8 Famous Bass Singers (Opera)

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)
List of popular bass singers in classical opera music.

So, you have a very low deafening voice, and you hate it because it makes you sound like thunder or a gong. Given a chance, you would have exchanged it for the voice of the likes of Michael Jackson or Freddie Mercury. Yet, your voice is genetically determined; thus, you sulk and brood. Well, you should not wallow in misery, for your voice is a gift. Moreover, you can even become a famous bass singer. 

It will help if you remember that not all solo singers are tenors or baritones. So. if you are gifted with a pure thundering bass voice, you should be proud of your voice, for it is very manly.

Besides, you can even land a role in opera and become famous. You can play, for example, the role of Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serail of Mozart. You can also play the role of Baron Ochs in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.

Understanding the Bass Range

The range of bass usually goes from the second F just below the middle C up to the E just above the middle C. If you have the voice range like that, you can comfortably sing songs within this range. The bass, of course, is the most profound male voice position in the musical note system. Yet, there are very few pure bass singers in the world. 

Knowing their rarity makes you also understand that very few music repertoires were written for this voice. Moreover, it helps to note that only around 5 percent of bass singers have pure bass voices. Thus, if you have a booming bass voice, you should be proud of it for your voice is a rarity.

List of Operatic Bass Singers

If you suspect that your voice belongs to the bass category, then you should develop it. One way to enhance it is to practice more often and get some famous operatic bass singers’ tips. Here is a shortlist of the well-known operatic bass signers:

1) Boris Christoff

Born on May 18, 1914, right at the onset of World War I, Boris Christoff was a Bulgarian and a known operatic singer. Christoff was regarded as one of the greatest bass singers of the last century. Being born to a family of singers, he inherited the incredible bass voice of his father. 

He took Law, and when he graduated, he worked as a magistrate. Yet, he continued singing during his spare time in Sofia and achieved remarkable success as a chorus soloist. Soon after, Christoff left for Italy in 1942 and studied in the Italian bass repertoire under Riccardo Stracciari.

Christoff’s voice was characterized by a distinctive dark tone, which was not large compared to other bass voices. He did not have any problem singing inside a big auditorium like that of the San Francisco Opera. Moreover, he sported a fantastic stage presence. He always assumed that dramatic temperament that made him worthy of inheriting the grand Slavonic basses tradition, typified by Fyodor Stravinsky, Vladimir Kastorsky, and Lev Sibiriakov.

Soon after, he was singing in Verdi and Russian Opera. He was also a vocal chamber music’s refined performer. He became famous for his roles as Tsar Boris in Mussorgsky, Philip II in Verdi, Mephistopheles, Ivan Susanin, Tsar Ivan, Dusifei, Gomez da Silva, Padre Guardiano, and many other roles.


2) Nicolaï Ghiaurov

Nicolaï Ghiaurov was born on September 13, 1929. He is also a Bulgarian opera singer and very famous bass after the war. He is highly regarded for his great powerful voice that could enthrall a crowd of spectators. He played various roles like those of Mussorgsky and Verdi. 

He married Zlatina Mishakova, a Bulgarian pianist in 1956 and Mirella Freni, an Italian soprano, in 1978. Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov lived in Modena and performed together frequently.

Nicolai Ghiaurov got his significant break in 1955 when he won some major prizes. He first won the International Vocal Competition’s Grand Prix in Paris. He also won the first prize at Prague’s Fifth World Youth Festival. During this year, he made his operatic debut in Sofia, as he played Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville in Sofia. 

After a year, he made his Italian operatic debut in Teatro Comunale Bologna. Then, he started his international career in the opera Boris Godunov in 1959 at La Scala. He made his US debut in Faust at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1963. His obituary said it all that he commanded an excellent vocal instrument characterized by a certain warmth and darkness.


3) Jerome Hines

Jerom A. Hines was born on November 8, 1921. He was an American operatic bass, who frequently performed from 1946 to 1987 at the Metropolitan Opera. Hines got a stentorian voice that made him a perfect choice for roles like Sarastro of Magic Flute, Mephistopheles of Faust, Ramfis of Aida, King Mark of Tristan und Isolde, and many more. He was also an imposing figure on stage standing at 6’6″.

Hines took Chemistry and Mathematics at the University of California. At the same time, he took vocal lessons likewise. Hines soon made his operatic debut in 1941 at the San Francisco Opera, taking the role of Monterone in Rigoletto. His manager suggested that he changed his name to Hines to avoid being a target of anti-German feelings.

He further honed his singing skills under the guidance of Vladimir Rosing and Samuel Margolis. He soon made his European debut playing Nick Shadow at Edinburgh Festival. In 1958, he debuted at La Scala, taking George Frederic Handel’s Hercules’ role.

