Male voices of opera singers are classified into the following; Countertenor, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. Countertenor refers to the highest male voices. Most singers that are called countertenors sing in the falsetto register and sometimes use the modal register for the lowest notes. There is evidence that countertenor is also designated for very high tenor voices. This is similar to the leggiero tenor or tenor altino. Historically, until around the 1830′s all male voices used some falsetto type voice production in their upper range. The sub types of countertenors including Sopranist or male soprano, Haute-contre and the modern castrato.
A Tenor is the highest male voice that is within the modal register. The tessitura of the tenor voice lies above the baritone voice and below the countertenor voice. The Legggiero tenor has the highest tessitura of all the sub types of tenors. Tenors are divided into different sub categories based on their range, vocal color, and the weight and dexterity of their voice. The sub categories are; Leggiero tenor, Lyric tenor, Spinto tenor, Dramatic tenor and the Heldentenor.
Baritone is the most common type of male voice, and although this voice overlaps both tenor and bass voices the tessitura of a baritone is lower than the tenor and higher than the bass. The subtypes for Baritones are Lyric baritone, Bel Canto baritone or Coloratura baritone, kavalierbaritone, Dramatic baritone, Verdi Baritone, Baryton-noble and Bariton Martin. The Bass is the lowest male voice. The bass has the lowest tessitura of all the voices in Opera. The subtypes for those in the bass range include; Basso Profondo, Basso Buffo or Bel Canto Bass, Basso Cantante, Dramatic Bass and the Bass-baritone.
Classifying a voice is very important. Classification is used as a guiding tool for the development of the voice. A misclassification can be responsible for damaging the vocal cords. This can shorten a singing career, and more importantly lead to the loss of free vocal production. Damage may takes months or years to appear. Singers can develop bad habits that can cause irreparable damage to their voices based on a misclassification.