Baritones took roughly the range we know today at the beginning of the 18th century but they were still lumped in with their bass colleagues until well into the 19th century. Indeed, many operatic works of the 18th century have roles marked as bass that in reality are low baritone roles. Examples of this are to be found, for instance, in the operas and oratorios of George Frideric Handel. The greatest and most enduring parts for baritones in 18th-century operatic music were composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They include Figaro and Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte and Masetto and the Don in Don Giovanni.
The bel canto style of vocalism which arose in Italy in the early 19th century supplanted the castrato-dominated opera seria of the previous century. It also led to the baritone being viewed as a separate voice category to the bass. Traditionally, basses in operas had been cast as authority figures such as a king or high priest; but with the advent of the more fluid baritone voice, the roles allotted by composers to lower male voices expanded in the direction of trusted companions or even romantic leads - normally the province of tenors. More often than not, however, baritones found themselves portraying villains.
The principal composers of bel canto opera are considered to be:
The prolific operas of these composers, plus the works of Verdi's maturity, such as Don Carlos, the revised Simon Boccanegra, Aida, Otello and Falstaff, blazed many new and rewarding performance pathways for baritones. Figaro in Il barbiere is often called the first true baritone role and Donizetti and Verdi in their vocal writing went on to emphasise the top fifth of the baritone voice, rather than its lower notes - thus generating a more brilliant sound. Further pathways opened up when the musically complex and physically demanding operas of Richard Wagner also began to enter the mainstream repertory of the world's opera houses during the second half of the 19th century.
The major baritone of the first half of the 19th century was Antonio Tamburini (1800-1876). He was a famous Don Giovanni in Mozart's eponymous opera as well as being a Bellini and Donizetti specialist. Commentators praised his voice for its beauty, flexibility and smooth tonal emission - the hallmarks of a bel canto singer. The most important of Tamburini's immediate successors were: Giorgio Ronconi, who created the title role in Verdi's Nabucco; Felice Varesi, who created the title roles in Macbeth and Rigoletto and was the first Germont in La Traviata; Francesco Graziani, who created Don Carlo in Verdi's La forza del destino; and Leone Giraldoni, who created Renato in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera and was the first Simon Boccanegra.
Luckily, the gramophone was invented early enough to capture on disc the voices of the top Italian Verdi and Donizetti baritones of the last two decades of the 19th century, whose operatic performances were characterized by re-creative freedom and technical finish. They included Mattia Battistini (known as the "King of Baritones"), Giuseppe Kaschmann (who, atypically for his kind, sang Wagner's Telramund and Amfortas in German at Bayreuth in the 1890s), Giuseppe Campanari, Antonio Magini-Coletti, Mario Ancona (the first Silvio in Pagliacci), Giuseppe Pacini and Antonio Scotti, (who came to the Met from Europe in 1899 and remained on the roster of singers until 1933!). Meanwhile, Antonio Pini-Corsi was the dominant Italian buffo (comic) baritone between the 1880s and WW1. Notable among their contemporaries were the technically adroit French baritones Jean Lassalle (described as the "best schooled" baritone of his era), Victor Maurel (the creator of Iago, Falstaff and Tonio in Pagliacci) and Maurice Renaud (a compelling singing-actor) - each of whom enjoyed a career on either side of the Atlantic. They made valuable records, too. Three other significant Francophone baritones who left a legacy of early recordings are Leon Melchissedec and Jean Note of the Paris Opera and Gabriel Soulacroix of the Opera-Comique. The Quaker baritone David Bispham, who sang in London and New York between 1891 and 1903, was the leading American male singer of this period. He, too, recorded for the gramophone.
