10 best baritones of all time
We select the greatest baritones who have made an impact on the world stage and in the recording studio
What is a baritone?
'Baritone' describes the vocal range between the bass and the tenor voice-types. Baritones' range typically spans from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C, or F2-F4, in choral music, and from G2 to G4 in operatic music, although that range can extend at both ends.
Best baritones of all time
The Italian baritone was, says our reviewer George Hall, 'one of the most acclaimed operatic artists of his time (...) admired not so much for the quality of his voice itself – several of his colleagues could boast better instruments – but as an actor, both vocal and physical.'
Tito Gobbi: Recommended recording
A German lyric baritone, Fischer-Dieskau dominated the German Lieder landscape for decades. He was most acclaimed for his renditions of Schubert Lieder, in particular the song cycles Winterreise and Die schöne Müllerin. His recordings of the latter with pianists Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus remain among the best Winterreise recordings.
The soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf dubbed Fischer-Dieskau 'a born god who has it all.' His interpretive insights and his soft, beautifully modulated singing voice both won him enormous acclaim.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Recommended recording
Schubert: the song cycles (Winterreise, Die schöne Müllerin, Schwanengesang)
with Gerald Moore (piano)
British, b. 1959
Keenlyside became as famous at one time for his gleaming torso – naked or clad in black leather – on an opera house ad campaign as for his intensely realised stage roles. The one-time choir boy is an ideal Papageno, a searing Billy Budd, a formidable Posa, and ‘one of the most inspired Wozzecks ever’ for some.
He won awards for creating the role of Prospero in Thomas Adès’s The Tempest. A passionately committed singer who has taken his career slowly but surely, admired for the fire and virility in his warm, clear baritone.
Simon Keenlyside: Recommended recording
Canadian, b. 1960
Finley is the baritone of choice for many composers: he’s created indelible roles in Mark Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie, the love-lorn Jaufré in Saariaho’s L’amour de loin and made a tour de force of John Adams’s Dr Atomic with his tortured Robert Oppenheimer.
He’s equally good in recital, as his fine collection of song discs on Hyperion shows; one is always aware of a penetrating intelligence at work; a singer for whom the text is pre-eminent. ‘Gerald Finley's Oppenheimer – ruthless in attack, pellucid in delivery – remains one of the truly great opera-house performances of the past decade'. Opera News
Gerald Finley: Recommended recording
Musorgsky, Tchaikovsky & Rorem
Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE0025
German, b. 1967
Goerne was a member of Dresden Opera and has played a memorable Wozzeck, but is mainly revered for his peerless Lieder singing. A pupil of the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, he has a uniquely rich and dark-hued voice and has brought new depths to Schwanegesang and Winterreise. ‘Few male singers, even Fischer-Dieskau, have such a rich palette of colours as Goerne does,’ says The Sunday Times.
Matthias Goerne: Recommended recording
Schubert: Winterreise with Christoph Eschenbach, piano
German, b. 1969
Another outstanding recitalist, Gerhaher’s Schumann disc Melancholie won the BBC Music Magazine’s Vocal Award in 2008. Exquisite diction and sheer beauty of sound, along with a dizzying range of articulation mark Gerhaher out.
He was a ‘sensation’ as Papageno at Würzburg Opera and in the title role of Monteverdi’s Orfeo at Frankfurt. He shines in Harnoncourt’s recent recording of Haydn’s The Seasons. Expect to hear more from this modest Munich-based musician.
Christian Gerhaher: Recommended recording
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
with the London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
The glamorous, silver-haired Siberian was launched as a heart-throb following his 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World win. Years later, the Financial Times critic was warning people not to sit in the front row ‘in case they get their ears singed.’
In fact, Hvorostovsky was best in the brooding roles, an ideal Eugene Onegin, Simon Boccanegra, Giorgio Germont in La traviata and Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades. His upper register had a tenor-like ring, his tone beautifully rounded and his breath control renowned. He regularly toured Russia to stadium-size audiences.
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Phillips 475 7017 (2 discs)
Welsh, b. 1965
Ben Terfel needs no introduction. He arrived with the Lieder prize in the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World, and has won hearts with Welsh hymns, Broadway, Vaughan Williams, as a chilling Jochanaan in Salome, an ideal Flying Dutchman, and a deeply moving and uproarious Falstaff.
But he can also do the really big stuff. Following John Tomlinson’s long and distinguished reign, Terfel is the new British Wotan. ‘One of the most important and charismatic singers performing today.’ Opera Magazine
Bryn Terfel: Recommended recording
Vaughan Williams: Silent Noon
Deutsche Grammophon DG 477 5336
A baritone from Spokane, Washington, USA, Hampson is perhaps the most famous US baritone performing today. He has sung more than 80 roles, notably the title roles in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Rossini's William Tell and The Barber of Seville, and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.
He's also an acclaimed performer of the operas of Verdi, with roles including Posa in Don Carlos and Germont in La traviata. Hampson has also sung Amfortas in Wagner's Parsifal and Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca.
With his rich and nuanced voice, his infectious enthusiasm and beaming smile, Roderick Williams is one of the most famous singers in the UK.
Roderick Williams is an English baritone and composer - one of the most highly respected singers in the UK - known for the sophistication of his voice, the intelligence of his interpretations, the breadth of the repertoire he takes on and his infectious enthusiasm for life and for everything he does. He is also known for being a thoroughly nice chap, with a beaming smile.