A comprimario is a small supporting role in an opera (or a singer who sings those roles). The word is derived from the Italian "con primario", or "with the primary", meaning that the comprimario role (or singer) is not a principal role (or singer). The term usually refers to characters who do not sing any full-length arias or long scenes (although mute characters who do not sing at all, are not considered comprimarios).
Many singers began their careers as comprimario singers; many others end their careers that way when they become too infirm to cope with long roles; some have made a career out of singing such parts. Among these latter are singers such as Anthony Laciura, Jean Kraft, Nico Castel and Charles Anthony of the Metropolitan Opera; others include Plinio Clabassi and Karl Dönch.
Some notable comprimario roles
Notable comprimario roles, in operas which are performed often, include Antonio and Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro, the Speaker of the Temple, the Two Men in Armor, and two of the priests in The Magic Flute, the Police Sergeant and Ambrogio in The Barber of Seville, Count Monterone's prison guard, Count Ceprano's wife, the page, and Giovanna the nursemaid, in Rigoletto, the Messenger in Aida, the Count Lerma and the Voice from Heaven in Don Carlos, the Night Watchman in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the Shepherd in Tristan und Isolde, the Steersman in The Flying Dutchman, the physician and the apparitions in Macbeth, the Judge in Un ballo in maschera, the Forest Bird in Siegfried, the four noblemen who conspire with Friedrich von Telramund in Lohengrin, the individual Grail-knights and the Esquires in Parsifal, the First and Second Prisoners in Fidelio, the Police Officer and the Notary in Der Rosenkavalier, the Police Officer (a different one) and Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov, the Wig-Maker and the Lackey in Ariadne auf Naxos, the Wedding Registrar in Madama Butterfly, the Mandarin in Turandot, Orest's servant in Elektra, and Frasquita and Mercedes in Carmen.