The oldest-born baritone known for sure to have made solo gramophone discs was the Englishman Sir Charles Santley (1834-1922). Santley made his operatic debut in Italy in 1858 and was still giving critically acclaimed concerts in London in the 1890s. The composer of Faust, Charles Gounod, penned Valentine's aria "Even bravest heart" for him in 1864. A couple of primitive cylinder recordings dating from about 1900 have been attributed by collectors to the French baritone of the 1860s and 1870s, Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914) - the creator of Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos. This attribution is not certain, however. A contemporary of Faure's, Antonio Cotogni, (1831-1918) - the foremost Italian baritone of his generation - can be heard, briefly and dimly, at the age of 77, on a duet recording with the tenor Francesco Marconi. (Cotogni and Marconi had sung together in the first London performance of Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda in 1883, performing the roles of Barnaba and Enzo respectively.)
There are 19th century references to certain baritone sub-types. They include the tenorish baryton-Martin, named after French singer Jean-Blaise Martin (1768/69-1837), and the deeper, dramatic-voiced Heldenbariton of Wagnerian opera.
Perhaps the most accomplished Heldenbaritons of Wagner's day were Franz Betz and Theodor Reichmann. The former created Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger and undertook Wotan in the first Der Ring des Niebelungen cycle at Bayreuth, while the latter created Amfortas in Parsifal, also at Bayreuth. Lyric German baritones sang lighter Wagnerian roles such as Wolfram in Tannhauser, Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde or Telramund in Lohengrin. They made large strides, too, in the performance of art song and oratorio, with Franz Schubert favouring several baritones for his music, in particular Johann Michael Vogl.
Nineteenth century operettas became the preserve of lightweight baritone voices. They were given comic parts in the tradition of the previous century's comic bass by Gilbert and Sullivan in many of their productions. This did not prevent the French master of operetta, Jacques Offenbach, from assigning the villain's role in Les Contes d'Hoffmann to a big-voiced baritone for the sake of dramatic effect. Other 19th-century French composers like Meyerbeer, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saens, Georges Bizet and Jules Massenet wrote attractive parts for baritones, too. These included Nelusko in L'Africaine (Meyerbeer's last opera), Mephistopheles in La Damnation de Faust (a role also sung by basses), the Priest of Dagon in Samson et Dalila, Escamillo in Carmen, Zurga in Les pêcheurs de perles, Lescaut in Manon, Athanael in Thais and Herod in Herodiade. Russian composers also included substantial baritone parts in their operas. Witness the title roles in Peter Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (which received its first production in 1879) and Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor (1890).
Mozart continued to be sung throughout the 19th century although, generally speaking, his operas were not revered to the same extent that they are today by music critics and audiences. Back then, baritones rather than high basses normally sang Don Giovanni - arguably Mozart's greatest male operatic creation. Famous Dons of the late 19th/early 20th centuries included Scotti and Maurel (see the photograph accompanying this article), as well as Portugal's Francisco d'Andrade and Sweden's John Forsell.
Between them, these baritones established the echt performance style for baritones undertaking roles in verismo operas. The chief verismo composers were Giacomo Puccini, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Pietro Mascagni, Alberto Franchetti, Umberto Giordano and Francesco Cilea. Verdi's works continued to remain popular, however, with audiences in Italy, the Spanish-speaking countries, the United States and the United Kingdom and, interestingly enough, Germany, where there was a major Verdi revival in Berlin between the Wars.
Outside the field of Italian opera, an important addition to the Austro-German repertory occurred in 1905. This was the premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome, with the pivotal part of John the Baptist assigned to a baritone. (The enormous-voiced Dutch baritone Anton van Rooy - a Wagner specialist - sang John when the opera reached the Met in 1907). Then, in 1925, Germany's Leo Schützendorf created the title baritone role in Alban Berg's harrowing Wozzeck.. In a separate development, the French composer Claude Debussy's post-Wagnerian masterpiece Pelleas et Melisande featured not one but two lead baritones at its 1902 premiere. These two baritones, Jean Perier and Hector Dufranne, possessed contrasting voices. (Dufranne had a darker, more powerful instrument than Perier, who was a true baryton-Martin.)
