A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass that shares certain qualities with the baritone voice type.The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner labelled these roles as Hoher Bass ("high bass") — see fach for more details.
The bass-baritone voice is distinguished by two attributes. First, it must be capable of singing comfortably in a baritonal tessitura. It must also, however, have the resonant lower range typically associated with the bass. For example, the role of Wotan in Die Walküre covers the range from F at the bottom of the bass clef to F# above middle C, but only infrequently descends beyond the C below middle C. Bass-baritones are typically divided into two separate categories: lyric bass-baritone and dramatic bass-baritone.
The term bass-baritone is roughly synonymous with the Italian term basso cantante; for example, in Verdi, Philip II in Don Carlos is usually taken by a bass-baritone, while Ferrando in Il Trovatore is sung by a true bass—though the two roles' ranges are very similar. In Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande the lower baritone role of Golaud is a bass-baritone, sitting between Pelleas (high baritone) and Arkel (bass). See fach for more. Much of the oratorio repertoire, from Handel's Messiah to Mendelssohn's Elijah is best suited to a bass-baritone with the ability to combine a rich, dark tone with a smooth high-lying cantabile line. Many of the Mozart baritone roles such as Don Giovanni, Figaro and Gugliemo — composed before the term "baritone" gained currency — are typically played by a bass-baritone.
Bass-baritone is a voice with the resonant low notes of the typical bass but with the ability to sing in a baritonal tessitura. Sometimes it also refers to a voice with a range and tone somewhere between a bass and a baritone. The bass-baritone's required range can vary tremendously based on the role, with some less demanding than others. Many bass-baritones venture into the baritone repertoire, like Friedrich Schorr, George London, James Morris and Bryn Terfel.
The following are more often performed by high basses as opposed to lower baritones.
Trial By Jury: Usher
The Sorcerer: Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre
HMS Pinafore: Dick Deadeye
The Pirates of Penzance: The Pirate King
Patience: Colonel Calverley
Princess Ida: King Hildebrand, Arac, Guron
The Mikado: The Mikado of Japan
Ruddigore: Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, Sir Despard Murgatroyd
The Yeomen of the Guard: Sergeant Meryll, Wilfred Shadbolt
The Gondoliers: Don Alhambra del Bolero
Note: These singers can be considered basses, not bass-baritones, because of their main repertory and voice color.
A bass-baritone is a male singer whose voice is quite low, like a deep baritone, but not quite as low as really deep bass. People started to describe some singers as "bass-baritones" in the 19th century, particularly when the composer Richard Wagner wrote operas which needed singers with that kind of heroic voice. Wagner's roles for bass-baritone include: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner called these roles Hoher Bass ("high bass").
Famous singers who have been, or are, described as bass-baritone include Hans Hotter, José van Dam, Thomas Quasthoff, Friedrich Schnorr, John Shirley-Quirk, Bryn Terfel and Willard White.