operetta

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