Hines is considered as one of this generation’s greatest singers. Experts and fans revered him for the richness of his voice timbre and its flexibility. He was also well respected for his great attitude in researching the roles he played.


4) René Pape

Born in Dresden, East Germany, René Pape’s parents divorced when he was two years old. He then sometimes stayed with his grandmother, who opened him to music, his maternal grandfather, being an operetta tenor. 

In 1974, Pape received his early formal education in music until 1981 under Dresdner Kreuzchor. In 1988, he debuted in Berlin and soon achieved international recognition in 1991 when he was cast as Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte. He also played this role at La Scala under Solti’s direction in Milan.

Pape received two Grammys for Die Meistersinger in 1997 and Tannhauser in 2002. He was also acclaimed as the Vocalist of the Year in 2002 by Musical America. Moreover, he got named the Artist of the Year in 2008 by the German opera critics. At present, Pape is still active in the operatic scene.


5) Kurt Moll

Another great German operatic bass singer is Kurt Moll. He was born on April 11, 1938. He enjoyed a remarkable international career, and his performances were widely recorded. His bass voice has that full resonant low with very-low notes and came with a very relaxed vibrato. It was also noted for its extreme volume and a contrabassoon-like timbre.

He did not have a very thunderous voice despite his excellent bass voice, though his voice is sufficient to take the most demanding roles. Yet, he never performed vocally athletic roles. His interpretations appeared to be intelligent and restrained even in his depiction of comedic roles like Baron Ochs of Der Rosenkavalier and Osmin of Die Entführung aus dem Serail.


6) Martti Talvela

Martti Olavi Talvela was born in Hiitola, Finland, on February 4, 1935. He studied in Stockholm and Lahti, and soon, in 1960, made his operatic debut in Helsinki, singing the role of Sparafucile. He had incredible stamina, having trained as a boxer when he was young. 

Talvela took primary school teaching and worked for three years as a primary school teacher. Then, at the Stockholm Royal Opera, he sang from 1961 to 1962. Then, he got employed as a regular singer at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper in 1962. That same year, he also debuted at Bayreuth.

An immensity and wide range characterize Talvela’s voice. He could bring a mixture of gentleness and grandeur to his roles. Moreover, he brought in a massive presence with his 6 feet and 8 inches stature. He also weighed 300 pounds. Thus, as a vocal actor, he could easily bring in a dignified air to his roles.


7) Cesare Siepi

Born on February 10, 1923, Cesare Siepi was an Italian opera singer and considered one of the most refined post-war era basses. His voice carried a deep and warm timbre that was resonant and wide-ranging in its lower register. It also had a relaxed vibrato and vibrant upper register. 

His stage presence was characterized by elegance and airy presence. Plus, his phrasing was elegant that made him get roles like Don Giovanni.

Siepi began singing as a madrigal group member. He learned from the music conservatory at that time in his home city. However, he claimed that he was a self-taught singer. However, World War II interrupted his career, so he fled to Switzerland because he was tagged as being against the fascist regime. 

Soon after the war, his career took off as he successfully sang in Nabucco in Venice, followed by many engagements later at La Scala, Milan. He played there in the Verdi bass roles. He also played Bolto’s Mefistofele and Colline in La bohème, and many more.

He also frequently guested at Viena State Opera. He made appearances at 43 performances where he sang Don Giovanni. He likewise sang Basilio of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Colline in La Boheme, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, and many other roles.


8) Matti Salminen

Matti Kalervo Salminen was born on July 7, 1945. He was an operatic bass who hailed from Finland. He sang at the significant world opera houses that included Bayreuth Festival and Metropolitan. He had an imposing figure being 6’5″ in height. He also had a cavernous and heavy dark voice characterized by an expansive upper register. 

Salminen’s face is too expressive. Critics regarded him as having the largest bass voice captured in a body. Besides, the way he projects his voice made him a unique operatic singer. 

One distinctive characteristic of Salminen was his ability to portray a menacing and threatening character with ease. He ably performed, for example, Fafner and Hagen. 

Salminen had a long list of roles that he sang, and in 2016, he performed a farewell concert in December at Zurich Opera House. Lastly, he received many awards, including two Grammy Awards in 1982 and 1991 for Best Opera Recording and many other recognitions.


Conclusion

If you are gifted with a pure bass voice, you should be glad about it because pure bass singers are rare. Moreover, as the deepest man’s voice, it sounds very manly. You can also expand your range with proper training, and if you are lucky, you can make a name for yourself. Remember that the famous bass singers mentioned above are testaments to the fact that if you have a thunderous bass voice, you can also carve a niche for yourself in the operatic world.

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