Basso Profondo is a bass singing, or a bass voice of an exceptionally low range. It is especially popular among Russian singers, hence the term Basso Profondo or sometimes the more colloquial Russian Bass. The English equivalent is sometimes known as Dramatic Low Bass.
Bass singers usually have a range from the second F of middle C to the E above middle C. However, Russian singers became especially well known for being able to sing an additional octave lower, giving rise to the distinctive Russian Bass sound.
As far as I can tell, no-one has ever made the comparison, but to my mind, there are also similarities in overall sound with Tuvan Throat singing, a type of overtone singing popular in Tuva, and other parts of Siberian and Mongolia – I wonder if some Russian bass singers draw at least a little inspiration from Tuvan throad singers at times, even if their musically disciplines are on the face of it so wildly dissimilar.
Popular Basso Profondo roles include Il Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Marke from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Hagen from Gotterdammerung (also Wagner).
Famous Basso Profundo singers include Jesse Delos Jewkes, who many will have un-knowingly heard as the voice of God in the Hollywood film The Ten Commandments (starring Charlton Heston). He also starred in a number of other US films over the years.
The most famous Russian Basso Profundo is Yuri Wichniakov, who is now late in his very well regarded 30 year career. As well as in the video below, he performed in the Rachmaninov All Night Vigil in 1986, where he performed with the USSR Ministry of Culture Choir. Other well known Russian Bass singers include Vladimir Miller and Vladimir Pasuikov.
If you want to find out more about what Russian Basso Profondo sounds like, you might also want to listen and watch this video, starring Russian Basso Profondos Yuri Wichnaikov and Vladimir Pasuikov – in the video they hit notes as low as Ab1 and G1.
For a longer example of Russian Basso Profondo, you could check out the Basso Profondo From Old Russia CD, which is typically available from online music retailers such as Amazon or iTunes. This album features the Orthodox Singers Male Choir, and is conducted by Gueorgui Smirnov. On the recording, the Choir perform a number of well known Russian hymns.