So you've just started listening to opera. You began with the beginner's guide to opera playlist, and now you want to know WHO you're listening to.
I've got you covered.
Here's a list of some of the biggest names in opera, and each of them are held up as an example to young opera singers for their own unique reason. Let's get started!
1. Maria Callas - You can't really talk about opera without talking about Maria Callas, at least in my opinion. She is known as one of the great actresses of her time, and she has earned that reputation. In opera, there's a style of staging we jokingly call "Park and Bark," where a singer will just plant herself onstage and not move till the end of her aria. Maria Callas would NEVER have done that. She cared too much about the story and her character. You can hear it in her singing. Although she wasn't known for the beauty of her voice (in fact, many people openly said it was an ugly sound), the expressiveness in her singing is incredible. As an audience member, you're on the edge of your seat listening to her. She was also fascinating as a person: opera was her life, and she knew it. She was dramatic, unpredictable, and mesmerizing.
2. Joan Sutherland - On the other end of the spectrum we have Joan Sutherland. Sutherland's voice is simply beautiful - it's really hard to argue with that, even as a subjective statement. But she was the epitome of "Park and Bark" - for her, opera was about the voice, and it pretty much ended with that. She was incredibly consistent. As a singer, she is commendable for her technique - she sings flawlessly and knew exactly how to use her voice. As an actress...well, that's a different story. Listen to how easily her voice seems to move - it seems as if she really had no struggles at all, and making opera singing sound easy is a true feat.
3. Janet Baker - Janet Baker is an English mezzo-soprano (a lower voice than soprano) who was also known as a singing-actress. What I love about her, though, is the color of her voice. I chose a song for this playlist rather than an aria so you could truly hear her voice - it's strong but soft, colorful but piercing.
4. Samuel Ramey - I love Sam Ramey! The first time I saw him in a performance was in the Met's production of Don Giovanni. My father had bought the DVD recording and showed it to us when I was about twelve, and I think I just about fell in love with him after hearing his beautiful bass voice. He is charming, fun, and his voice is stunning. Because Don Giovanni can be sung by a bass (the lowest male voice type) or a bass-baritone (second lowest), hearing it sung by a bass is really exciting because the voice sounds rounder as it gets into the lower ranges.
5. Bryn Terfel - Another bass! One of the things that humans find exciting is seeing the absolute limits that the human body can reach, so hearing the extremes of the human voice can be breathtaking. We often get distracted by the highest notes, but hearing the lowest notes in a bass' range is as, if not more, shiver-inducing. Bryn Terfel is one of those basses whose voices is intoxicating. If you like musical theater, he also performed the role of Sweeney Todd! I chose his rendition of Shenandoah for this playlist because, one, I love this song, and two, his version is one of my favorites. He has such a soulful voice and I love the way he spans the notes.
6. Luciano Pavarotti - If you haven't heard of Pavarotti, get ready! Pavarotti is probably the most famous opera singer of all time, and for good reason. His voice shimmers and he sings with precision, fluidity, and beauty. In a way, he's very much Joan Sutherland's equivalent - he would "Park and Bark." In spite of that, though, he really is the epitome of an operatic tenor.
7. Anna Netrebko - Anna Netrebko has been at the top of her field for about fifteen years now, and as her voice has changed, she's confidently moved from role to role. When she burst onto the scene, she was stunningly beautiful and could portray the part of the ingenue with finesse. It's interesting to see how she has navigated different operas as her voice has gotten heavier. My favorite recordings of her, though, would have to be when she was young and singing coloratura roles (music where there are a lot of notes that move very quickly).
8. Elīna Garanča - Another present-day singer, Garanča is an incredibly talented mezzo-soprano. She has flawless technique which allows her to sing with ease, and she's exciting to watch onstage as well. She is a truly well-rounded opera singer, and she's gorgeous to boot.
9. Renee Fleming - Fleming is the most famous soprano of our time. I actually sang for her in a masterclass about two years ago, which was really cool! She sang the national anthem at the Superbowl a few years ago, sang on the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings, and has starred on Broadway as well as at the Met. As she's gotten older, she's taken a few more liberties with her singing that I personally don't really like, (sliding around the note instead of being precise), but in her prime, her voice was stunning.
10. Plácido Domingo - Plácido Domingo was the third of the three tenors, and although he has less fame in the wider world than Pavarotti, Domingo is probably the most famous tenor-turned-baritone in the operatic world. (He became a baritone as he aged, and he's still performing at the age of 78.). As Pavarotti is to Sutherland, Domingo is to Callas - he is known for his acting and embodying his characters as he sings with power on the stage. I chose one of his most famous roles for this playlist - the opera I Pagliacci (The Clowns) is a wonderful vehicle for any great tenor.
Did know you know any of these singers? Who did I leave off the list? Let me know in the comments!
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