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Vocal ranges
Female ranges

Male ranges


In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high voice (although not as high as the modern countertenor). In four part chorale-style harmony, it is the second lowest voice, above the bass and below the soprano and alto. A typical operatic tenor will have a range extending from the C below middle C to the C above middle C (C3-C5), though in choral music tenors are rarely asked to sing above Bb4 except in solos. In a mixed-gender choir, females may also sing as tenors. Generally the tenor roles are parallel to the soprano roles, in that they are usually the most sympathetic male roles; they play the hero, the lover... but there are the occasional villains (the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto; Lt. Pinkerton and Goro in Madame Butterfly). A tenor is classified by several vocal traits, inlcuding range, tone quality, vocal lift points, and transition points within the singer's range.

Rosario la Spina, an Australian born tenor Rosario la Spina, an Australian born tenor


Origin of the term

The name "tenor" comes from the Latin word tenere, which means "to hold". In medieval and Renaissance polyphony between about 1250 and 1500, the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or ‘holding’) voice, vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor, which often proceeded in longer note values and carried a borrowed Cantus firmus melody. Until the late 15th-century introduction of the contratenor bassus, the tenor was usually the lowest voice, assuming the role of providing a harmonic foundation. It was also in the 15th century that "tenor" came to signify the male voice that sang such parts; later it was applied not only to singers, but also instrumental parts occupying approximately the same register, such as the Tenor violin.

Other uses

In the Barbershop harmony musical style, the name "tenor" is used for the highest part. The four parts are known (lowest to highest) as bass, baritone, lead, and tenor. The tenor generally sings in falsetto voice (thus the term tenor used in barbershop terminology most closely corresponds to the term countertenor as used in classical music), and harmonizes above the lead, who sings the melody. The barbershop tenor range is, as notated, Bb-below-middle C to D-above-high-C (and sung an octave lower).

It is often applied to instruments to indicate their range in relation to other instruments of the same group. For instance the tenor saxophone.

Also a literary term refferring to part of a sentence.

Types of tenor and tenor roles in operas

In opera, distinctions are made between different types of tenor:

  • Tenore drammatico, di forza or robusto: a powerful, rich, heroic tenor
    • Calaf (Turandot)
      Otello (Otello)
      Radamés (Aida)
      Rodolfo (Luisa Miller)
      Samson (Samson et Dalila)
  • Heldentenor: the German equivalent of the tenore drammatico, however with a more baritonal quality; the typical Wagnerian protagonist
    • Apollo (Daphne)
      Claudio (Das Liebesverbot)
      Cola Rienzi (Rienzi)
      Erik (Der fliegende Holländer)
      Florestan (Fidelio)
      Heinrich Tannhäuser (Tannhäuser)
      Loge (Das Rheingold)
      Lohengrin (Lohengrin)
      Parsifal (Parsifal)
      Paul (Die Tote Stadt)
      Siegfried (Götterdämmerung, Siegfried)
      Siegmund (Die Walküre)
      Walter von Stolzing (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg)
      Tristan (Tristan und Isolde)
  • Tenore leggero: a light, flexible tenor, specializing in the Mozartean repertoire, but also in the operas of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, and sometimes specializing in Baroque repertoire or in comical roles
    • Belmonte (Die Entführung aus dem Serail)
      Count Almaviva (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
      Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni)
      Don Ramiro (La Cenerentola)
      Ernesto (Don Pasquale)
      Ferrando (Cosi fan tutte)
      Gérald (Lakmé)
      Lindoro (L'Italiana in Algeri)
      Nemorino (L'Elisir d'Amore)
  • Tenore Buffo: a relatively weak voice with certain limitations, with a timbre that is not entirely appealing. Specializes in comic roles such as
    • Don Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro)
      Don Curzio (Le nozze di Figaro)
      Gabriel von Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus)
      Mime (Das Rheingold)
      Monostatos (Die Zauberflöte)
      Pedrillo (Die Entführung aus dem Serail)
  • Tenore lirico or di grazia: a lightweight, graceful, lyric tenor
    • David (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg)
      Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto)
      Edgar (Edgar)
      Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor)
      Faust (Faust)
      Hoffmann (Les contes d'Hoffmann)
      Idomeneo (Idomeneo)
      Lensky (Eugene Onegin)
      Lionel (Martha)
      Macduff (Macbeth)
      Nadir (Les Pêcheurs de Perles)
      Rodolfo (La Boheme)
      Roméo (Roméo et Juliette)
      Ruggero (La Rondine)
      Tamino (Die Zauberflöte)
      Tito (La clemenza di Tito)
      Werther (Werther)
      Wilhelm Meister (Mignon)
  • Tenore (lirico) spinto: a lyric tenor with more "punch", therefore able to play more heroic roles
    • An Italian Tenor (Der Rosenkavalier)
      Benjamin Pinkerton (Madame Butterfly)
      Benvenuto Cellini (Benvenuto Cellini)
      Canio (I Pagliacci)
      Don Carlos (Don Carlos)
      Don José (Carmen)
      Ernani (Ernani)
      Foresto (Attila)
      Manrico (Il trovatore)
      Mario Cavaradossi (Tosca)
      Maurizio (Adriana Lecouvreur)
      Max (Der Freischütz)
      Riccardo (Un Ballo di Maschera)
      Turiddu (Cavalleria Rusticana)
  • Trial: a high, thin, nasal tenor, used for character roles. Named after Antoine Trial (1736-1792), a singer at the Opéra Comique. Benoit (La Bohéme)
  • Baritenor, a lyric dark tenor, or one with a strong baritonic lower register, but tops out only a A or B below middle C.

