Thursday, March 15, 2007

Twenty Greatest Sopranos of All Time?

Finally, what we've all been waiting for: BBC Music Magazine has compiled the definitive list of the greatest sopranos of all time. And who might they be, you ask? Well, here they are, in descending order:

20. Elly Ameling
19. Rosa Ponselle
18. Renata Tebaldi
17. Christine Brewer
16. Elisabeth Schumann
15. Karita Mattila
14. Gundula Janowitz
13. Galina Vishnevskaya
12. Régine Crespin
11. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
10. Emma Kirkby
9. Kirsten Flagstad
8. Margaret Price
7. Lucia Popp
6. Montserrat Caballé
5. Birgit Nilsson
4. Leontyne Price
3. Victoria de los Angeles
2. Joan Sutherland
1. Maria Callas

Boy, I really got sucked into that one... yesterday I wrote this long rant against the choices, but this morning I feel a little more composed and realize that one should view this as a sociological phenomenon.

For one thing, this is so clearly a British creation, otherwise we would not be seeing people like Emma Kirkby and Margaret Price on the list (or Christine Brewer, though she is an American, who has a much more prominent career over there than she does here). And if this list had been compiled by the same forces ten to fifteen years ago, it would no doubt have included Kiri Te Kanawa and Felicity Lott as well.

I was also greatly amused to know that Emma Kirkby is a greater singer than Rosa Ponselle. Amused and relieved. Thank GOODNESS we no longer have to contend with opulent voices like Ponselle's when we can derive greater satisfaction from the Kirkby chirpings.

It's also good to know that Lucia Popp surpasses either Crespin, Tebaldi or Flagstad. Number SEVEN? Guess she got bumped up a few notches for the sympathy vote!

At least Mattila, one of the two great artists of today, is on the list, although Soile Isokoski, her even greater compatriot, is nowhere to be seen.

This would not be nearly as offensive if it were simply to have been called "The Twenty Sopranos Most Highly Regarded as of This Very Moment of A Certain Panel of Experts," which is of course what it really is. Seen in this light, it becomes a lot less toxic.

Admittedly, there aren't too many that one could agree on. Callas, for sure, but any list that doesn't have Muzio and Lehmann on it is just plain bogus. Neither Lehmann or Muzio ever sang a phrase that didn't emanate from their heart, and if that's not the primary criterion for greatness, then I'm packing my toys and going home. And okay, so Betty Blackhead is a shoo-in in the eyes of many, but how many phrases did she ever sing that emanated straight from her heart? I won't posit a guess, but out of generosity I will say less than half. :-) was all upset because Gheorghiu, Netrebko and Fleming weren't on the list. It's supposedly a list of the greatest singers of all time, not the most hyped artists of the present day. Now THAT list would be easy to put together! Nobody's upset that Krassimira Stoyanova, Veronica Villaroel or Violeta Urmana are not on the list.

This list is obviously ridiculous and offensive, designed to rile up people just like me. Why do we have to have lists like this at all? Is this some sort of competition? If so, hadn't most singers of today just cash in their chips because they're never going to be as great as Flagstad or Callas or Ponselle? And perhaps all of us countertenors should give it up because we can't match Russell Oberlin, who was on the scene long before any of us and is still the best, bar none.

If this list serves any function whatsoever, it will be to inspire debate among opera lovers about their OWN favorites. Well, it will certainly increase this month's circulation of BBC Music Magazine as well.

I think I'm going to put together a list or two as well: MY favorite sopranos of all time, MY favorite mezzos, MY favorite lieder singers, MY favorite tenors, MY favorite "unknown" singers (no, this does not include me, though, come to think of it, it could!)

However, not today, dear, I have an audition. Look for such lists, pure expressions of my personal opinions, in future postings.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

my godness! and where's Kathleen Battle?

December 16, 2007 at 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is leyla gencer?!!!!

March 12, 2008 at 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Renee Fleming???
Eva Marton?????

November 4, 2008 at 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These lists exist so that people, such as myself, can find a list of sopranos who are capable. Unfortunately they strive to lead me astray. Which brings us to why you exist. (Found the best tenors already: Fleta, Gigli, Bjorling, Sobinov.(Really only Bjorling and Fleta are free from discussion, but I enjoy the others greatly.)

December 9, 2008 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger cedricfollyman said...

I see the list and I see a list based upon favoritism, and not based upon the quality and artistry of the performers. If the list were titled "20 soprano's, some exceptional, some average and some dire" then perhaps it may be correct. but this list is simply inaccurate!! I am an opera singer, and I have been around long enough to know that this list is inaccurate. If anyone is interested, here is my own version of what this list SHOULD look like:

20: Lily Pons
19: Ghena Dimitrova
18: Nellie Melba
17: Kathleen Battle
16: Edita Gruberova
15: Berevly Sills
14: Jessye Norman
13: Renata Tebaldi
12: Mirella Freni
11: Elizabeth Swarzkopf
10: Leontyne Price
9: Brigit Nilson
8: Montserrat Caballe
7: Victoria de Los Angeles
6: Angela Gheorghiu
5: Joan Sutherland
4: Anna Moffo
3: Luisa Tetrazzini
2: Kiri Te Kanawa
1: Maria Callas

It certainly is more accurate than the list that the bbc realesed...

September 2, 2009 at 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Adelina Patti? Verdi considered her voice the best soprano he'd ever encountered. Counts for nothing?

October 10, 2009 at 3:36 AM  
Blogger Chutson353 said...

