The Origin of the Verdi Baritone

By Seesholtz, John Clayton | Journal of Singing, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Origin of the Verdi Baritone


Seesholtz, John Clayton, Journal of Singing


We shall need a baritone who is an artist in every sense of the word.

Giuseppe Verdi1

GIUSEPPE VERDI (October 10, 1813-January 27, 1901) is often venerated for creating a vocal expectation that was considered rare and new to the operatic baritone voice. In fact, many believe that through his compositions the voice type "Verdi baritone" was created. Julian Budden, for example, articulates this perspective when he states, "Hand in hand with the evolution of Verdi's dialectic goes his sharp characterization of voice-types, and also what is perhaps his most striking single innovation: the discovery of the high baritone."2 Others, however, believe that the Verdian baritone was already present in the world of opera, and Verdi only provided operatic vehicles for the baritone's long established abilities. This article, after establishing context, defines the characteristics of the Verdi baritone voice type and examines through Verdi's own words the controversial origin of this rare and glorified voice.

DRAMMA PER LA MUSICA (DRAMA FOR THE MUSIC)

Verdi embraced a romantic movement initiated by Parisian thespians and writers of the early nineteenth century. Acclaimed writers and artists such as Victor Hugo, Charles Kemble, and Alfred de Vigny venerated a Shakespearian characterization that would replace the predominant French neoclassical style and the Metastasian formula with a style that reflects a culmination of the sublime, grotesque, unique, and unpredictable.3 Verdi's alignment with this Shakespearian movement is exemplified in his letter to Ricordi in 1880.

Shakespeare was a realist, though he did not know it. He was an inspired realist; WE are planning and calculating realists. So taken all in all, system for system, the cabalettas are still better. The beauty of it is that, in the fury of progress, art is turning backwards. Art which lacks spontaneity, naturalness, and simplicity is no longer art.4

Verdi's desire to encompass "spontaneity, naturalness, and simplicity" aligns him with the leading trend for operatic composers of this period: Dramma per la musica, which places drama in opera paramount or equal to the music. Verdi was the first to do this with a baritone voice in mind and created a union between drama and music that had never before been seen or heard.5

DEFINING THE VERDI BARITONE VOICE TYPE

The baritone voice is statistically the most common voice type among male singers, trained or untrained. Thus, one may assert that Verdi's selection of the baritone voice as the dramatic protagonist was most likely rooted in his commitment to realism and humanistic drama. In other words, the selection of the baritone voice is a call to the average human male and our innate ability to consciously or subconsciously relate to the sound of the common man.

In the Italian operatic repertory, Nabucco, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, and Falstaff are works that overtly elevate the importance of the baritone character and make him the leading protagonist.6 Verdi's predecessors, including Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and others, wrote leading baritone roles; in few of them, however, with perhaps exceptions found in a few of Rossini's operas (the orchestration less heavy and the dramatic expression less forceful than Verdi),7 does one see the demand for such high tessitura.8 Verdi was the earliest composer to require of the baritone an amalgamation of weighted and "forceful declamation" while maintaining a tessitura up to F4 and G4.9

In the classical period, the bass baritone and baritone were characterized by weight or timbre, and only rarely by range and ability to sustain tessitura; thus, the bass baritone or baritone could share many roles without strain on the voice. Verdi, on the other hand, clearly defined the baritone as a distinct and unique voice category from the bass baritone by frequently requiring the singer to use the upper fifth of the baritone's normal range. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Origin of the Verdi Baritone
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.