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Tenor Boy

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"Oh, Zara, my beloved one, bear with me!
Ah, do not laugh at my attempted C!
Repent not, mocking maid, thy girlhood's choice—
The fervour of my love affects my voice!"
Fitzbattleaxe, Utopia, Limited

It's musical theatre law. The frequently good-looking, almost always lovestruck, and without a doubt naive, yet good-hearted young man central to the story must sing with lyrical, boyish grace. In other words: he's a tenor. In a large portion of opera (particularly Verdi and Puccini), The Protagonist is a tenor no matter what his age or personality.

Compare the Innocent Soprano, his Distaff Counterpart and probable love interest. Contrast Evil Sounds Deep.

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    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1933 film 42nd Street, Billy Lawler is a charming, fresh-faced young Broadway matinee idol who sings in a tenor voice and has a romance with The Ingenue Peggy. Interestingly, in the 1980 Screen-to-Stage Adaptation, the Will They or Won't They? couple is changed to Peggy and Julian, the director. And in the original novel both the film and stage play are based on, Billy and Julian are a couple, but that type of relationship would not fly with the Moral Guardians, so both men were portrayed as heterosexual in subsequent adaptations.
  • Behind the Candelabra: While we don't hear him sing, Scott Thorson's younger and hotter romantic rival for in-all-but-name husband Liberace is summed up by Scott:
    There you are, you cock-sucking tenor shit!
  • Christian from Moulin Rouge! has both the range and the standard personality.
  • Troy in High School Musical but only the first film. His songs were written for a tenor but Zac Efron ended up cast - and he is a baritone. So Troy sings tenor in the first film, with Drew Seeley dubbing the vocals, and baritone in the remaining films.

  • Wylan in Six of Crows is the youngest and the most optimistic and naive member of the crew, and has secretly spent the book harboring a crush he doesn't know what to do with. Naturally when he sings it's with a "shimmering, perfect tenor".

  • The Jack Benny Program always had a tenor on board to sing popular songs, and he was always a Manchild and The Ditz. Dennis Day (replacement for Kenny Baker, who replaced Frank Parker) was the longest-running and best-developed of these, and once lampshaded this trope by saying "Tenors are a dime a dozen".

