Tenors are also the most popular voice in popular music too, but they seem to really dominate opera. As you can probably tell, I’m not an opera fan. I don’t hate it, but I am ambivalent towards the music, especially The Opera. I do enjoy some arias, and folk-style music sand by Pavorotti and his ilk. But no “stories” for me, please. I’ve tried.
So what about female voices? Soprano? I dunno.
I suspect affectation in the audience, but I could be way off in that.
The main reason tenors and sopranos are favored in opera is that being able to hit the high notes is a real crowd pleaser.
Divas prefer to believe that tenors’ brains are microscopically small so that the high notes they hit can resonate in their empty skulls.
The heroes of operas tend to be young, thin guys. Much like the heroes of the movies and the stage and pretty much everything else.
Most of the people who write operas give the young thin guy roles to tenors. The baritone and bass roles go to older, fatter, eviller characters who don’t end up getting the girl (who is usually a soprano, as the composers give the old lady roles to altos).
I’ve heard (read) that divas and divos do not generally admire each other.
Re: Tenors tend to be skinny.
Then Mario Lanza and Luciano Pavarotti are exceptions? Both had enormous appetites.
Lanza, e.g., ate himself out of a movie role when he gained so much weight that his costumes didn’t fit.
And that line about the resonating tenors’ skulls…I read it when Mario was filming and at the top of his popularity. He’d come on the set dressed only in his jock strap to hit those high C’s. I believe his costar was Kathryn Grayson who positively detested him.
Caruso was no lightweight, either, I think.
You’ll find that in the majority of romantic opera, the tenor is the romantic lead. Outside of that period, things tend to be much more even. For instance, the majority of American opera tends to give the lead (romantic or otherwise) to baritones and basses. You’ll find the same in some earlier opera too (Le Nozze di Figaro, for example).
I don’t think that weight has much to do with it. “Thin opera singer” isn’t a exectly a household phrase.
I think it has a lot to do with higher voices being more associated with innocence and/or heroism. And yeah, nothing like hearing a man (or woman) do the vocal equivelant of a high wire act.
That being said, if I were an opera singer, I’d want to be a baritone. Much jucier roles. I want to play Iago!
Wotan isn’t a tenor. Boris Godunov is a low voice. Eugene Onegin, baritone. Oberon, countertenor? Hang on a minute…
There’s two ways in which ‘high voice = lead male’ makes sense. Either only look at specific selections of Italian opera. Or, even more reliably, follow the lead of ‘Opera’s Greatest Hits vol. III’.
Wotan isn’t the hero. He’s the old guy. Siegmund and Siegfried are the heroes. Both tenors.
Mozart WAS famous for giving lead roles to the lower voices…Figaro, Don Giovanni, and a case could be made that Papageno and not Tamino is the REAL hero of Zauberflote.
Wotan dominates Die Walkure, does he not? I see nothing about heroes in the thread title
The Flying Dutchman is the hero and romantic lead. Eric (the tenor) is a pussy.
Most Wagner follows the standard Italian formula, though.
I just wish that was in the libretto somewhere. Or indeed that of any opera, ever.
Higher voices are traditionally associated with youth and passion. That is why tenors and sopranos tend to be assigned the romantic lead roles. And since much of opera’s appeal is in its romantic value, the higher voices are seen as the stars of the show.
Naturally, like everything in opera, these are tendencies and not ironclad rules.
Sorry to kickstart a mostly defunct conversation from last week, but I wanted to add that the perception represented by the OP has a lot to do with the dominance of 19th-century and versismo operas in the current repertory. Puccini and Verdi are the only composers that most non- opera-goers think of as typical, and both of those composers wrote heroic and romantic roles predominantly for the tenor voice.
As others have already commented, if modern works, 18th-century or baroque works, or even Wagner were better known by people outside the opera community, the perception might be different.