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30 Best Opera Singers of All Time (Most Famous)

May 22, 2023
opera singers

Are you in search of the most famous Opera singers ever?

Opera is a beautiful form of classical music, performed only by the most talented singers in the world.

This list includes talented artists from different countries worldwide.

This article details some of the best Opera singers of all time.

You should definitely check these musicians out!

Enjoy our list of the best Opera singers!

1. Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti is an operatic tenor from Moderna, Italy.

He became one of the most acclaimed opera singers of all time, and was coined “King of the High Cs”.

He joined the trio The Three Tenors in the early 1990s, and later crossed over into popular music.

He achieved a Kennedy Center Honor for his work and won seven Grammy Awards: Grammy Legend Award, Best Classical Vocal Solo for Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti in Concert, and Luciano Pavarotti – Hits From Lincoln Center.

2. Maria Callas

Maria Anna Cecilia Sophie Kalogeropoulou was a New York-born Greek soprano who went simply by the name Maria Callas.

She is known as one of the most acclaimed sopranos of the twentieth century.

She established her impressive career in Italy, despite her being partially blind.

Her career ended unfortunately prematurely, after a large weight loss that may have played a hand in her vocal decline. 

3. Plácido Domingo

José Plácido Domingo Embil is a Spanish opera singer and conductor, who is known for his compositions and performances in Italian, French, German, Spanish, English, and Russian.

He was a  lirico-spinto tenor but migrated to a baritone role.

He has won nine Grammy Awards and five Latin Grammy Awards, including Best Mexican-American Performance for 100 Years of Mariachi and Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording for Verdi: Aida.

4. Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli is known for her wonderful coloratura mezzo-soprano opera singing.

She was born in Rome, and first performed a small role at the young age of nine in the opera Tosca. 

Her opera debut came at the age of nineteen on the TV show Fantastica in Italy, and despite not winning she was invited to the Paris Opera to sing an homage to Maria Callas.

5. Enrico Caruso

Enrico Caruso was an Italian Opera singer known for being a lyric tenor turned dramatic tenor.

Between 1902 and 1920 he made two hundred and forty-seven recordings and made his debut with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

His newfound popularity drew a lot of attention to him, including the attention of Black Hand extortionists.

They threatened to end his career by injuring his throat unless he paid them a large sum. They were caught by a detective who impersonated him! 

6. Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza, born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, began his career as a movie star in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s.

His singing was noticed by Louis B. Mayer, and he debuted as an opera singer in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

He went on to release twenty-two studio albums, twenty-seven extended plays, and seventy-six singles. 

7. Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming is a soprano from Indiana who has received the National Medal of Arts, one of the most prestigious awards in the arts.

She has also won five Grammy Awards and has been nominated for eighteen others.

In the one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year history of the Metropolitan Opera, she became the first female solo headliner in 2008.

Acclaimed conductor Sir Georg Solti said of her: “In my long life, I have met maybe two sopranos with this quality of singing”.

8. José Carreras

José Carreras, born Josep Maria Carreras Coll in Barcelona, is an operatic tenor.

He debuted in Manuel de Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro, going on to sing in the most acclaimed opera houses around the world.

He received a Brit Award in 2009 for Outstanding Contribution to Music, among countless other awards.

9. Bryn Terfel

Sir Bryn Terfel Jones is a Wales-born bass-baritone who was taught to sing by a family friend and went on to be honored with many awards.

This includes a Grammy in 2013 for Best Opera Recording for Metropolitan Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

He received the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2006 and has been named Male Artist of the Year at the Brit Awards multiple times.

His studio album We’ll Keep a Welcome was widely and critically acclaimed for his excellent baritone voice.

10. Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman was a dramatic soprano from the United States, but she could certainly perform other operatic roles.

She performed in over thirty operas during her career and received several awards including some Grammy Awards.

She debuted in Tannhäuser, a three-act opera written and composed by Richard Wagner.

She has been named one of the female opera singers with the widest vocal range, from contralto to dramatic soprano.

11. Kiri Te Kanawa

Dame Kiri Jeanette Claire Te Kanawa is a mezzo soprano from New Zealand.

Her voice has been described as “mellow yet vibrant, warm, ample and unforced”.

Her three studio albums, released in the 1980s,  landed in the top forty in Australia.

She was professionally trained by opera singer Sister Mary Leo Niccol, at St.

Mary’s College in Auckland. She began her career as a pop star performing in clubs but soon got noticed by the London Opera Centre.

12. Anna Netrebko

Anna Yuryevna Netrebko is a Russian-Austrian opera singer with a soprano voice.

Her talent was discovered by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, and she soon debuted at the Mariinsky Theatre.

After performing as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the 2002 Salzburg Festival, she became a critically acclaimed opera singer around the world and subsequently performed in numerous other compositions.

13. Robert Merrill

Robert Merill was born in Brooklyn, New York, and is an acclaimed operatic baritone.

In 1993 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, after performances with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

He has released twenty-five recordings, including Il Trovatore, La Traviata, and his debut Carmen.

He sadly passed away in 2004, and his epitaph reads: ‘Like a bursting celestial star, he showered his family and the world with love, joy, and beauty. Encore please.’

14. Jussi Björling

Johan Jonatan “Jussi” Björling was a Swedish-born tenor who is well-loved as one of the best opera singers of the twentieth century.

Many of his performances were with the New York Metropolitan Opera, but he also made appearances at the Royal Opera House.

