Today's Best Opera Singers: Sopranos and Mezzo-Sopranos

And now for the Gents

Every good heroine deserves a hero. It's a well known fact, and the divas would miss the tenors, baritones, and basses who make their stage life interesting, loving, terrifying, or just plain crazy.

There are few things that are as beautiful, stirring and controversial as a classical singer. They have been stereotyped over their sound, their lifestyle, and even their weight; but I am here to tell you that if you actually listen, sopranos do not scream, you don't have to throw fits to be hired at the Met, and the fat lady on stage is something of a relic. Some of the most powerful and memorable melodies have been written for the opera stage, as well as incredible sacred works.

Some say that all the good ones are from past generations, and there will be an eternal war waged between those who idolize Callas and the adorers of Tebaldi. There are still whispers in the far corners of the opera world over whether or not Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was guilty of producing her high notes with tension, and a hush falls over those who have been inspired by Leontyne Price whenever her name is mentioned. Yet others believe that the best torch-bearers for this generation are the so-called "cross-over artist", who sell occasional Handel and Mozart arias between more generally appealing folk and pop selections. Hayley Westenra, Charlotte Church, and others are perfect examples of this, and they have merit in their own right. But as performers of classical music, they lack credibility except for causing a few of their listeners to delve deeper into the classical tradition that they give a taste of.

But there are many women who are out to keep the tradition of classical singing alive and well, and this is a list of ten of them. Some are well established and possibly in the twilight years of their careers, while others are in their fresh-faced, beautiful beginnings. Some will never have a large following but will be loved by those they do reach with their music. Some will be icons, remembered and revered by thousands for years to come. All love their art and are doing their best to make others love it too. There is a word that can describe every one: bellissima.


Renee Fleming

The darling of the Met and one of the few modern American sopranos to gain world-wide recognition, Renee Fleming has rightly earned her moniker of "The Beautiful Voice". Not only does she have is all -- the velvet voice, the technique, the looks, and the acting chops-- she is becoming something of an icon and classic. With a broad repertory and a reputation for being un-egotistical and easy to work with, she has worked hard to maintain a solid career, even dabbling in the pop world recently. But never fear, she has remained squarely in the classical world and is quite likely to stay there as reigning queen of the American opera world.

Best of Renee: Fleming took Dvorak's Song to the Moon from an obscure aria to a famed piece of the repertoire, and her recording is still the one of the best you will find.


Joyce DiDonato

Vivacious, energetic, and possessing a powerful mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato is a rising star in the opera world. There's something very appealing about DiDonato, whether it's in her charismatic interpretations of characters or her general enthusiasm for the music she sings. Not only is she passionate about what she does, she loves connecting with her public, an endearing quality in a world that is rife with snobbery. Listening to her is like seeing cream poured-- her voice flows in rich, smooth waves that you never want to end. She is ever broadening her repertoire, from little known Handel masterpieces to modern works, giving the same energy to everything she does.

Best of Joyce: Mozart's aria Non so Piu from Le Nozze di Figaro highlights her sparkling high range and excellent interpretive qualities.


Cecilia Bartoli

Now here is what the opera world loves best -- a self-contradicting diva with lots of drama. This Italian mezzo-soprano is famous for her brilliant coloratura, her engaging stage presence, a love of the obscure Baroque and Classical repertoire, and of course the ability to pull off much of the soprano literature. For most singers this would be suicide, but Bartoli does it all with flair as is evidenced by numerous awards, both from the US and Europe, as well as the adoration of audiences everywhere. With immense talent and a voice that seems to get even better as it ages, Bartoli has been and remains an operatic force to be reckoned with.

Best of Cecilia: Casta Diva, with all the sighings and melodrama your heart could desire.


Barbara Bonney

If you mention the name Barbara Bonney, there may not be many faces that light up with recognition, but it certainly is not her fault. A nearly perfect technique, combined with a silky, natural sounding voice make her a top-notch singer. Her chosen path in lesser-known music hasn't given her the limelight she deserves, but if you listen to her recordings, it's not likely that you won't become a Bonney fan. Also, she recently formed the Bonney Foundation to help give young singers a good musical education and a strong career start.

