20 Of the Best Opera Singers of All Time
Opera is one of the most demanding and beautiful art forms in the world. The very best opera singers are true masters of their craft, capable of conveying a wide range of emotions and bringing to life some of the most complex characters ever written.
In this article, I’ll be taking a look at 20 of the greatest opera singers of all time. These are performers who have left their mark on the art form and whose names will be remembered for generations to come.
- 1. Leyla Gencer
- 2. Luciano Pavarotti
- 3. Beverly Sills
- 4. Enrico Caruso
- 5. Fritz Wunderlich
- 6. Robert Merrill
- 7. Claudia Muzio
- 8. Placido Domingo
- 9. Lily Pons
- 10. Montserrat Caballe
- 11. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
- 12. Andrea Bocelli
- 13. Leontyne Price
- 14. José Carreras
- 15. Kirsten Flagstad
- 16. Cecilia Bartoli
- 17. Maria Callas
- 18. Birgit Nilsson
- 19. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
- 20. Joan Sutherland
- Final Thoughts
1. Leyla Gencer
First on the list is the late great Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer. She was one of the most acclaimed opera singers of her generation and was known for her powerful and expressive voice. Her performances were always filled with emotion and she was able to bring even the most complex characters to life.
One of her most notable performances is “La Danza” from Rossini’s Les soirées musicales collection. In this aria, Gencer showcases her incredible vocal range and dramatic ability. It’s a truly stunning performance and one that shows just how great an opera singer she was.
2. Luciano Pavarotti
Opera singers look up to Luciano Pavarotti as one of the greatest of all time, and it’s easy to see why. His voice was incredible, and he had a way of conveying emotion that was unmatched by any other singer.
One of his most famous performances is “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. This piece has been performed by many singers over the years, but Pavarotti’s rendition is undoubtedly the most famous.
3. Beverly Sills
Beverly Sills is a name that is synonymous with opera. She was one of the most successful opera singers of her generation and was known for her powerful voice and dramatic performances. Her soprano voice was remarkable, and she was able to use it to convey a wide range of emotions.
Her performance of “All the Things You Are” from Kern’s Show Boat is a perfect example of her vocal ability. In this song, she shows off her impressive range and her ability to convey emotion through her singing. If you’re an opera fan and you haven’t heard this performance, then you’re in for a treat.
4. Enrico Caruso
Enrico Caruso was an in-demand Italian opera singer who was born in Naples in 1873. He originally worked as a factory worker and performed on the streets before rising to fame as an opera singer. Caruso made his operatic debut in 1895 and went on to perform at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, including La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
He was one of the first opera singers to be recorded, and his recordings are still popular among opera fans today. A true virtuoso, and a master of his craft, Caruso was one of the most popular opera singers of all time.
5. Fritz Wunderlich
The next legend on the list is German tenor Fritz Wunderlich, who was born in 1930. A son of a violinist and a choirmaster, Wunderlich was exposed to music at a young age. It was in the 1960s when his career started to bloom and he became a sensation.
Wunderlich was known for his exceptionally beautiful voice, as well as his stage presence and charisma. Unfortunately, he died tragically young in 1966, at the age of 36. Nevertheless, he left behind a legacy as one of the greatest opera singers of all time.
6. Robert Merrill
Robert Merrill was an American baritone who was born in New York City in 1917. He is best known for his performances with the Metropolitan Opera, where he appeared more than 700 times throughout his career. Merrill also made regular appearances on television and radio and recorded several albums.
He sang a wide range of roles during his career but was particularly well-known for his performance of “Di Provenza” from the opera La Traviata, which you can hear in the video above. He remains one of the most celebrated opera singers of all time.
7. Claudia Muzio
Another legendary Italian opera singer on this list is Claudia Muzio, who was born in 1889. She made her operatic debut at the age of just 16 and quickly rose to prominence. She is a daughter of an operatic stage manager and a choir member, thus she was exposed to music from an early age.
Muzio was known for her outstanding vocal technique, as well as her expressive acting ability. One of her most famous performances is the aria “Casta Diva” from the opera Norma, which you can watch on Youtube. She tragically died at the age of 47. Even so, she left behind a legacy as one of the greatest female opera singers of all time.
8. Placido Domingo
Placido Domingo was a Spanish opera singer who was born in 1941. He is known for his extraordinary range and power as an opera singer. Domingo has sung over 151 different roles throughout his career and has performed in some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, including La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Vienna State Opera.
His “Ave Maria” is a beautiful rendition of the popular Catholic prayer. Domingo’s voice is clear and strong, with perfect pitch and diction. The music is simple but powerful, and Domingo’s performance will move you.
9. Lily Pons
Another female opera singer on the list is Lily Pons. She was a French-American opera singer who was born in 1898. Pons is best known for her coloratura soprano roles, which are characterized by their light, high voices.