Tenor roles in operettas and musicals

Alfred (Tanz der Vampire)
Anthony Hope (Sweeney Todd)
Adolfo Pirelli (Sweeney Todd)
Tobias Ragg (Sweeney Todd)
The Beadle (Sweeney Todd)
Barinkay (Der Zigeunerbaron)
Bat Boy (Edgar) (Bat Boy: The Musical)
Caliph (Kismet)
Candide (Candide)
Charlie (Brigadoon)
Che (Evita) (Must also have a strong lower and middle register.)
The Emcee (Cabaret)
Enjolras (Les Miserables) (Can also be played effectively by a baritone.)
Freddy Eynsford-Hill (My Fair Lady)
Frederic (The Pirates of Penzance)
Henry Jekyll / Edward Hyde (Jekyll & Hyde)
Herr Schultz (Cabaret)
Imam (Kismet)
Jean Valjean (Les Miserables)
Jesus (Jesus Christ Superstar)
Joseph (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) (However, some baritones have played the role.)
Judas Iscariot (Jesus Christ Superstar)
Leader (Lost in the Stars)
Lt. Cable (South Pacific)
Marcellus Washburn (The Music Man)
Marius (Les Miserables) (Can also be played just as effectively by a baritone.)
Mark Cohen (Rent (musical))
Marryin' Sam (Li'l Abner)
Mr. Snow (Carousel)
Nanki-Poo (The Mikado)
Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Guys and Dolls)
Dr. Thomas Parker (Bat Boy:The Musical)
The Phantom (Erik) (The Phantom of the Opera), although baritones have also sung the part.
Pompineau (The Cat and the Fiddle)
Professor Abronsius (Tanz der Vampire)
Ralph Rackstraw (H.M.S. Pinafore)
Raoul de Chagny (The Phantom of the Opera) Can also be performed effectively by baritones
Roger Davis(Rent)
Sam Kaplan (Street Scene)
Simba (The Lion King)
Tony (West Side Story)
Tateh (Ragtime)
Mother's Younger Brother (Ragtime)
The Leading Player (Pippin)
Pippin (Pippin)
Riff Raff (The Rocky Horror Show)
Angel Dumott-Schunard (Rent)
Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear (Avenue Q)
Fiyero (Wicked)
Alex Dillingham (Aspects of Love) (Has been played successfully by baritones)
Seymour Krelbhorn (Little Shop of Horrors)
Radames (Aida (musical))
Tony (West Side Story)

Famous tenors

Classical music


Many of the most famous opera singers have been tenors.

There have also been some tenors who have been well known for other types of music, who have concentrated on concert performances either with orchestras, or in chamber music, such as lieder or song recitals. These performers may be better known for this kind of work than for opera.


David Fallows, Owen Jander. "Tenor", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, (subscription access).

See also

Home | Up | Sopranist | Alto | Tenor | Baritenor | Baritone | Bass-baritone | Bass

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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