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Voices – The “tenor” voice

During the 19th century, the tenor voice changed considerably under the combined influence of vocal technique, compositional writing and public taste. These developments in practice and style were introduced by the numerous singing manuals published by the performers themselves. The main change to the tenor voice boiled down to the use of the chest register, which replaced the head voice (falsetto). The light or opéra comique tenor, also called the “tenore di grazia”, best exemplified by Louis Ponchard (1787-1866), replaced the countertenor of the previous century and was characterised by effortless, graceful high notes, like Arnaud in Armide or Almaviva in the Barber of Seville. The light tenor was soon replaced by the operatic tenor, who had strong middle registers and used the mixed voice for high notes, creating a remarkable unity of timbre, as in the style of Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839) in Les Huguenots, La Juive or Robert le Diable. This heralded the advent of the dramatic tenor or “tenore di forza”, as personified by Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896), whose chest voice could reach high C, a technical feat which led to him being in great demand by opera houses and imitated by his contemporaries. Duprez took over from Nourrit in all the leading Grand Opera roles.