Being one of the most versatile male singing voices due to its extensive range, higher tessitura and brighter timbre than typical bass baritone, the lyric baritone is the most commonly used voice and the essential component of various opera, musical theatre and harmonic male choir performances. With voice that fits the gap between typical baritone and tenor, lyric baritone singer is able to perform those parts, which require more subtle, lighter and more flexible voice.
The term lyric baritone was coined for the purpose of voice range classification commonly used in German opera houses. The so called fach system distinguishes between few different types of baritones, such as Kavalierbaritone and Heldenbaritone. Spielbariton, which in English nomenclature is known as lyric baritone, is able to vocalize with ease in a range that extends from A above middle C and goes down two octaves to often as low as A-flat. The ability to perform around middle C, both up and down is the most crucial feature of lyric baritone. While this voice range is typical for young apprentices, who begin their adventure as baritone opera singer, it takes many years to fully develop the skills possessed by professional lyric baritone and as the voices matures lyric baritones become one of the most coveted singers in the world of modern and classical opera.
The timbre of lyric baritone is often characterized as light, sweet, and gentle, similar to tenor, to which lyric baritone can be juxtaposed as a countermelody or to create melodic harmony. Lyric baritones are most commonly associated with opera buffa – comic opera, which requires also excellent acting skills. The ability to sing the high in pitch parts of baritone sections allow lyric baritone singer to perform some of the greatest roles ever written: the unforgettable Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Marcello in La bohème, Guglielmo from Cosi fan tutte, Papageno in The Magic Flute or Morales in Carmen are just few examples from the broad repertoire of lyric baritone.
One of the most memorable arias typically performed by lyric baritone is the famous „Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville. Sung in allegro vivace tempo and with libretto full of tong-twisting phrases in Italian this aria is said to be one of the most difficult pieces and a test of excellence for any opera singer. It is in performing “Largo al factotum” that the true talents reveal their skills at interpretation. The following video is an excerpt from 1948 film Mad about Opera and it presents one of the most exceptional executions of “Largo al factotum”. The film tells a story of a group of opera singers, who all visit Italian district in London hoping to give a concert and collect money for renovation of local church, which was destroyed during II World War. Reality is mixed with fantasy in the film setting that brings together some of the most significant voices of the era – Tito Gobbi, Beniamino Gigli, Gino Bechi and Tito Schipa – who all perform famous arias cooperating for the greater goal and competing against each other at the same time. Upon his landing in London Gino Bechi gives the magnificent performance:
The biggest successes of the great opera singer Gino Bechi coincided with dramatic events in European history (II World War) and therefore the singer did not receive proper recognition outside of his mother country. In Italy, however, his fame and position were never questioned. Bechi debuted as Germont in La Traviata in 1936 and until his retirement in 1965 his repertoire was dominated by Verdi’s operas (leading baritone roles in Rigoletto, Nabucco, Aida, Un ballo in maschera and other). Classified as dramatic baritone Bechi had voice range broad enough to handle also lyric baritone roles, such as Figaro in The Barber of Seville.
Another excellent example of a typical lyric baritone part is the Valentin’s aria from the II Act of Charles Gounod’s Faust. Based on the first part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play Faust the opera is a dramatic story of forbidden love and the consequences of disregarding common social and cultural norms. Although he is not the main character, Valentin, the brother of Marguerite, gives unforgettable performance singing the aria known as “Even Bravest Heart May Swell”. Valentin personifies all of the values, norms and standards, which were discarded by Faust and on the eve of upcoming war Valentin does not falter, but bravely faces the challenge, concerned, however, about the safety and well-being of his sister. Following video presents Valentin’s aria sung by Gino Quilico, a Canadian singer of Italian origins:
German classical music provides a handful of operas with lyric baritone parts, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. This light-hearted, visionary opera tells a mythical story of prince Tamino, who sets on a journey to rescue beautiful Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, from the hands of sorcerer and the Queen’s adversary – Sarastro. Accompanied by a comic character Papageno and with the aid of magic flute Tamino undergoes a set of trials in order to save Pamina and gain ultimate wisdom. In the opening of the I Act Papageno, eccentric bird-catcher, who is serving the Queen, enters the stage singing aria known as “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”. In the following video the part of Papageno is performed by Hermann Prey, German baritone specializing in comic roles. Although his voiced has distinctive deep sound Prey was able to sing also in higher registers, typical for tenor range. Prey was also praised for his outstanding comedy acting skills. Hermann Prey debuted in Wiesbaden in 1953, soon after he joined the Hamburg State Opera company and regularly performed at the renowned Metropolitan Opera and during few editions of Salzburg Festival.
Russian operatic traditions are no alien to lyric baritone roles, which can be found in the acclaimed Eugene Onegin, the opera composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to libretto based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel. Eugene Onegin is particularly notable example of lyric opera, because the main role in the spectacle is intended for lyric baritone. The following aria comes from the ending of the I Act and is Onegin’s response to Tatyana’s declaration of love. Unable to reciprocate her feelings Onegin rejects Tatyana and criticizes her emotional openness. In following video the part is sung by Yuri Mazurok, Ukrainian baritone, who debuted as Onegin at the stage of Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1963. His outstanding performance was widely praised by critics and granted him the position of one of the best exponents of Tchaikovsky’s music. Mazurok gained international recognition and performed in major opera houses – Metropolitan Opera in New York, Royal Opera in London and Vienna State Opera.