Opera basses have been standing alongside the higher pitched singers in operatic performances since the art of opera began. The bass sound is described as the lowest tone that can be made with human voice. These vocalists, alongside sopranos, tenors, and altos, bring a deep, low, resonance to musical productions like opera. In short, the vocal bass is what gives a show its richness.
Here are some of the more memorable vocalists that specialized in bass.
1. Donald Adams
Our first operatic bass was born in England in 1928 Adams was most noted for his performances with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in the Savoy operas, which was a comedic style of opera. He also had an opera company of his own titled Gilbert and Sullivan for All.
Adams studied at the Bristol Cathedral School where he played the lead role in Murder in the Cathedral. This feat was accomplished at the age of sixteen. That same year he made his professional debut with the BBC Repertory Company.
While serving in the British Army Adams produced shows at Catterick Camp for the Army Repertory Theatre. Once discharged he began to sing professionally again. He began performing with the D’Oyly Carte Opera in minor parts in productions of H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Yeomen of the Guard, and the Gondoliers.
Eventually Adams was given lead roles and worked his way up and eventually became the D’Oyly Carte Opera’s primary bass-baritone voice. Yet, by 1969 he left the opera company and began to tour full time with his own, the afore mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan for All. With this group Adams gave performances in the British Isles, Australasia, North America, and the Far Eastern countries.
Still, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Adams began to seriously perform operas. He sang the lead role in The Mikado in 1983 in Chicago after receiving an invitation from Matthew Epstein. From there he went on to perform in productions of Lulu, My Fair Lady, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Marriage of Figaro, and many more.
Adams passed away one month after performing in Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House. Unfortunately, he would never be able to perform in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Metropolitan Opera later that year.
2. Salvatore Baccaloni
This Italian bass vocalist was noted to be a great artist of opera buffa, which is comedic. Baccaloni has been called the finest performer in this genre the twentieth century had ever seen. After abandoning his original aspirations of architecture, this operatic bass vocalist began to train with Giuseppe Kaschmann.
In 1922 Baccaloni premiered in The Barber of Seville as Bartolo. From there he debuted in Milan at La Scala in 1926 in Debora e Jaele by Pizzetti. First cast in in primary bass roles Baccaloni was persuaded by his conductor to focus on comedic opera roles.
The advice turned out to be the spot on and Baccaloni wowed audiences as Leporello in Don Giovanni, Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore, and the title roles in Don Pasquale, Falstaff, and Gianni Schicchi. He also performed in minor operatic characters like Sacristan in Tosca, and Benoit in La bohéme.
Internationally performing for the first time at the Royal Opera House in London. Baccaloni performed as Timur in Turandot at the Covent Garden in 1928. He then sang bass in La forza del destino as Melitone in 1930 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Six years later he was Alfonso in Cosí fan tutte at the Glyndebourne Festival in East Sussex, England.
In 1938 Baccaloni performed with the San Francisco Opera as Leporello and at the Metropolitan Opera in December of 1940 as Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro. He would continue to perform in New York at The Met for the next twelve years.
While doing all the work we already listed Baccaloni additionally sang bass with several opera companies in Philadelphia from 1951 through to 1966. He began with the lead role in Don Pasquale, at the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company in 1951. Then he performed at the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company in 1956 and went on to the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company in 1959.
Dying in New York City on New Year’s Even at the age of sixty-nine in 1969 Baccaloni is immortalized in his many recordings. He also made an appearance on Danny Thomas’ Make Room for Daddy.
3. Richard Leveridge
Born in 1670 this operatic singer made it all the way to lead bass performer by the age of twenty-five at the Drury Lane in London. It is said that Henry Purcell’s wrote The Tempest for Leveridge to perform during his time at this theater.
While performing opera Leveridge also published recordings of original tunes and theatrical numbers. He spent a short time in Dublin and then returned to the Drury Lane for bass performances in Oedipus, King Arthur, Libertine Destroyed, Timon of Athens, The Fairy Queen, Amphitryon, Tempest, and Indian Queen.
