So it’s my first time posting here! Hurrah!

The major question we’re all asking with Tonseisha is “what is an opera?”  I’m majorly excited to see what Kim has written for me and Cheyney, and one thing I do know is that we have a “Love Duet”.  I find myself thinking about big operatic love duets and how music and singing express love and romance.  I thought I’d find a few examples of love duets from opera and, where possible, duets between soprano and baritone (more on that later), so that the rest of you all know what my “expectations” are – or, if you prefer, what my preconceptions are as an opera singer.  I also want to put across an idea of the different styles of love duet in opera and how varied they can be.

So, for my first example.  It isn’t necessarily the first piece you think of if I say “opera love duets”, but it’s one of the earliest!  “Pur ti miro” is from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. It’s actually for soprano and alto (sung either by a woman or a man singing in falsetto).  It’s simultaneously very intimate and very passionate, and the two vocal lines are intertwined in a way that is just magic.

What you probably DO think of wtih “opera love duets” is 19th century opera.  Most often the big “love duet” is between soprano and tenor, and perhaps the most famous example is La Boheme.  Rodolfo sings”che gelida manina” and Mimi the beautifully simple “si, mi chiamano Mimi”, but their love is sealed once and for all when they sing together in “O soave fanciulla”, which ends the first Act.

Mimi and Rodolfo, Manon and Des Grieux, Tosca and Cavaradossi, Violetta and Alfredo – there’s no doubt that the majority of big starry-eyed opera couples are soprano/tenor, whether things end happily or in a tragic denouement. 

In Tonseisha, however, the two singers are soprano and BARITONE.  Why is this exciting? Surely it’s not THAT unusual….

Well, generally, if we expect tenors to be heroes and lovers, the baritone in an opera is often the bad guy! 
He might be the devil himself (Mephistopheles is no tenor!) or just a really nasty guy: Scarpia in Tosca, Iago in Otello, Hagen in The Ring Cycle, Don Giovanni are all baritones. They’re wicked, they’re sexy, they’re villains.  Low = NASTY.  Here’s the big duet from Verdi’s Trovatore, where nasty Conte di Luna wants to have Leonora, whether she’s willing or not:


When the baritone isn’t the bad guy, he’s often the soprano’s father or protector  (such as Gilda/Rigoletto, , Violetta/Germont in La Traviata).  He might be offering advice, such as Sharpless to Cio-Cio San in Madam Butterfly, Marcello to Mimi in Boheme, and even Leporello to Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni.  He’s usually not the hero, but he’ll be an Older Good Guy.  From La Traviata, here is the duet between Violetta and Giorgio Germont, who finally realises that Violetta is a Good Woman:


In comic opera, we often find a baritone playing the role of the infatuated buffoon whom the soprano runs rings round before she runs off with the tenor!  In later opera, he might be the jilted husband (yes, rejected in favour of a Tenor….).  My point is, your Operatic Baritone isn’t your stereotypical knight in shining armour.

Does that mean that the Baritone never gets the girl?  Absolutely not.  Don Giovanni has ALL the girls (there’s an entire aria listing his sexual conquests by country!)  but interestingly, his only duet with a soprano (probably the most famous soprano/baritone duet) is with Zerlina, the one girl he doesn’t actually seduce in the end (because he’s interrupted, but,…details, details!) As a love duet, it’s musical perfection, but it’s not opera-denouement love – it’s just sex!  Zerlina goes back to her fiancee Masetto and Giovanni…well, you’ll just have to see the opera.

The other famous Mozart sop/bari duet is between Papageno and Papagena in The Magic Flute.  Here, the baritone has gone through Herculean trials to be rewarded with his greatest desire, a wife!  This is the moment when they meet:

But it’s the later composers who really get what a baritone can offer.  In Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, we see a reversal of stereotype: here Nedda (soprano) is married to Canio, a tenor (the “pagliaccio” or clown of the title) and is cheating on him with her lover Silvio – a baritone!  They declare for each other in a long duet, even if they both get their comeuppance in the end and it’s Canio who has the last laugh.

Another example of a “barihunk” is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.  At the beginning of the opera, Tatiana (soprano) falls hopelessly in love with Onegin (baritone), but he isn’t interested.  By the end of the opera, however, he’s realised his mistake – but too late!  She’s married to someone else, and the opera concludes with a final duet, Onegin imploring him to love her still, and Tatiana resolved to remain faithful to her husband. So sad!!

My final (I promise!) example of sop/bari action (well, bass-bari in this case) pushes the limit of what we’d classify as “opera”.  It’s always sung by opera singers, but the musical language is closer to jazz and musical theatre.  But boy is it a love duet!  It’s from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and it’s entitled “Bess, you is my woman now”.

So what’s the point of all these youtube links?  My point is that “operatic convention” dictates that soprano + tenor = happy lovers/hero and heroine, and that the baritone isn’t the usual composer’s choice for the girl-winning character.  Which is why I’m excited to see what Kim writes for us, the part Cheyney and I will play in Tonseisha, and the huge artistic potential of the project as a whole.  I hope you’re all as excited as me!!

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