Best of Barbara: He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd from Handel's Messiah.

Anna Netrebko

The Russian soprano who set the opera world on it's ears, Netrebko is not only musical, beautiful, and wildly popular, she is pretty much the height of the opera stratosphere. Her soprano is strong and doesn't have any kind of shrillness, even on the top of her range. Although she has her detractors, her interpretations are intense and passionate, and she has begun to prove herself capable of some of the most difficult roles in the repertoire.

Best of Anna: She delivers O Mio Babbino Caro more believably and movingly than most can, and that's saying something for one of the most popular showpieces.

Yulia van Doren

Young and talented, Yulia van Doren is coming into her own as a first class soprano specializing in Baroque music. Her recent collaborations with Dawn Upshaw have achieved great acclaim and she is has great promise, if not the fame to accompany it yet. A colloratura voice that shimmers perfectly on Handel's showpieces, and still has the depth to deftly sing Bach's serious sacred works is a rare find, but van Doren handles it all well. The fact that she specializes, no matter how well she does it, is something of a handicap, but she does have the talent to do it as successfully as possible.

Best of Yulia: Unfortunately, she has yet to make any recordings. You can find a few live recordings on her site,

Angela Gheorghiu

A thorough going diva with a golden voice, who lives up to all one expects when one thinks of a leading lady. Though she keeps up lots of drama in real life, she has plenty of it left for the stage and is a well rounded performer with a silky soprano that can keep up with the best of them. Her performances of the Italian repertoire are most acclaimed, and a great stage presence rounds out her giftings.

Best of Angela: Her duets with former husband Roberto Alagna from Romeo et Juliette and La Traviata are delightful in their rapport and artistry.

Dawn Upshaw

Technically sound, a charming voice, and charismatic, communicative performances make Dawn Upshaw a delightful singer. She's stayed mostly in the American audience, with an emphasis in her career on recital performances and smaller works. A lack of universal fame shouldn't put any tarnish on her name though; she is a first class singer and can perform a broad repertoire. A 2006 battle with cancer has set her back some, but she's pulled through and is continuing to perform, if not as much as in former years.

Best of Dawn: The American repertoire is her strong suite, as well as her recent emphasis on the works of Bach.


Elina Garanca

Latvian Elina Garancas is a package deal. She has a mezzo-soprano that is nearly flawless (especially in one so young), looks to kill for, and the ability to act while she's singing and looking good. Her interpretations lean toward the more subtle than DiDonato's overt expressions. In a mere ten years she has climbed to the top, being ranked with the likes of Netrebko and Bryn Terfel, and it seems that the best is yet to come.

Best of Elina: Her 2010 rendition of Carmen received great acclaim and is powerfully rendered, with lots of nuance.


Kathleen Battle

A soprano with a light agility of tone, Battle's voice is famous for it's purity of quality and deft coloratura. Though her opera career was cut short when she was fired from the Met in 1994 for "unprofessional actions", she still had enough credentials in having worked with the likes of Herbert von Karajan and James Levine to not disappear from the music world. Battle has managed to maintain a career in a broad recital and recording repertoire, with her interpretations of Baroque, early Classical, and jazz music among her best. Especially breath-taking are her renditions of spirituals, a nod to her African-American roots that make them more emotive and powerful than practically any other recording you will find. Her voice, never having the largeness of most professionals, may be waning as she gets older, but Battle still has the voice and musicality to put on a good show.

Best of Kathleen: Rejoice Greatly and Were You There from the album Grace. If her spirituals don't send tingles down you spine, you may want to have your nervous system checked

In Conclusion

This is far from an exhaustive list; there are many other talented women on the stage today, and I would love to hear your favorites! These are just some of those that have universal appeal, and the true artistry to back it up. I hope you enjoy discovering the uniqueness and beauty of each one.

Comments 24 comments

Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Hi C--ha ha high C, how appropriate. I am so glad you wrote this. I was listening to the Metropolitan Opera's National Auditions this morning and for the first time, heard Lawrence Bownlee sing as a former winner guest. Wow! Now you've introduced me to Elina Garanca and I have to investigate her Carmen to see if the beauty of her voice matches that of her face.