Characteristic of the Wagnerian baritones of the 20th century was a general progression of individual singers from higher-lying baritone parts to lower-pitched ones. This was the case with Germany's Hans Hotter. Hotter made his debut in 1929. As a young singer he appeared in Verdi and created the Commandant in Richard Strauss's Friedenstag and Olivier in Capriccio. By the 1950s, however, he was being hailed as the top Wagnerian bass-baritone in the world. His Wotan was especially praised by critics for its musicianship. Other major Wagnerian baritones have included Hotter's predecessors Leopold Demuth, Anton van Rooy, Hermann Weil, Clarence Whitehill, Friedrich Schorr, Rudolf Bockelmann and Hans Hermann Nissen. Demuth, van Rooy, Weil and Whitehill were at their peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s while Schorr, Bockelmann and Nissen were stars of the 1920s and 1930s.
In addition to their heavyweight Wagnerian cousins, there was a plethora of baritones with more lyrical voices active in Germany and Austria during the period between the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 and the end of WW2 in 1945. Among them were Joseph Schwarz, Heinrich Schlusnus, Herbert Janssen, Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Karl Schmidt-Walter and Gerhard Hüsch. Their abundant inter-war Italian counterparts included, among others, Carlo Galeffi, Giuseppe Danise, Enrico Molinari, Umberto Urbano, Cesare Formichi, Luigi Montesanto, Apollo Granforte, Benvenuto Franci, Renato Zanelli (who switched to tenor roles in 1924), Mario Basiola, Giovanni Inghilleri, Carlo Morelli (the Chilean-born younger brother of Renato Zanelli) and Carlo Tagliabue. (The last named baritone retired in 1958.)
One of the best known Italian Verdi baritones of the 1920s and 1930s, Mariano Stabile, sang Iago and Rigoletto and Falstaff (at La Scala) under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. Stabile also appeared in London, Chicago and Salzburg. He was noted more for his histrionic skills than for his voice, however. Stabile was followed by Tito Gobbi - a versatile singing-actor capable of unforgettable comic and tragic performances during the years of his prime in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s. He learned more than 100 roles in his lifetime and was mostly known for his roles in Verdi and Puccini operas, including appearances as Scarpia opposite soprano Maria Callas as Tosca at Covent Garden.
Gobbi's competitors included Gino Bechi, Giuseppe Valdengo, Paolo Silveri, Giuseppe Taddei, Ettore Bastianini and Giangiacomo Guelfi. Another of Gobbi's contemporaries was the Welshman Geraint Evans, who famously sang Falstaff at Glyndebourne and created the roles of Mr. Flint and Mountjoy in works by Benjamin Britten. Some considered his best role to have been Wozzeck. The next significant Welsh baritone was Bryn Terfel, who made his premiere at Glyndebourne in 1990 and has gone on to build an international career as Falstaff and, more generally, in the operas of Mozart and Wagner.
An outstanding group of virile-voiced American baritones appeared in the 1920s. This group were still active down into the 1960s. Outstanding among its members were the Met-based Verdians Lawrence Tibbett (a singing-actor), Richard Bonelli, John Charles Thomas, Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill. They were exponents of French opera, too - as was the Paris-based American baritone of the 1920s and '30s, Arthur Endreze.
Also to be found singing Verdi roles at the Met, Covent Garden and the Vienna Opera during the late 1930s and the 1940s was the large-voiced Hungarian baritone, Sandor (Alexander) Sved.
The leading Italian Verdi baritones of the 1970s and 1980s were Italy's Renato Bruson and Piero Cappuccilli, America's Sherill Milnes and Sweden's Ingvar Wixell. At the same time, Britain's Sir Thomas Allen was considered to be the most versatile baritone of his generation in regards to repertoire, which ranged from Mozart to Verdi, through French and Russian opera, to modern English music. Another British baritone, Norman Bailey, established himself internationally as a memorable Wotan and Hans Sachs. He had, however, a distinguished if lighter-voiced Wagnerian rival during the 1960s and 1970s in the person of Thomas Stewart of America. Other notable post-War Wagnerian baritones have been Canada's George London, Germany's Hermann Uhde and, more recently, America's James Morris.
