Gramophone Voice & Ensemble Award 2022


Michael Spyres ten Strasbourg PO / Marko Letonja


I challenge you to listen to Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’ on this new album from Erato ‘blind’. You would hear a vibrant baritone voice, youthful, agile. There’s admirable characterisation – the vocal equivalent of a jocular nudge in the ribs, with different voices for the barber’s many clients, including a ripe falsetto and a solid basso. This singer must surely have stage experience in the role. Apparently not, for the owner of this fine baritone is none other than the tenor Michael Spyres.

We’ve had a taste of Spyres’s baritone Barber before, in the Figaro-Almaviva duet with fellow tenor Lawrence Brownlee on their superb Rossini disc ‘Amici e rivali’ (1/21), which only missed out on a Gramophone Award this year by a whisker. Here, Spyres goes solo, mixing up tenor repertoire with plunges into traditional baritone territory, ebulliently accompanied by the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra under Marko Letonja.

‘Spyres really is a tenor – and a baritone, it seems – who has the operatic world at his feet’

I first used the word ‘baritenor’ to describe Spyres way back in 2013, when he jumped in at short notice to sing the role of Rodrigo in La donna del lago at Covent Garden, where he impressed with his ringing top notes as well as an incredibly firm lower register. Rodrigo was one of the roles composed by Rossini for Andrea Nozzari, a powerful tenor with a notably baritonal timbre whose vocal range was two and a half octaves, from G2 to the stratospheric D5 (mind you, I once heard Spyres ping out a top E natural in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Les martyrs that had the audience gasping!). Nozzari is one of the singers cited in Spyres’s scholarly programme note (albeit in minuscule print in Erato’s booklet), an example of what he claims is the ‘forgotten vocal phenomenon’ of the ‘baritenor’.

His programme encompasses the repertoire of singers who transitioned from tenor to baritone or vice versa – such as Mécène Marié de l’Isle who, four years after creating the role of Tonio in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, with its precarious nine high Cs in ‘Ah! mes amis’, switched to baritone. There are high baritone roles here, too – written for practitioners of the so-called baryton Martin such as Jean Périer, whose most famous creation was Debussy’s Pélleas (not represented here), a role occasionally taken by tenors today.

Spyres also explores roles where the composer was forced to adjust voice types. Jacques Offenbach, for example, envisaged Hoffmann as a baritone but was forced to rewrite the role to suit the Opéra-Comique’s star tenor, Jean-Alexandre Talazac. Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet was originally meant to be a tenor and was only transposed down for baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure when no suitable tenor could be found.

And there’s Mozart here, too, including Don Giovanni – a role that was sometimes sung by tenors, including Nozzari, in the early 19th century – and Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. Indeed, Manuel García, who created the tenor Almaviva in Rossini’s Barbiere, also performed Mozart’s Almaviva as well as the Don … the sort of versatility we wouldn’t expect in today’s world of operatic pigeonholing. Spyres’s baritone in Don Giovanni’s serenade is honeyed, his Almaviva haughty (Mozart wrote an alternative version of ‘Hai già vinta la causa’ interpolating 14 G4s).

The range of roles is astonishing, but then so are these performances. Whether tackling the florid writing of Idomeneo’s ‘Fuor del mar’ or the heartfelt prologue from Pagliacci, Spyres is utterly convincing. There’s even an ardent ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’, Count di Luna’s aria from Verdi’s Il trovatore. At no point does it sound gimmicky. With the best will in the world, Plácido Domingo (although he trained as a baritone before becoming one of the world’s great tenors) never sounds like a baritone in his late career switch. I would happily pay good money to hear Spyres sing di Luna or Hamlet.

The traditional tenor repertoire here is thrilling, too. Spyres has recorded Rossini’s Otello before (Rossini in Wildbad – Naxos, 8/10) but ‘Ah! sì, per voi già sento’ is even more exhilarating this time round. We know Spyres excels in bel canto and French repertoire – he can be seen in Le postillon de Lonjumeau on a recent DVD (Naxos, 9/20) – but there are exciting suggestions as to where his voice is going. Spyres’s Kleinzach ballad hints at a dark, brooding Hoffmann and Lohengrin’s ‘In fernem Land’ (sung in French as ‘Aux bords lointains’) paves the way into Heldentenor roles (he is scheduled to sing Act 2 of Tristan und Isolde in concert at the Opéra de Lyon in 2022). Spyres really is a tenor – and a baritone, it seems – who has the operatic world at his feet. Mark Pullinger

Gramophone Awards 2022 – The Winners

Select an Award-winner below to read full reviews of each of the winning albums and expert insights from our writers. 

Recording Categories

Opera & Recording of the Year

Korngold: Die tote Stadt (Sols; Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Kirill Petrenko)


Ysaÿe: Six Solo Violin Sonatas (James Ehnes)

Early Music

Josquin: ‘Baisiez Moy’ (Thélème / Jean-Christophe Groffe)


Mahler: Symphony No 7 (Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Kirill Petrenko)


Bartók. Beethoven. Berg: Violin Concertos (Frank-Peter Zimmermann; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Alan Gilbert, Daniel Harding, Kirill Petrenko)


Beethoven: Diabelli Variations (Mitsuko Uchida)

Concept Album

Enargeia (Emily D'Angelo; Das Freie Orchester Berlin / Jarkko Riihimäki)


Abrahamsen: The Snow Queen (Sols; Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera / Cornelius Meister)


’Round Midnight (Quatuor Ebène; Antoine Tamestit; Nicolas Altstaedt)


JS Bach: St Matthew Passion (Sols; Pygmalion / Raphaël Pichon)


Rachmaninov: Songs – ‘Dissonance’ (Asmik Grigorian; Lukas Geniušas)

Voice & Ensemble

‘BariTenor’ (Michael Spyres; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra / Marko Letonja)

Spatial Audio

Ravel: Orchestral Works (Sinfonia of London / John Wilson)

Special Awards

Label of the Year


Artist of the Year

Barbara Hannigan

Young Artist of the Year

Johan Dalene

Special Achievement

Mozart Momentum (Leif Ove Andsnes; Mahler Chamber Orchestra)

Lifetime Achievement

Daniel Barenboim

Orchestra of the Year

Budapest Festival Orchestra

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