Leveridge also introduced Italian opera in 1705 and continued to perform it with works like Arsinoë, Camilla, Rosamond, Tomyris, and Love’s Triumph. Ironically, Italian opera became all the rage and Leveridge lost his position as lead bass to Italian singer Boschi.
It was at this time Leveridge forged a working relationship with George Frideric Handel, a German composer who was well known at the time. Leveridge performed in the premieres of Il pastor fido and Teseo.
He then went on to work at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London’s largest public square, in 1714. Two years later Leveridge created Pyramus and Thisbe, an Italian operatic parody. Utilizing lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Leveridge sang the role of Pyramus.
This operatic bass took a hiatus from performing for several years until 1724 and found success upon his return in 1726 in Apollo and Daphne. This secured his role as the leading bass vocalist in opera at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he stayed on for a while.
It is said that Sir John Hawkins remarked that Leveridge “had no notion of grace or elegance in singing; it was all strength and compass.” Music historian Charles Burney wrote that he could recall the bass singers performing Ghosts of every occupation, and many other works meant for his style written by Purcell.
Leveridge died in his home in London at the age of eighty-seven in 1758.
4. Charles Manners
On December 27, 1857, our next operatic bass vocalist was born in Hoddesdon, England. Charles Manners’ first performances of his career were at the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. He began his tenure there as a cast member and moved up to principal performer. One of his memorable performances was in Iolanthe as Private Willis in 1882. This was a production at the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.
The next year this operate bass left the D’Oyly and performed with quite a few opera companies including the Covent Garden and the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Later he and singer Fanny Moody, who was also his wife, started their own company that focused only on English language operas.
Manners performed in Falka as Boleslas in 1884 and in the next year, at the Empire Theatre in London, he performed an operetta. Later that year this bass vocalist performed in The Fay o’Fire as Wickermark at the Opera Comique, a theatre in Westminster.
In 1886 Manners became a member of The Royal English Opera Company, a troupe that toured through England. He played the part of Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro with this company as well as taking on the role of Commendatore in Don Giovanni.
The Carl Rosa Opera Company signed Manners to a two-year contract in 1887 as their principal bass. His first performance for the company was in Lohengrin as King Henry. Other roles performed during his tenure there include Mephistopheles in Faust, the King of Spain in Maritana, Pietro in Masaniello, and Peter the Great in L’étoile du nord.
It was while singing with the Covent Garden company, which he later joined in 1890, when Manners met his wife Fanny Moody. The two founded the Moody-Manners Opera Company with a small tour in 1898. They found great success and within four years there were two touring companies under the Moody-Manners name.
Unfortunately, a little more than a decade later, the Moody-Manners Company gave their last performance in 1916 after financial difficulties forced them to shut their doors. It was three years earlier that Manners left singing behind.
Still, he remained deeply involved with the opera community. He wrote many articles on the genre and had deep convictions for the art to become financially beneficial. Manners died at his home in Dundrum, County Dublin, Ireland at the age of seventy-seven.
5. Nathan Berg
Our final operatic bass performer hails from Canada born in Spalding, Saskatchewan. His career has spanned mostly in North America and Europe. He is still active in the opera world singing bass vocals today.
Berg studied at the University of Western Ontario he moved on to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. While there, Berg studied with Vera Rózsa and won awards in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition, Peter Pears Competition, The Royal Overseas League, Walter Gruner International Lieder Competition, and the Guildhall’s Gold Medal for Singers.
Journalist Bernard Levin said of Berg’s voice that it is “not only powerful and full of meaning, but of such velvet beauty…” After his premiere performance in Paris Nathan Berg has garnered acclaim for his influence in Early to Classical operas.
He continues to sing recitals, concerts, and operas with his bass vocal abilities. Berg has performed at the Wigmore Hall and BBC Radio Studios in London, Lincoln Center in New York, the Aix-en-Provence Festival and Musee d’Orsay in France, the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and the Winspear Centre in his home country of Canada.
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