Defining The Leggiero Tenor
Whats The Problem?
Disclaimer: "Fach" in many ways is more of a technique than it is a vocal box. Keep in mind that while many of the singers below are examples of very high/high tenors.. the human voice is capable of much more than the limits imposed onto it by a fach (particularly in contemporary music.) This article is just a fun attempt at defining a term that has no place in contemporary music.
The phrases “leggiero tenor,” meaning ‘light, gentle’ tenor in Italian, is tossed around constantly with no real understanding of it’s meaning. Other terms for the fach are "tenore di grazia," and "tenore contralto." Any male that has kind of a high, fairly agile voice is just thrown under the umbrella fach. You don’t see this when classifying a singer or role such as a "dramatic baritone" or "coloratura soprano"; so why with leggiero is it acceptable?
Just about EVERY time I have ever heard someone refer to a singer as being a ‘leggiero tenor’ they have been absolutely wrong. Usher, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, and Sam Smith ARE NOT modern leggiero tenors. Just because a man can sing "high" notes and do agile runs doesn’t make them a leggiero tenor. A TRUE leggiero’s high notes are in a range far beyond the typical radio pop tenor. True leggero’s have an incredibly unique voice quality unlike anything most modern ears are accustomed to!
Just to stick it to the classical fans a bit... The operatic tenor Juan Diego Florez is NOT a leggiero tenor, as it seems most people on the internet believe! Nor is Kraus! These tenors are examples of LIGHT LYIRC tenors! Their voices are FAR too weighty and dramatic to fit ANY definition of leggiero tenor (reminder: "gentle" tenor!!!) To be fair... In Florez's younger years I believe this fach was more suitable.
A quick, rather cliche, example of a contemporary leggiero tenor is Michael Jackson. Note the feminine, boyish tone qualities. Also note the difficulty you might have distinguishing his head from his chest voice. Is he in falsetto or chest? It's not always obvious.
Another quick, clean example is actor & broadway singer, David Burtka! Note: the character he plays in this show is actually supposed to be a boy! Makes sense, ya?
Oh. And here's a leggiero tenor belting an F5. No big deal.
Feel free to skip to the bottom of this article to hear more exciting examples of real leggiero tenors!!! These are just a few cliches for the sake of reference!
Let's Set Some Boundaries
A TRUE “leggiero” has an upper range which resembles head voice so closely MOST ANYONE hearing the voice for the first time would be confused. Sometimes they are flipping into falsetto, sometimes they are not. This is ESPECIALLY the case in pop music!! No insult to anyone’s masculinity or opinions about gender equality; but contemporary leggiero tenors singing on the lighter end will have the voice timbre and vocal range most similar to that of a woman (depending on the style, of course) and a fuller voiced leggiero tenor will sound more like a little boy. Part of this timbre is a result of genetics but it is, in larger part, a result of training style.
In contrast to the overwhelming majority of light lyric tenors we see in contemporary pop music, the leggiero’s upper chest voice extension (belt range) sounds light, agile, and warm. There isn’t the “bite” or “ring” to the upper registers that is found in other tenors! A well seasoned singer knows how to bend these rules; but will never have the same dramatic quality to their voice as that of a contemporary "top 40 tenor." (I like this term better than light lyric tenor! Hehe!)
The leggiero tenor might also possess a rich, warm, alto-like lower voice which can go as low as F2. As a result, the leggiero tenor is likely to be classified as a contemporary "baritenor!" This is a mistake, however, as the "gentle" tenor's lower/middle range doesn't have the power and "umph" to it that a lower voice would have without having to apply unnecessary vocal cord pressure.
You simply CAN’T make these timbre comparisons to that of Juan Diego Florez, Justin Bieber, or Usher! Their upper registers have an element of masculinity (Yes, Justin has some "masculinity" to his voice (in comparison to Michael Jackson,)) intensity, and have a good deal of ‘ping’ and BITE. Their top notes have a spice of drama and weight to them! Furthermore, I have only ever heard Juan Deigo (in recent years) sing up to a high C#5.. an impressive feat! But to an operatic leggiero tenor, such as Lawrence Brownlee, a C#5 is but a mere warm up note.
Usher and the Biebs, unfortunately, still seem to struggle with G4s. Keep at it boys! One day... one day.. (Kidding. Everyone has bad performances. These two are very talented!)
Leggiero Tenor Vs. Mezzo Soprano
In contemporary music, the voice type closest to that of the lightest leggiero tenor would be the mezzo-soprano; Beyonce for example!
Beyonce's clean, live chest voice range is about C3 - Ab5. (she has some lower notes in there but they're a bit too breathy to be considered "clean.")
Adam lambert's clean, LIVE chest voice range is A2 - A5. Pretty damn close!
(Note 1: his lowest note is a studio recording, to be fair. But even an A2 is a bit high to be his lowest clean note; so Im leavin it in. I found his highest note in a separate live recording as the one in the example provided is a bit lacking power.)
However Beyonce, like the tenors, has a belt range with a INTENSITY, DRAMA, and PING; there's some edge to it! The light leggiero tenor doesn’t quite compare. The pop leggiero tenor’s belts tend to be a tad meeker, lighter, and gentler. (Seriously! Look up the italian translation of "leggiero!") As a result, Lambert's light, GENTLE upper register allows for a few extra notes to the top of his belt range! (Ab5 vs. Bb5)
However, the "gentle tenor" has a rich lower register with a lot of presence to it. It can sometimes be hard to believe that the low notes and the high notes of this type of tenor could ever be connected at all! Beyonce's low notes, however, don't necessarily have the same warmth or depth to them.
Contemporary Examples of the Leggiero
The leggiero tenor isn't a very dramatic, loud voice, or penetrating voice; but the emotional presence and genuine easiness to him is a breath of fresh air. There's a pleasing light, touching intimacy to the leggiero voice that you simply will never feel from a lyric tenor or mezzo soprano screaming their high notes your face! (Think Sam Smith.. though, he's definitely more of a medium tenor (lyric) imitating a leggiero... but I digress) They also excel in many genres of rock music!
The following is such a beautiful song and perfect example of the fach floating in one of it's most comfortable, "gentle," more intimate settings!
Goodnight - David Burtka (originally sung by Liz Callaway)
The leggiero tenor's mixing potential is the BEST of any voice fach. Already posessing a head voice-like upper register; the line between head and chest voice is easily blurred allowing for incredibly complex riffs.
King of the World - Darius DeHass (check out 3:05 - 3:30)
The leggiero tenor excels when mixed with light instrumentation; floating over the lyrics and bringing the listener to a rarely experienced, rich world. Like enjoying a delicious piece of a dark chocolate! Genres such as jazz come to mind; the rich low notes, mixing capabilities, and intimacy of the voice really lend itself well here!
Daydream - Darius DeHass
Another great genre for this type of tenor would be rock! Where most singers have to mix in order to sing a song such as "Welcome to the Jungle," the leggiero tenor can tackle it in a full sounding voice with no issues! This adds an EXTRA edge, excitement, and even sexual ambiguity to the genre!
Bohemian Rhapsody - Adam Lambert
The voice type is also very popular in pop-punk! One of my all time favorite bands is Circa Survive!
Act Appalled - Circa Survive (Singer is Anthony Green)
Check out Tillian Pearson as well! He's a leggiero tenor who often crosses between pop, folk, and pop punk.
Tillian Pearson - A Faint Illusion
Last but not least I would like to throw in an operatic example.