Among the late 20th century baritones noted throughout the opera world for their Verdi performances was Vladimir Chernov, who emerged from the former USSR to sing at the Met. Chernov followed in the footsteps of such richly endowed East European baritones as Joachim Tartakov, Oskar Kamionsky (called the "Russian Battistini"), Waclaw Brzezinski (called the "Polish Battistini"), Georgy Baklanov and, during a career lasting from 1935 to 1966, the Bolshoi's Pavel Lisitsian. Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sergei Leiferkus are two other first-rate Russian baritones of the modern era who appear in the West. They sing Verdi and the works of their native composers, including Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades).
In the realm of French song, the bass-baritone Jose van Dam and the lighter-voiced Gérard Souzay have been notable. Souzay's repertoire extended from the Baroque works of Jean-Baptiste Lully to 20th century composers such as Francis Poulenc. Pierre Bernac, Souzay's teacher, was an interpreter of Poulenc's songs in the previous generation. Older baritones identified with this style include France's Dinh Gilly and Charles Panzera and Australia's John Brownlee. Another Australian, Peter Dawson, made a small but precious legacy of benchmark Handel recordings during the 1920s and 1930s. (Dawson, incidentally, acquired his Handelian technique from Sir Charles Santley.) Yet another Australian baritone of distinction between the wars was Harold Williams, who was based in the United Kingdom. Important British-born baritones of the 1930s and 1940s were Dennis Noble, who sang Italian and English operatic roles, and the Mozartian Roy Henderson. Both appeared often at Covent Garden.
Prior to World War 2, Germany's Heinrich Schlusnus, Gerhard Hüsch and Herbert Janssen were celebrated for their beautifully sung lieder recitals as well as for their mellifluous operatic performances in Verdi, Mozart and Wagner respectively. After the war's conclusion, Hermann Prey and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau appeared on the scene to take their place. In addition to his interpretations of lieder and the works of Mozart, Prey sang in Strauss operas and tackled lighter Wagner roles such as Wolfram. Fischer-Dieskau sang parts in 'fringe' operas by the likes of Ferruccio Busoni and Paul Hindemith as well as appearing in standard works by Verdi and Wagner. He earned his principal renown, however, as a lieder singer. Talented German and Austrian lieder singers of a younger generation include Olaf Bär, Matthias Goerne, Wolfgang Holzmair (who also performs regularly in opera), Thomas Quasthoff, Stephan Genz and Christian Gerhaher. Well-known non-Germanic baritones of recent times have included the Italians Giorgio Zancanaro and Leo Nucci, the Frenchman Francois le Roux, the Canadian Gerald Finley and the versatile American Thomas Hampson, his compatriot Nathan Gunn and the British Simon Keenlyside.
Note: Its ambitus is greater than the lyric baritone's.
The baritone singer is often the one required to support or "fill" the bass sound (typically by singing the fifth above the bass root). On the other hand, the baritone will occasionally find himself harmonizing above the melody, which calls for a tenor-like quality.
In bluegrass music, the melody line is called the lead. Tenor is sung an interval of a third above the lead. Baritone is the fifth of the scale that has the lead as a tonic, and may be sung below the lead, or even above the lead (and the tenor), in which case it is called "high baritone".
Modern music baritones include David Bowie, Ian Curtis, Morrissey, Corey Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, Rick Davies, John Mayer, Rob Thomas, Isaac Slade, Michael Buble, Ben Gibbard, Sully Erna, Jim Morrison, Brendan Perry, Elvis Presley,Glenn Danzig, Pedro Infante, Eddie Vedder, Frank Sinatra, and Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan. On the flipside, the more "soul" baritones have the more traditional timbre, but sing in a vocal range that is closer to the tenor vocal range. Some of these singers include Tom Jones, Michael McDonald, and Billy Ocean. There is Also a form of alternative rock baritone who combines screaming with full voiced vocals to create a mixed voice sound these type of baritones include Corey Taylor and Charlie Simpson. Peter Tosh, Tiken Jah Fakoly (reggae singers) are also baritones.