Pons sang the role of Lakme in the opera of the same name, and her “Bell Song” is one of the most famous arias in all of opera. The song is about a woman who is trying to lure a man with the sound of her bell. Pons’ voice is light and airy, and she hits all the high notes with ease.
10. Montserrat Caballe
Next on the list is Montserrat Caballe, a Spanish operatic soprano who was born in 1933. Caballe is known for her bel canto technique, which is a style of singing that emphasizes beauty and elegance over power.
Her most famous role is probably Elisabetta in “Don Carlo,” but she is also well-known for her rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro.” With a powerful voice like Caballe’s, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular performances of this piece.
11. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was a German soprano. She was one of the most famous opera singers of her time. She performed at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Vienna State Opera.
Her contribution to the world of opera is undeniable as she also spent her time as a vocal teacher. She gave various master classes all over the world which only proves how dedicated she was to her art. She is still one of the most respected opera singers of all time.
12. Andrea Bocelli
The next on this list of best opera singers is Andrea Bocelli. He is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Bocelli has sold over 90 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling opera artists of all time.
He has won numerous awards throughout his career, including a spot on the prestigious Walk of Fame. He earned it for his contributions to live theatre and there’s no doubt that his voice has brought inspiration to aspiring opera singers around the world.
13. Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price was an American soprano. She was one of the most famous opera singers of her time and is still considered one of the greatest opera singers of all time. Price was the first African-American to be acknowledged internationally.
Her performance of “The Lord’s Prayer” is one of the most memorable moments in opera history. Price’s powerful voice and moving performances are something that everyone should have experienced at least once. You can also watch her performances on Youtube.
14. José Carreras
Next on the list is José Carreras, a Spanish opera singer. Carreras is one of the three tenors in history who are known as “The Three Tenors”. He has performed at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world and has recorded hit albums.
“E Lucevan Le Stelle” is one of his most famous songs in the world of opera. This aria is from the opera “Tosca” and it’s about a man who is in love with a woman who is out of his reach. Carreras’ voice will give you chills as you listen to this performance.
15. Kirsten Flagstad
Kirsten Flagstad was a Norwegian opera singer. She is considered one of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of all time. Flagstad was loved by many for her powerful voice and moving performances. Even the Metropolitan Opera’s manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, called her a gift to America alongside another legend, Enrico Caruso.
One of her most famous performances is “Liebestod” from the opera “Tristan und Isolde”. This aria is about a woman who sings of her love for a man who has died. Flagstad’s performance is so moving that it will make you feel as if you are experiencing love and loss at the same time.
16. Cecilia Bartoli
The next singer is known to pull off both the mezzo and soprano roles. Cecilia Bartoli is an Italian opera singer and one of the most controversial opera singers of all time. She is known for her unique style which has been described as “vibrant” and “expressive”.
One of her most well-known renditions is “Non Più Mesta” from the opera “La Cenerentola”. This aria is about a woman who has been abandoned by her lover. Bartoli’s performance is full of emotion and you can feel the pain and hurt in her voice. Her performances can still be viewed on Youtube.
17. Maria Callas
Born in New York City to Greek parents, Maria Callas was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. She possessed a rare combination of dramatic ability, vocal range, and vocal power, which she used to great effect in a wide variety of roles.
Her performances were often controversial, but the fact that she was able to move audiences so deeply with her singing was a testament to her talent. Indeed, she is considered one of the greatest opera singers of all time.
18. Birgit Nilsson
Birgit Nilsson is a Swedish opera singer who was active from the 1940s until her retirement in 1984. She is considered one of the greatest sopranos of all time, and she was particularly known for her performances in the works of Richard Wagner and others.
Nilsson possessed a powerful voice that was capable of great expressiveness, and she was known for her ability to sing with beauty and clarity even at the highest registers. She was also known for her stage presence, which was said to be powerful and commanding.
19. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
The next singer on this list is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a German baritone who was active from the 1950s until his tragic death in 2012. He was one of the most prolific recording artists in history, and he left a lasting mark on the world of opera.
Fischer-Dieskau was known for his excellent musicianship, and he was able to sing with both power and beauty. He was also known for his dramatic interpretation of roles, which helped him to create truly memorable performances.
20. Joan Sutherland
Finishing off this list is Joan Sutherland, an Australian soprano who was active from the 1950s until her retirement in 1990. She was one of the most acclaimed opera singers of her generation, and she possessed a truly remarkable voice.
Her “Quando Rapita in Estasi” is a perfect example of her vocal prowess. Sutherland was truly a one-of-a-kind singer, and she will be remembered as one of the greatest opera singers of all time.
There you have it! The list of the 20 best opera singers of all time. I hope you enjoyed learning about these incredible singers and taking the time to listen to their music. From Luciano Pavarotti to Andrea Bocelli and many others, If you’re a fan of opera, you will certainly enjoy this.
Luciano Pavarotti Featured Image (Top-Left) by: Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Andrea Bocelli Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: Jakub Janecki, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons