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Tristan and Norma are two obvious choices here.
As for male bel canto repertoire, I would venture to say that Assur (from Rossini's Semiramide) is very difficult and demanding, including both acting and hell of a marathon singing in the second act.
Rossini's bass roles are some of the most difficult opera roles in general.

in his day, it is likely that roles like Assur and Maometto would have been sung by low baritones/bass-baritones with darker voices rather than a real bass.
 

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Korngold and Schreker give their leads a tough time - lots of singing, big leaps, huge orchestras. I seem to recall hearing somewhere that Tote Stadt would happen more often if more good tenors were willing to put themselves through it
 

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I think demanding can have various meanings. Not just stamina or volume or even virtuoso tricks. Why some of Mozart's female roles are very demanding as they involve bags of character and agility. For example, a great Donna Elvira is truly something special as indeed dear old Liz S was!
I think this extends to Mozart in general: whose works are, imo, an odd combination of vivid characterization but vocal lines which feel somewhat mechanical and un-intuitive on the voice.
 

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I think this extends to Mozart in general: whose works are, imo, an odd combination of vivid characterization but vocal lines which feel somewhat mechanical and un-intuitive on the voice.
Unlike Puccini, who writes big soaring lines and has the orchestra double them, Mozart leaves you on your own. He will not help you sound good if you aren't. His vocal writing requires perfect poise and technical discipline, and if you lack it everyone will hear by just how much you lack it. Singers know this; "practice your Mozart" means "mind your technique, find your weaknesses, fix them." It also means "don't force, keep it light, keep it flexible." Singers who specialize in Verdi or Wagner should practice their Mozart, even if they can't sing him well enough to perform him in public. Birgit Nilsson could never have sung the Queen of the Night successfully, but she sang her arias at parties, complete with high Fs.
 

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Unlike Puccini, who writes big soaring lines and has the orchestra double them, Mozart leaves you on your own. He will not help you sound good if you aren't. His vocal writing requires perfect poise and technical discipline, and if you lack it everyone will hear by just how much you lack it. Singers know this; "practice your Mozart" means "mind your technique, find your weaknesses, fix them." It also means "don't force, keep it light, keep it flexible." Singers who specialize in Verdi or Wagner should practice their Mozart, even if they can't sing him well enough to perform him in public. Birgit Nilsson could never have sung the Queen of the Night successfully, but she sang her arias at parties, complete with high Fs.
I have heard this, and given her performances of Lady Macbeth's Sleepwalking Scene, I can believe it.

speaking of which, there's an exceedingly difficult role which hasn't gotten much attention on this thread
 

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generally, interpretation is not a huge concern of mine, but Norma is the exception. she is a scorned lover who murdered her children and wants to murder her ex-lover. to put it bluntly, Norma is a psychotic bitch, and the characterization of Sutherland, which perpetually sounded as if she were playing the Statue of Liberty, does not cut it.
She didn't murder her children :eek: That's the difference between her and Medea.
 

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The most demanding roles for Soprano are the Assoluta roles:
1. Norma: it's been already established on this thread. I have nothing to add.
2. Abigaille in Nabucco: The ultimate Dramatic Coloratura challenge. An epitome of Verdi's real and rarely-met demands, it calls for as much Volume as Wagner, as well all the Bel Canto virtuosity and agility. A wit called early Verdi "Bel Canto on Steroid" and it's perfectly true.
The role is replete with treacherous scales and other crazy feats that only Callas could do justice. She made the roles even more exciting even interpolating a high Eb.
The stupid plot requires great acting skills as well to make it at least plausible. Abigaille should look and sound young, yet fierce and regal.
3. Lady Macbeth: Same as Abigaille but much more interesting and mature dramatically and only slightly more forgiving vocally. My personal favorite female role. The gran scena del sonnambulismo is one of Verdi's toughest challenges, not only musically but dramatically. In the same interview in which Callas explains why she thinks Wagner is "so easy" (for her at least) she also dissected this scene and talked about the nuances and colors she used for every single passage and why she used it.
4. Medea: Norma minus the fioriture plus more wickeness.

Other difficult but underestimated Verdi roles:
  • Leonora in Il Trovatore: this is a long role, calls for incredible vocal beauty, tons of ornaments (trills, mezzo-trilli, trills in a slow melodic line, staccati etc..) as well as a very solid lower register. Miserere is Dramatic Mezzo material. It is followed by a very difficult Dramatic Coloratura cabaletta which is often dropped. D'amor sull'ali rosee is "perhaps Verdi's ultimate challenge". Besides, the acting has to be so subtle and convey the noble character of Leonora which I've only seen Kabaivanska do so well.
  • Elena in Vespri Sciliani
  • Elizabeth de Valois in Don Carlo

What makes Wagner difficult is indeed the Stamina it requires. I remember Dolora Zajick saying Verdi kills you in two hours but Wagner gives you three or four hours to die or something to that effect.

Turandot is not difficult if you have the right voice. You only need to sound like trumpet. Nilsson did. That's why she was the best and she called it her "vacation role".

Donizetti's three queens are somewhat underestimated in difficulty, especially Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux and Anna Bolena.
 

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I'd be inclined to rule out the Wagner roles. Whilst plenty of power/stamina is required, the score reveals that not much range is required by the singers. It doesn't test them nearly as much as the Wagnerians would have us believe ;)

Most difficult? Perhaps, Lulu?
This is incomprehensibly dumb & 100% incorrect. Wotan (as one example) requires a larger range than any low voice role I've studied. Then add the strength & stamina on top of that.
 

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For Italian bel canto: Gemma di Vergy (Donizetti). Caballé thought it the equal of three Normas.

Other difficult roles not mentioned:

Ermione - described as a bel canto Elektra; vocally and emotionally demanding. Listen:
and

The Adolphe Nourrit roles: Arnold in Guillaume Tell, Eléazar in La juive, Robert le Diable, Raoul in Les Huguenots - demands heroic bel canto singing, acting and almost constant on-stage presence through five acts

Fidès in Le prophète:

Esclarmonde:
and

Abigaille, Odabella and Hélène

And, these days, the roles written for castrati.
 
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