Tenors capture the imagination of audiences like no other voice type. Be it slaying dragons or serenading princesses, tenor roles are traditionally performed by a male singer. With so many notable arias in the repertoire, we asked WNO Associate Artist Adam Gilbert to compile a list of some of his favourite, challenging and beloved roles in the tenor operatic repertoire.
- Vesti la giubba from I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo
Sung by Canio – the leader of a group of travelling clowns – towards the end of act one, this iconic aria will always be included on my list of favourite arias. Its raw drama never fails to engulf me. At this point in the opera, Canio has just discovered his wife’s infidelity but the show must go on. It is the epitome of the tragic clown who laughs on the outside but weeps on the inside. I remember hearing this aria long before I transitioned from a baritone to a tenor. I rushed to the piano to try it out. I now look on it as a dream role with the dream aria and have it in my sights for the future, sometime, I hope.
- Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini
No tenor aria list is complete without this showstopper. In 1990, Pavarotti infamously sang this great piece at the Italian World Cup, single handily bringing opera to the masses. From its gentle opening, thrilling build up (which includes an offstage chorus), to the famous high B climax - this aria has it all. It will send shivers down the spine of any prospective tenor, without fail – it is a masterpiece.
- Una furtiva lagrima from The Elixir of Love by Donizetti
I love this aria for its beauty and simplicity. It is an incredibly difficult piece to sing, mainly because it delicately sits in the tenor’s danger point, the dreaded passagio (the act of changing from one register to another). It is sung by Nemorino, a charming yet simple young man who tries to win Adina’s heart with a love potion. During the aria, he believes that he is winning her over however its winding minor key suggests otherwise…
- E lucevan le stelle from Tosca by Puccini
I am always drawn to the darker, more despairing operas as they tug on my heartstrings, none more than this one. The clarinet solo which opens this aria perfectly sets the scene. With his impending death, Cavaradossi sits alone in his cell dreaming and reminiscing of his beloved Tosca. I remember watching one of my first singing teachers perform this role, before I knew much about the wonderful world of opera. To this day, I can still visualise that rendition of E lucevan le stele - goosebumps all over.
- Rachel! Quand du seigneur from La Juive by Fromental Halévy
This aria has found its way into my soul and I catch myself singing it everywhere. With the aim of breaking down religious differences, this opera is based around the impossible love between a Christian man and a Jewish woman. After dedicating his life to make his adopted daughter Rachel happy, during his darkest moments he contemplates the reality that it might be him that sends her to the gallows. The slow, lilting minor feel allows the older man to think about his next move.
- Che gelida manina from La bohéme by Puccini
Another Puccini classic from everyone’s favourite chocolate box opera completes my list. Filled with beautiful arias, this showstopper is sung by the poet Rudolfo to Mimi, of whom he loves. The tragic love story begins with an iconic touch of a hand. I have performed the role of Marcello several times and I remember every night; the entire cast would gather in the wings to listen to this heart stopping moment.