In its most straightforward classification, the human singing voice comes in four categories. Look at any piece of choral music and you’ll find a basic division of voices into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. But, while this system works reasonably well for groups of singers (i.e. choirs and choruses) when it comes to solo voices – the characters in operas, for instance – things get rather more complicated.
Composers often write arias, etc. with the tessitura (range), tone quality and vocal agility (and let’s not forget acting ability!) of a particular singer in mind; but, of course, the original performers are for the most part long deceased; so it then falls to the individual opera house to match voices, acting ability and appearance to the cast list of whatever work they’re producing. One way of doing this – and the one we’re going to use – is the German Fach (plural Fächer) system of vocal categories which, instead of the four mentioned above (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) contains in excess of thirty voice-types in its classification.
Starting in the basement and working up: below (borrowed from Wikipedia), are the Fach system’s seven different bass voices followed by a few better known examples of bass arias/ensembles:
And here are a few examples:
The Barber of Seville
Doctor Bartolo – Lyric Buffo
Méphistophélès – Dramatic Buffo
Sorastro – Lyric Serious
A confrontation between two dramatic basses –
Philip II of Spain & his Grand Inquisitor
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