He received a Grammy Award in 1960 in the category Best Classical Vocal Performance for his Long Play album Bjoerling in Opera and also achieved numerous other accolades during his career.

15. Diana Damrau

Diana Damrau is a coloratura soprano from Germany.

She was educated at the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg and debuted in the Metropolitan Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and the Vienna State Opera.

She has won numerous awards, including Female Singer of the Year at the 2014 International Opera Awards and the Bavarian Order of Merit in 2017.

16. Angel Blue

Angel Joy Blue is an operatic soprano who was born in Los Angeles.

She has performed in twenty-five different operas, including multiple appearances in La Traviata.

Blue won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for the Metropolitan Opera production of Porgy and Bess, and she was even the first African-American female to win the Miss Apple-Valley beauty pageant.

17. Sarah Brightman

Sarah Brightman is an English soprano, who is known for her work in the classical crossover genre.

She debuted as a dancer in the troupe Hot Gossip, and released disco singles simultaneously.

She became the world’s best-selling soprano singer after selling over twenty-five million albums.

She often collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, including the studio album Phantom of the Opera which sold millions of copies worldwide and reached number one.

18. John Holiday

John Holiday is a Texas-born countertenor who debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2012, singing Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with Robert Spano’s Atlanta Symphony.

He extensively performed with the Metropolitan Opera among others.

He received thirteen awards and won many competitions during his career, including the Marian Anderson Vocal Award and first place at the Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition.

19. René Pape

René Pape is a German opera singer, with a strong operatic bass voice.

His musical interest was influenced by his grandmother, whose late husband was an operatic tenor.

Throughout his career, he has been awarded two Grammys, an ECHO award, and was voted Artist of the Year by German Opera Critics.

He was also given the title of Vocalist of the Year by Musical America.

20. Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Dmitri Hvorostovsky was an operatic baritone, born in Russia in 1962.

He performed in countless operas, and released three light classical recordings: I Met You, My Love, Where Are You My Brothers? and Passione di Napoli.

He received lots of awards, such as the Glinka State Prize in 1991 and the People’s Artist of Russia in 1995. 

21. Franco Corelli

Franco Corelli was a famous Italian tenor, who was later coined the “prince of tenors” for his impressive international career.

He performed with the New York Metropolitan Opera between 1961 and 1975.

He has released fourteen operatic recordings and performed in forty live operas, where audiences doted over him for his charming personality and handsome looks.

22. Marilyn Horne

Marilyn Horne is a mezzo-soprano opera singer who was born in Pennsylvania.

She was awarded with the honors of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors, as well as five Grammy Awards.

She received the Grammy Awards for Most Promising New Classical Artist in 1964, Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance in 1981, Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance in 1983, Best Opera Recording in1993, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021

23. Susan Bullock

Susan Margaret Bullock is a soprano from Britain.

Her talent was noticed when she was offered roles in the English National Opera after winning the Kathleen Ferrier Award. 

She became a worldwide sensation after joining the Frankfurt Opera and Garsington Opera in the mid-1990s.

24. Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna is an operatic tenor who was born in France to a family of Sicilian immigrants.

He has released twenty-three studio albums with his most popular being Sicilien which was released in 2008 and reached number two in France.

His single “Petit Papa Noël” was released in 2003 and reached number ninety-one in the French Singles chart.

25. Emma Shapplin

Emma Shapplin was born in Paris as Crystêle Madeleine Joliton and is a soprano singer.

She released five studio albums between 1997 and 2019: Carmine Meo, Etterna, Macadam Flower, Dust of a Dandy, and Venere.

26. Katherine Jenkins

Katherine Jenkins is a mezzo-soprano opera singer from Wales who began her career at a young age, entering and winning numerous singing competitions.

Her debut studio album Premiere reached number one on the UK Classical Albums Chart.

Five of her other studio albums were certified Platinum for sales of over one million in the United Kingdom.

She teamed up with Vera Lynn in 2014 to release the single “We’ll Meet Again” on the album National Treasure: Ultimate Collection.

27. Joan Sutherland

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland was a dramatic coloratura soprano from Australia, best known for her contributions to bel canto singing.

She performed in countless live operas and was voted into the Gramophone magazine Hall of Fame.

Sutherland received a Kennedy Center Honor and Lifetime Contribution Award for how she changed the history of Italian opera.

28. Montserrat Caballé

María de Montserrat Bibiana Concepción Caballé i Folch, known more simply as Montserrat Caballé, was an operatic soprano born in Spain.

She is largely thought to be the best soprano of the twentieth century.

She has won three Grammy Awards for her work, including Best Vocal Soloist Performance for Montserrat Caballé – Rossini: Rarities, and Best Opera Recording for Puccini: La bohème and Mozart: Così fan tutte.

29. Beniamino Gigli

Beniamino Gigli is an Italian opera singer, with a lyric tenor voice, and is thought to be one of the strongest tenors of his generation.

His career kicked off in 1914 when he performed as Enzo in Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

He was coined “Caruso Secondo” after Enrico Caruso’s death in 1921, but he nicknamed himself “Gigli Primo”.

30. Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills was an operatic soprano from America, with most of her fame coming between 1950 and 1970.

She was mainly known for her performances in Donizetti’s operas, in which she claimed many lead roles.

Best Opera Singers – Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this walk through the decades that detailed the most famous opera singers from around the world.

These talented singers have made opera what it is today, and they are definitely worth listening to.

You may also like: Best Opera Songs of All Time

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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