Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ten Great Operatic Basses

Top Ten Bass Singers
    Samuel Ramey
Ferruccio Furlanetto
Pol Plancon
Ezio Pinza
Evgeny Nesterenko
Nicolai Ghiaurov
Nazzereno de Angelis 
Bonaldo Giaiotti
Cesare Siepi
Kurt Moll

I have been fascinated with the bass voice for about twenty years.  I remember my dad playing a recording of "Rigoletto" back then and I was trying to tell the difference between the baritone and the bass.  This list is not ranked in order.  It is based on ten singers I love listening to and who have contributed in significant ways to the field of opera.

Samuel Ramey- The most recorded bass singer in history.  Ramey had a powerful and dark timbre with tremendous bite in the sound when he was in his prime.  He sang all over the world, had a very impressive vocal range, and awesome agility when singing roles by Rossini.  In addition, since he had such an exceptional upper range, Ramey specialized in the early Verdi high bass roles.  He is possibly the greatest Attilla who ever lived combining impressive singing and strong stage presence.  I had the pleasure of hearing Ramey in 2000 as Verdi's King Phillip, and it was very powerful.  Here is Ramey at the height of his powers singing Attilla.

Ferruccio Furlanetto, is still active and going very strong at the age of 64.  I was blown away when I heard him live in "Don Carlo" this past March because I wasn't expecting him to be as good as he was.  Furlanetto basically sings everything, and crosses over from comic roles to serious roles very naturally.  For example he was one of the great Leporellos in "Don Giovanni", and sang the role for several decades.  Currently he is a great Don Quichotte in Massenet's "Don Quichotte", which is a very serious role.  When he is interviewed he is a humble man, and very smart with the meaning of the music he sings.  I am sure he has some good years left. Check out the aria from L'Italiana in Algeri on YouTube from January of this year.  He doesn't sound 63 at all in this recording.

Pol Plancon was one of the first recorded basses in the history of recording.  Luckily he lived when the gramophone was invented, so his art could survive.  Pol Plancon sang all over the world, and was a true lyric bass who used his instrument very wisely.  He was a frequent performer at the Metropolitan Opera, and was most widely known for his portrayal of Mephistopheles in Gounod's "Faust."  My favorite recording of Pol Plancon is his rendition of the Drum Major's Aria by Ambroise Thomas.  His coloratura is magnificent.

Ezio Pinza was perhaps the most famous bass who ever lived.  He had a beautiful and clear timbre with a tremendous forward resonance.  He was a Met regular for several decades, and many of his recordings are available on records and CDs.  He was most famous for roles such as Figaro, and Don Giovanni.  He also excelled in Verdi operas, and French operas such as Faust and "The Tales of Hoffmann."  Pinza's tremendous popularity, charisma and good looks made him a sensation on Broadway as well.  He is Emile Debecque on the original cast recording of "South Pacific."  Pinza was a basso cantabile, but he had a very nice low range down to low d.  Listen to his recording of "Le Cor" by Flegier.  His low D at the end is very strong, and that note isn't an easy one.

Evgeny Nesterenko is still alive, and was still singing as of 2008.   Nesterenko is currently most active as a teacher and competition judge in Russia.  Nesterenko sang repertoire in Russian, French and Italian, and is one of the greatest portrayers of Boris Godunov in history.  Nesterenko was without a doubt a heavy bass in his prime, but could also sing with great nuance and agility.  He was insanely popular in Russia.  Just watch his recital on YouTube.  The audience goes crazy over everything he performs.  He premiered several Shostakovich works such as the 14th and the Sonnets of Micelangelo.  He is on recordings of Nabucco, Faust and Il Trovatore. He is spectacular in all of them,  but his portrayal of Boris really stands out for me.  He sings the role as if he is a Shakespearean actor with tremendous nuance.  Here is Nesterenko singing Boris's death scene.

Nicolai Ghiaurov was one of the most versatile basses of the later half of the 20th century.  Ghiaurov had a stellar legato and was all about the musical phrase.  His voice could be very lyrical, and also very powerful.  His portrayal of King Phillip is one of the greatest of all time.  He recorded it several times and sang it all over the world, including multiple times at the Met.  Ghiaurov was also stunning as Gremin in "Eugene Onegin."  His great sense of the musical line works brilliantly in Gremin's Aria.  In addition he was one of the great portrayers of Mozart's Don Giovanni when he was young.  Like Pinza, Ghaiurov was very popular for a bass.  Audiences all over the world loved him.  Here is Gremin's aria.

Nazzareno de Angelis had a trumpet like bass voice, but could also sing very softly and lyrically.  The timbre was a high bass because of his fantastic top notes, but the size of his voice was unmistakable.  His portrayal of Boito's Mefistofele is brilliant.  Fortunately he recorded the entire role, and despite him being past his prime, it is still just fantastic.  The top notes in particular are just monstrous.  What's most unique about it is just simply everything.  de Angelis mainly excelled in early Verdi, and other bel canto repertoire. But he also sang Wotan in Wagner's Ring.  Here is de Angelis singing some of his signature role, Mefistofele.  

Bonaldo Giaiotti is not as famous as he should be in my opinion.  However, he is up there with the all time greatest basses because of his powerful and clear timbre.  His top voice was very strong when he was in his prime.  His recording of the role of Walter in "Luisa Miller" is unstoppable.  His Italian diction is a model for singers to listen to.  Listening to his diction not only is helpful with Italian diction, but a good model for healthy singing.  Giaiotti sang well into his 70s.  His prime was the late 1960s through the 1980s, but he was still singing well into old age.  Giaiotti's bread and butter was the Italian belcanto repertoire from Rossini to early Verdi.  However, he did venture into mature Verdi, some verismo, and French opera, such as "Le Cid" by Massenet.  Here is Giaiotti singing "Un Ignoto" from "I Masnadieri" by Verdi.

Cesare Siepi was an excellent Don Giovanni, and was probably most known for that role.  He had a very dark and impressive timbre with a very wide range from low c to high f sharp.  He sang Italian bel canto rep, mature Verdi, French opera, verismo opera, art song, and Broadway show tunes.  Siepi sang well into his 60s and was famous as a recitalist of art song through the end of his career.  Here is Siepi singing some Don Giovanni.

 Kurt Moll was a very smart German bass who I would call a lyric basso profondo, or lyric deep bass.  Moll was one of the most famous portrayers of Sarastro in "The Magic Flute" and Osmin in "Abduction from the Seraglio." Moll excelled in Osmin's famous aria with the sustained low d without any problem.  His recording of that role from 1971 on Deutsch Gramaphone is as good as it gets.  Although German is his native language, Moll's diction in that recording is clear as a bell, and vocally he couldn't be better.  Moll continued to sing Osmin until he was 65.  Moll also ventured into Italian rep and his bright forward sound worked very well in that repertoire.  He even recorded Monterone in "Rigoletto" which is either a dramatic baritone or a bass baritone.  Here is Moll singing some Osmin.  Moll'slow notes were booming in person.