Thank you C, so nice to meet you here. =:)

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 5 years ago Author

Hello, Winsome! So nice to meet you too. I'll have to look up Lawrence Bownlee... he's got a great name if nothing else. :) Were you able to listen to the Met's auditions online? That sounds like it would be so much fun!

Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Hi C, no my little ipod/fm player as I'm getting ready in the morning is set to KUSC, which is one LA's best classical stations. They have some excellent winners this year. You can hear Lawrence Brownlee here:

Anaya M. Baker profile image

Anaya M. Baker 5 years ago from North Carolina

I've loved opera (especially the arias) since I was a kid and my mom played it well cleaning the house or cooking. These days I feel like its hard to find other people who actually appreciate it! Glad to see that the art is still alive and well...

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 5 years ago Author

Thanks for the link Winsome. He is incredibly good-- I like the depth his voice has, especially for a tenor. Too bad I'm no where close to that station in LA... I'll have to see what google can do for me. :)

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 5 years ago Author

Anaya, it is so wonderful to meet other opera lovers! I think most of us have gone underground or something. :) What a gift from your mom, making something so beautiful part of every day life.

Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

You can listen here:

They are playing Gustave Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in G right now--so beautiful. =:)

StellaSee profile image

StellaSee 4 years ago from California

Renee Fleming is awesome, her voice is so versatile!

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Hi StellaSee! Yes, Renee Fleming is pretty amazing, and definitely one of my favorites too. Thanks for stopping by!

Lawrence (Larry) Rosenfield 4 years ago

I've loved opera since before I remember, thanks to my parents.I turned 70 years young last month and Thursday I'm going to The Met's HD download of Siegfried. Since I'm always on the lookout for the next great Mezzo you all need to pull up the web sight of Mezzo Walli Giunta, a Canadian that will give you goose bumps. She is also on YouTube. Opera Lovers it's worth giving a look and a listen. P.S. She also now has a growing fan following.

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Thanks for stopping by Larry! I'll have to look Walli Giunta up-- being an amateur Mezzo myself, I love finding new ones to look up and study. I appreciate the recommendation, and I just might have to join the fan following.

singnmiss profile image

singnmiss 4 years ago from Southern US

Cecilia Bartoli is one of my favorite opera singers--I hope to sing as well as she someday. :)

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Cecilia does have a lovely voice. Personally, I aspire to sing like Elina Garanca in the future, but I've got lots of work to do... :)

Thanks for the comment singnmiss!

Lzaus 4 years ago

We live in Chicago and subscribe to the Lyric Opera. Not only does Renee Fleming bring her great voice to the Lyric, but she brought a new excitement to the audience. She is more daring than prior artistic directors and brings a wider range of opera to the stage. She doesn't perform in too many operas, but this year is doing Streetcar. We're looking forward to seeing her perform in it.

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Hello Lzaus! What a blessing to live in such a culturally rich city as Chicago! I'm sure her artistic direction is more daring, based on the variety she's given her own career recently. Oh, and I would love to see Renee Fleming's rendition of Streetcar-- I'm sure it will be amazing! You'll have to stop back by and give a review when you've seen it.

orphenica 3 years ago

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 3 years ago Author

That's incredibly beautiful! Such a clear, lovely voice. Thanks for sharing it.

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Great list although not exhaustive I think!

Davide 20 months ago

Great list, but number one is missing. Diana Damrau.

George Gresham 16 months ago

The Angel of Australia...Mirusia Louwerse would be very difficult to beat.

She has a pure, sweet, clear voice, which to me is perfect. I love to hear her sing "Solveig's Song" and many others

Podge 12 months ago

Where is Kozena ?? Kasarova ???, you need to get out more

Steve 8 months ago

How could you ignore Jennifer Larmore? As good a Bartoli is, I'll take Larmore over her. Her "Non Piu Mesta" from Rossini's "La Cenerentola" is incredible!

Jacques Miller 5 months ago

Anna Netrebko the very best soprano today!

Genevieve Ogu 6 weeks ago

Joyce DiDonato remains my best. Her role as Isolier in the 2011 production of Le Comte Ory with Juan Diego and Diana Damrau was absolutely amazing. She is a force to be reckoned with in the world of opera.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article