  • In Ariadne auf Naxos, Bacchus, the overpoweringly handsome Physical God with a romantic claim on Ariadne, has a relatively brief but demandingly high Heldentenor part.
  • Billy Crocker from Anything Goes is a lovestruck tenor who attracts both the beautiful heiress Hope Harcourt and the sexy, sassy nightclub singer Reno Sweeney.
  • Princeton from Avenue Q is a fresh-faced, naive young college grad pursued by kindergarten teacher Kate and a sex worker named Lucy T. Slut. Of course, his singing lies in the tenor range.
  • Rodolfo from La Bohème is a poor poet with a heart of gold and a voice of gold.
  • In The Book of Mormon, Elder Kevin Price is a handsome, All-American guy who is optimistic and devoted to his faith, and sings in the tenor range.
  • Candide from Leonard Bernstein's Candide is a tenor who believes he's living in the "best of all possible worlds", which is an overstatement to say the least.
  • You might not expect Cesare Borgia to sing with lovely high notes, but in Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, he does. But in a subversion, he's not innocent or lovestruck — he's already showing the personality traits that would later inspire Machiavelli. Take his debate with Angelo over a point of Dante in the classroom scene, where he gives a ruthlessly practical take on things with elegant, lofty flourishes.
  • Hoffmann in Les Contes d'Offmann. A wandering poet who has to use his tenor voice on no less than four different ladies throughout the opera.
  • Gaetano Donizetti:
    • The tenor roles in Donizetti's three opere buffe: Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore, Tonio in La fille du régiment and Ernesto in Don Pasquale. All are tenors, and in classic comedic style, total innocents.
    • Edgardo from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, one of his more tragic operas. He's young, rebellious, and in love.
  • In Down in the Valley, Brack Weaver is a tenor or high baritone, while his older romantic rival Thomas Bouché sings bass.
  • Lensky from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin: Innocent. Naive. Poet. Tenor.
  • Played with in the opera adaptation of The Fly (1986). The two male corners of the Love Triangle — dorky, never-been-in-love-before Seth Brundle and manipulative, jealous, worldly Stathis Borans — are a bass-baritone and tenor, respectively. This hints at what each character becomes over the course of the story as Seth mutates into a deranged Half-Human Hybrid and Stathis becomes the despairing Veronica's confidant. The overconfident barfly Marky — whom Seth gruesomely defeats in One-Sided Arm-Wrestling — is also a tenor.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan have quite a few straight examples such as Nanki-Poo and Frederic from The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance, respectively. They are complete innocents, but it's meant for laughs, as Gilbert and Sullivan are parodying stereotypical opera characters.
  • Orpheus from Hadestown is another classic example, particularly Reeve Carney's take on the role. Doubly so when he's singing the refrain from the Epic triad. Triply so any time his voice is thrown into contrast with that of Mr. Hades.
  • Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame stage version and the Movie. While his form is ugly his voice is beautiful; while he looks like a monster his personality is closer to an angel. It carries into the Disney film as well.
  • Percy's actor in the musical version of The Lightning Thief will usually be this, using a higher range, impetuous belting, and boyish diction to convey the impression of a much younger person. Percy the character is twelve, but due to child labor laws and the sheer difficulty of getting someone that age who can carry a show, he's typically played by a youthful tenor in his twenties.
  • In Mamma Mia!, Sky is Sophie's good-looking, Satellite Love Interest fiance who sings in a tenor voice range.
  • The Des Grieux from both Puccini's and Massenet's Manon operas are about as naive as a tenor can be.
  • In Milk and Honey, the boyishly patriotic David is a tenor, though his baritone father-in-law Phil has the more demanding singing part.
  • Marius Pontmercy in Les Misérables is rather tricky to place. He fits the stereotype perfectly as the lovestruck and boyish innocent, but he is listed as a lyric baritone. However, he is often played by tenors whose vocal range is too low to fit the classic "tenor boy" mold.
  • In The Most Happy Fella, Herman is the naive Butt-Monkey of the workers and eventual male half of the Beta Couple, and his light tenor voice is the highest of the male quartet that sings "Standing In The Corner."
  • Tamino, Belmonte, Ferrando, and Ottavio — all those gorgeous-singing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart tenors.
  • Subverted with Anatole in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Anatole is introduced as a pretty boy Love Interest with a wide tenor range who embarks on a whirlwind romance with The Ingenue and Innocent Soprano Natasha. However, it is later revealed that he is already married and is mostly into the affair because he is bored and does not care if Natasha's reputation gets permanently ruined in his quest for his next thrill-seeking exploit.
  • Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera has gradually become an example of this, though as written he's more of a flexible baritone role intended as a strapping heroic type (in contrast to the male ingenue his book counterpart is). Ironically The Phantom himself is usually a tenor (see below).
  • The title character of Pippin is usually cast as a tenor, to represent his innocence. Originally the part was played by a baritone, though this required a few high notes to be sung in falsetto or otherwise dodged.