Of course "greatest" is a matter of taste - some like coluratura, some like lyric, others dramatic. One must judge the merits of the singer on the basis of their skill in their realm of expertise. Of course the 19th century greats such as Adelina Patti and Tetrazzini (the PRIMA DONNA ASSOLUTA in my opinion) don't make the list because one doesn't hear their recordings today or the recordings were made when they were past their prime.

November 11, 2009 at 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Subjectivity, subjectivity! I agree its a very parochially british list, and I live just down the road from the royal opera house. The met was blessed, truly blessed in the days of gatti-casazza with some truly great sopranos who should make this list. My top twenty, for what its worth:

1) Rosa Ponselle
2) Amelita Galli-Curci
3) Adelina Patti
4) Joan Sutherland
5) Lily Pons
6) Maria Callas
7) Luisa Tetrazzini
8) Renata Tebaldi
9) Zinka Milanov
10)Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
11)Nellie Melba
12)Bidu Sayao
13)Anna Moffo
14)Lina Pagliughi
15)Victoria de los Angeles
16)Montserrat Caballe
17)Beverley Sills
18)Kiri te Kanawa
19)Mirella Freni
20)Leontyne Price

sorry folks, no modern singers in this lot. Listen to classic opera recordings made by the likes of ponselle, pons, milanov, sayao and pagliughi and more recent recordings with sutherland, callas, moffo etc closely and without a bias towards the poor recording quality and I'm sure you'll agree that there isn't a modern singer fit to clean the boots of any of the above.

December 27, 2009 at 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sumi Jo? Diana Damrau? Hello?!?! TETRAZZINI!?!?!?!?

March 9, 2010 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

giuditta pasta??? maria malibran??? Marie Cornélie Falcon????

March 22, 2010 at 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how "cedricfollyman" talks of favoritism on the BBC list, and the one singer who should be #1 on the BBC list, the great Kirsten Flagstad, "the voice of the century", isn't even on his.

May 6, 2010 at 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elly Ameling, really? She barely even ventures outside the art song realm. Although contemporary, Diana Damrau should certainly be included in this list.

January 17, 2011 at 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caballe deserves a higher spot.

April 21, 2011 at 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damrau should be on this list without question! No one can say that she is overhyped or an of that shit. Damrau sings queen of the night better than anyone else in history and that alone should get her on this list not to mention all of her other artistic feats!

July 12, 2011 at 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of subjectivity and bias here. Things never change. Everyone knows the list should read.

1) Kirsten Flagstad
2) Rosa Ponselle
3) Joan Sutherland
4) Lily Pons
5) Maria Callas
6) Renata Tebaldi
7) Lotte Lehman
8) Elisabeth Rethberg
9) Zinka Milanov
10)Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
11)Nellie Melba
12)Bidu Sayao
13)Birgit Nilsson
14)Emmy Destin
15)Victoria de los Angeles
16)Montserrat Caballe
17)Astrid Varnay
18)Kiri te Kanawa
19)Mirella Freni
20)Leontyne Price

July 14, 2011 at 7:55 PM  
Blogger Luis said...

2. ROSA PONSELLE (HOW TO SING WELL ruling the rest of the century)
6.zINKA mILANOV (VERDI-pianissimos)
7.Elizabeth Swarzkopf (mOZART)

November 25, 2011 at 6:49 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Christa Ludwig and Diana Damrau should both be on here, and whoever should Renee Fleming should be should be shot.

January 28, 2012 at 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MY GOD, where is EDDA MOSER????

April 24, 2012 at 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the perfection category...Maggie Teyte. In the force of nature category...Eileen Farrell.

November 14, 2013 at 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Joan Sutherland Stupendous
2. Birgit Nilsson, biggest voice
3. Beverly Sills, fastest voice
4. Caballe, beautiful voice
5. Kirsten Flagstad, huge voice
6. Leontyne Price, beautiful voice
7. Renata Tebaldi, lovely voice
8. Rosa Ponselle, beautiful voice
9. Tetrazzini, great coloratura
10. Galli Curci great coloratura
11. Melba, great coloratura
12. de Los Angeles lovely voice
13. June Anderson, coloratura
14. Anna Moffo, lovely voice
15. Maria Callas, great actress
16. Renee Fleming today's best
17. Rita Streich fine coloratura
18. Claudia Muzio
19. Zinka Milanov
20. Eileen Farrell

January 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM  
Blogger rigoletto0602 said...

Of course, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to compare and rank sopranos who sang different roles but if any given list is based on the singer's importance in the history of recorded opera it would most likely be like this. I have stretched it to 25 singers and the reader can number them according to personal preference:
Callas, Ponselle, Tebaldi, Sutherland, Caballé, Muzio, Moffo, Freni, Cotrubas, Milanov, Pons, Dimitrova, Flagstad, Nilsson, Verrett, L.Price, Te Kanawa, De Los Angeles, Crespin, Popp, Schwarzkopf, Gencer, Scotto, Devia, Dessi.

September 10, 2016 at 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot of ignorance in this lists. They did not listen all the singers. My list after listen ALL the great singers of recorded era:
1. Kirsten Flagstad
2. Maria Callas
3. Lotte Lhemann
4. Renata Tebaldi
5. Birgit Nilsson
6. Leontyne Price
7. Rose Poncelle
8. Regine Crespin
9. Vistoria de Los Angeles
10.Montserat Caballé
11.Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
12.Joan Sutherland
13. Amelita Galli-Curci
14. Gianina Arangi-Lombardi
15. Claudia Muzio
16.Liza Della Caza
17.Gundula Janowitz
18.Elisabeth Retebergh
19.Maria Caniglia
20.Lucia Popp

May 10, 2017 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger menna said...

شركات تعقيم المنازل من كورونا العين

September 29, 2021 at 2:29 PM  

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