Glossary: HIGH C

This post  shows the technical term HIGH C explained in a few sentences with links to practical examples.

High C

A feat of strength for tenors and sopranos to achieve this top note. As a rule, they appear In Italian operas in two or three passages of an opera. The high C was sung in Rossini’s time with head voice, but afterwards for over a hundred years until now with chest voice (vibrations in the chest). When a french tenor sang the high C with the chest voice (=loud) in 1837, Rossini said that the sound was «like the cry of a capon having cut through his throat». You can hear a high C for example in Turandot. It is at the end of «Nessun dorma».

Surprisingly for many is, that Verdi did not like the high C. Only with “La forza del destino” a composed high C appears for the first time in an opera of Verdi. This was dedicated to the first Alvaro, the powerful-voiced Tamberlinck; in the second version Verdi dispensed with the aria and the high C disappeared from the score. So every other high C in Verdis Opera are inventions of tenors!


The story of the high C



A famous example from la fille du régiment

“Pour mon ame” is the most famous piece of the opera “la fille du régiment” and one of the most famous tenor arias ever. It deserves this mainly because it requires the singer to sing an incredible 9 high C’s in only 2 minutes. The challenge of the aria lies in the fact that the high C’s must be sung with a robust chest tone and clear intonation (it should be noted that the high C was possibly sung only with the falsetto at the time of composition. The tenor Duprez sang it for the first time in Rossini’s William Tell in 1837 in chest, the so-called “do in petto”, and established the Voice Fach of the heroic tenor). Jokingly the aria is also called “the Mount Everest of tenors”. It is estimated that in one tenor generation there are only a handful of tenors who can sing them really perfectly. Pavarotti suddenly became famous with this aria in the United States .


Pavarotti’s MET performances in 1972 have become legendary. He took the audience by storm with his aria and with the following tour through the United States he finally became a tenorissimo on the American continent and the globe. He got the nickname “King of the High C’s”. We are listening to a recording of a Met performance from 1972

Pour mon ame – Pavarotti


Juan Diego Florez’s “Pour mon ame ” has a similar story of a famous encore. In 2007 he sang the Tonio at La Scala and he was the first to be granted an aria as an encore since 1933. Nota bene this was not allowed to a Tebaldi or Callas, nor to a Domingo or Pavarotti! We hear a live recording with an encore from from that time from the Genoa Opera House.

Pour mon ame – Florez





Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide

3 replies
  1. cuodaiselle
    cuodaiselle says:

    The very fact that Tebaldi or Callas were not allowed an encore, and Florez was, says a lot about modern opera.

  2. factcheck
    factcheck says:

    As a previous commenter notes, the high note in the last phrase of Nessun Dorma does not end in a C4, but a B4, half a step lower.


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