  • Porgy and Bess: Inverted. Porgy, an ingenue in love if not in age, is a bass-baritone; the bad guy Sportin' Life is a tenor.
  • Viceroy Bánk the eponymous hero of Erkel's opera. Although he's far from being boyish.
  • In the opera Salome, this is zigzagged. Salome's beloved Jokanaan is a baritone, while Herod the king is a tenor. Played straight with Narraboth, the young Syrian who moons after her.
  • In the Handel oratorio Semele, the male lead is the god Jupiter (aka Zeus)—chief of the Roman pantheon, womanizer extraordinaire, and of course the god of thunder. But since he's portrayed as a lover in this story, he's a tenor.
  • Stephen Sondheim:
    • Hero in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a Played for Laughs version of this archetype. The sheltered patrician's son (played by a tenor of course) falls in Love at First Sight with The Ingenue and Innocent Soprano Philia, and this motivates his actions for the rest of the show.
    • Henrik from A Little Night Music is a tenor and a naive, sheltered young man studying for the priesthood who has a secretly requited crush on his very young stepmother Anne.
    • On the other hand, it's actually averted in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: naive, good-hearted young sailor Anthony Hope, half of the romantic subplot along with Innocent Soprano Johanna, is a baritone, the same as Anti-Hero Sweeney Todd and Big Bad Judge Turpin. While he is sometimes played by a tenor with a flexible low range in standard musical theatre productions, he is always firmly a baritone when it's produced in opera houses. The aversions go further with the actual tenor parts in the show:
      • Toby is the closest to a traditional male ingenue tenor, though with the twist that his innocence is enforced by his being somewhat mentally disabled. And then in the very end, he snaps and murders the title character. He is also sometimes played as a child, either by an actual child or by a woman, which is a different type of aversion.
      • Adolfo Pirelli, Sweeney's rival, is a conventional operatic tenor, specifically because he's parodying the traditional operatic type. He's also an abusive boss/guardian to Toby and a total fraud.
      • Beadle Bamford, Judge Turpin's chief stooge, is typically played by a lyrical high tenor. He's also a nasty piece of work who helped Turpin rape Sweeney's wife Lucy and regularly threatens Anthony from getting too close to Johanna. Pirelli and the Beadle sing a particularly eerie falsetto duet together in the final rendition of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", using their high voices together to create the exact opposite of the usual intent of this trope.
  • The SpongeBob Musical: SpongeBob fits this trope to a T, though it's largely justified by the fact that his cartoon counterpart similarly has a tenor singing voice and a naively optimistic attitude.
  • Macheath in The Threepenny Opera is sometimes played like this ironically, and many performances have him singing the "Epitaph" in a sincere tenor, just to accentuate what a two-faced bastard he is.
  • Mario Cavaradossi from Puccini's Tosca, though because he's a spinto tenor, he'll hardly be boyish. But he qualifies for all the characteristics of a tenor: young, in love, an artist, and good-hearted.
  • Bobby Strong in Urinetown is a satirical, subverted take on this trope. He is The Idealist in a Crapsack World who falls quickly in love with Innocent Soprano Hope. However, her reminders for him to "follow his heart" lead him to start a violent revolution against the Corrupt Corporate Executive Caldwell B. Cladwell (Hope's father) wherein Hope is used as a hostage, and ultimately makes matters worse for the town's citizens.
  • Lampshaded in Utopia, Limited, with Captain Fitzbattleaxe's song about how you can't sing in those high ranges if you're actually overcome with emotion instead of just acting.
  • Giuseppe Verdi
    • Rigoletto subverts the trope. The Duke is a good-looking tenor that all the girls fall for, but he's the opposite of an innocent - he's a Manipulative Bastard who doesn't care what happens to the women he seduces and abandons.
    • Likewise, Radames from Verdi's Aida is also a spinto tenor, so he's hardly boyish.
  • Parsifal, Stolzing, and Siegfried — the more "boyish" Wagner tenors. There's a point in one of the operas where Siegfried has to impersonate another character, a baritone. It's notoriously difficult to pull off on stage. Some recordings of the opera get around it by having Siegfried sing the part in his normal voice and then editing it into a baritone. It's also been done on stage by having the actual baritone sing and act the part, then leave stage and "re-enter" as tenor Siegfried, which works since he's also supposed to be in magical disguise.
  • Tony in West Side Story. He is, after all, based on Romeo, who by stereotype is incapable of being anything but a tenor.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted hilariously in Over the Garden Wall. During the episode "Songs of the Dark Lantern", the tavern patrons, who only refer to each other in archetypes, label Wirt as "The Young Lover" when he mentions that he is trying to find a lady named Adelaide. As such, they insist that Wirt serenade them with a love song. Wirt, who is established as being obedient to a fault, bows to the peer pressure but the song he improvises ends up being... anything but lovely, with Wirt's attempt at hitting a high note being cringe-worthy.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Male Ingenue Must Be A Tenor


Raymond or Lionel

Joan has two suitors: kind neighbor Raymond whom her father wants her to marry and enemy commander Lionel whom she first meets when she fights him.

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