Una Voce Molto Fa

A Producer in Search of Six (or fewer) Characters

How many singers does it take to make an opera? Sometimes fewer than it takes to screw in a light bulb. Most well-known operas happen to have seven or more solo roles (Aida: 8; Il Barbiere di Siviglia: 7; Carmen: 10; Don Giovanni: 8; Eugene Onegin: 10; Faust: 7; Hänsel und Gretel: 7; Lucia di Lammermoor: 7; Manon: 9; Pelléas et Mélisande: 8; Siegfried: 8; Tosca: 9; etc., etc.). Here, to satisfy the curiosity of the would-be impressario with a limited payroll, or the small group of singers wondering what they can do all by themselves (assuming they can come up with whatever orchestra, chorus, actors, dancers, and production crew may be needed), is a list of operas requiring six or fewer solo singers, arranged by (increasing) number of singers and by vocal distribution.

0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

This is only a rough guide in several respects, and anyone seriously contemplating producing an opera obviously must thoroughly acquaint themselves with the particular requirements of the opera in question. As regards the number of voices, it should be borne in mind that doubling of parts is often possible, particularly with those operas requiring more voices, and that there are often performing editions of the more familiar operas involving fewer solo parts. Likewise, judicious cuts can sometimes be made to eliminate minor roles or convert them to speaking parts. This list includes only operas with six or fewer actual solo or ensemble singing roles; the only exceptions are operas in which doubling of parts is clearly intended (such as The Growing Castle, in which 28 roles are assumed by four singers).

Concerning the vocal distribution, this list provides only the barest hint of casting requirements. The myriad of vocal fachs are reduced, à la choral notation, to four broad categories: S, A, T, and B. A includes mezzo-soprano, alto, and contralto roles, B baritone and bass. Castrato roles are listed as originally written. (Operas explicitly requiring solo treble voices of pre-adolescents are not included in this list.) Of course there are no sharp divisions between these rough categories, and it is often possible that a particular singer may be capable of singing certain roles categorized as either S or A or as T or B. Operas with a small number of parts are often (but certainly not always!) less vocally demanding than their larger counterparts; on the other hand, it is of the utmost importance in a monodrama or duodrama that the interpreters be perfectly suited to their roles. Not infrequently the vocal requirements will be such that a role will be listed as for either a soprano or mezzo-soprano, for example, or for a tenor or high baritone. In such cases, the first listed options have been used for categorization. Some roles, and not just those for castrati, are even gender-indifferent.

In addition to the principal singers, there may also be required chorus, actors (speaking roles), essential mute roles, and dancers. Any of these requirements are noted in brackets [ch, sp, m, d], along with the choral part distribution when known (SATB can generally be assumed otherwise). When there is a clear distinction between principal and secondary roles, the parts are listed in parentheses at the end, with capital letters for lead roles and lower-case letters for supporting roles: thus Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco, for example, requires a soprano, tenor, and bass (actually baritone) for the main roles of Giovanna, Carlo VII, and Giacomo, and comprimario tenor and bass for Delil and Talbot. Any male soprano or alto roles are also noted as such.

0-Voice Operas

1-Voice Operas

2-Voice Operas

3-Voice Operas

4-Voice Operas

5-Voice Operas

6-Voice Operas


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Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:43:03 PST