The opera is an art form that originated in the late 16th century in Italy before spreading to other parts of the world as it is today known as a key part of Western classical music tradition. It involves a combination of text (libretto) and musical score whereby opera singers have a leading role in the performance of a dramatic work in a theatrical setting. The opera further incorporates a number of other performing arts, such as costumes, dance or ballet, and an orchestra or musical ensemble.
More than a few opera singers have gone ahead to have magnificent music recording careers with voices that have been described as heavenly. Here are the most famous of them all.
10 Famous Opera Singers
Nicknamed the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind was one of the most famous and highly regarded opera singers of the 19th century. Lind, whose portrait appears on some Swedish banknotes, began performing on stage at around the age of 10 after having been discovered by chance a year earlier. Her big break came in 1838, at just 18, when she performed the role of Agathe in Der Freischutz at the Royal Swedish Opera.
In the coming years, Lind became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and also served as a court singer to the King of Sweden and Norway. She also further became one of the most sort after opera singers in Europe as she performed all across the continent an operatic repertoire that included title roles in Maria di Rohan, The Marriage of Figaro, and Lucia di Lammermoor, among many others.
After having somewhat conquered Europe, Jenny Lind called time on her career at the age of 29, however, this was not the last time she was heard of as she went on to tour the Americas in the 1850s before returning to Europe to raise a family and also pass on knowledge at the Royal College of Music in London where she was a singing professor.
Luciano Pavarotti is the most commercially successful opera singer of all time. The Italian, who was nicknamed The King of High C’s, began singing at a very young age thanks to influence from his father who was an amateur singer. However, it was not until he was in his mid-20s that he was able to make his professional singing debut at a small regional Italian Opera House.
In the years to come, Pavarotti was able to make his international debut, singing alongside other notable singers like Joan Sutherland who helped expose him to an international audience. He later began to enjoy huge fame following the televising of his opera performances, one of which was the highest ever audience recorded for a televised opera. The multiple Grammy Award winner made his last performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin before succumbing to pancreatic cancer a year later.
Also one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists, Maria Callas was a very renowned and one of the most influential opera singers of the 20th century. The American-born Greek soprano, who received her musical education in Greece before establishing her career in Italy, was revered for her technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. She enjoyed a career that was envied by her peers, however, most of her successes were overshadowed by her personal life which somewhat contributed to her artistic demise.
Another child opera singer who was able to grow to become one of the most famous opera singers of all time is Jose Carreras. The Spaniard gained worldwide fame following his performance as a part of the Three Tenors at the 1990 FIFA World Cup final. The performance, which was broadcasted to over 1 billion people around the world, earned him a worldwide concert tour in the following years and propelled him to the position of music director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
In addition to his career and achievements in music, Jose Carreras was well respected and honored for his humanitarian work, specifically for his efforts in helping victims of leukemia and donating money for more research on the disease which he suffered from.
Many opera singers today, specifically those from the Latin-speaking world, look up to multiple platinum album selling and fourteen-time Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards winning opera singer and conductor, Placido Domingo. The Spaniard is well known for his versatility in performing in several languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish, English, and Russian) and also for being a member of the operatic singing group, The Three Tenors.
Domingo began his journey to the apex of his career as a young boy, just like many others that appear on this list. He performed in his parents’ music company in his pre-teen years before going on to learn how to play the piano and compete and win numerous singing competitions. Domingo continued to hone his skills all through his teenage years, working for his parents and any other musical group that was willing to take a chance with him. In 1961, at the age of 20, Placido Domingo made his operatic debut and the rest became history. He has since achieved huge fame and in turn, given young singers a chance to make an impact through his international singing competition, Operalia.
In comparison to other entrants on this list, Aida Garifullina could be described as an amateur, however, nothing can be taken away from her talent which has earned her a few awards and titles. The Russian opera singer, who was born in 1987, began her music training as a child thanks to her mother who was at the time a music/choir conductor. She later went in to study music at Nuremberg before joining the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts in 2007.
In 2013, Garifullina’s career got a huge boost after she won the first prize in Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition. The two went on to become frequent collaborators as she also joined the Vienna State Opera. Arguably the biggest moment in her career came about in 2018 when she performed at the opening ceremony of the 2018 FIFA World Cup which was viewed by billions of people around the world.
It is not very often that a singer in the status of Celine Dion gets to describe a colleague’s voice as that of God if he has a singing voice. The Canadian vocalist is not the only person to share such an opinion about the multiple award-winning versatile Italian singer Andrea Bocelli, who has recorded classical, pop, and opera albums, and has sold over 90 million records worldwide.
Bocelli, who completely lost his eyesight at around the age of 12, showed a passion for music at a very young age. He learned how to play the piano at the age of 6 before moving to other instruments like the flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and drums. As a teenager, he was winning musical competitions in which he entered but for some reason, he did not concentrate on a music career, instead, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study law. After graduating and spending a year working as a lawyer, Bocelli caught his big musical break when he recorded a demo tape with Italian singer Zucchero. The demo led to him singing a duet with Luciano Pavarotti, and the rest became history.
Four-time Grammy Award winner Renee Fleming, who also has a National Medal of Arts Award, a Richard Tucker Award, and the Swedish Polar Music Prize for her services in music, is another member of this exclusive opera singers list and is certain to steal the show at any location she is performing in, thanks to her fluency and ability to speak and sing in a number of languages.
Fleming’s path to music seemed predestined as she was born to two music teachers. She went on to study at the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam after which she enrolled at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York to do her graduate studies. Fleming later spent some time in Europe to further hone her skills before returning to stateside to enroll at Juilliard School. During this time, she began performing professionally in smaller concerts, however, it was not until 1988 when she won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions that she caught her major break.
Not many people in the opera singing business today can boast of being frequent guests of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, The Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria, The Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and The Royal Opera House in London, England, as often as Russian opera singer Anna Netrebko.
The Russian, who was in 2007 placed on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People’s List, made her operatic debut at the age of 22 before going ahead to wow audiences all across the world. Netrebko most notably performed the Olympic Anthem at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The late Montserrat Caballe is another person on this list of opera singers that has left an endearing legacy. The multiple Grammy Award winner, who graduated from the Liceu Conservatory in 1954 before beginning her operatic career, was said to have a voice that was “pure but powerful, with superb control of vocal shadings and exquisite pianissimo”.
Caballe earned plaudits in the Classical music world before going ahead to have the ears and win the hearts of a wider audience thanks to her duet with Freddie Mercury which served as the official theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games.