Today's Best Opera Singers: Tenors, Baritones, and Basses
Hats Off, Gents!
The ladies of the stage have had their turn, and it's only proper to give a tip of the hat to them too. Long live the divas, who love, laugh at, and torment the gents in turn.
It's a world of drama, excess, and opulence. Most people today don't take the time to know anything about it, and as a result the grand opera has suffered from stereotypes and disdain. But occasionally, there comes a singer who rises above to become an icon, even in pop culture and gives the world a reason to peek in at the rest of the world we call opera.
Here is a list of some of the gentlemen who own the stage today, the great talents who strut, swagger, or storm with the divas and chorus. This list comes from my own taste as well as the opinions of critics and fans around the world. No two are alike, and some you might love while others you loathe. But the music is always beautiful, so revel in it!
A Russian artist known for his lyric baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the most sought after men on the opera stage. His prematurely silver hair and striking figure help create the aura he has, but with a beautiful technique he has definitely worked his way into the top rankings of his art.
Besides engagements at the Metropolitan Opera House, the Paris Opera, Covent Garden and just about every other major company in the world, Hvorostovsky also gives concerts and recitals around the world. He hosts a musical television series called "Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Friends," performing with some of the leading musicians of today.
Best of Dmitri: His Met performance of Eugene Onegin with Renee Fleming starring as Tatiana is a beautiful performance, from the staging to the costuming, and most of all the singing.
A young American tenor with the beginnings of a great career, Lawrence Brownlee has already had several major engagements with the Met and other international companies. He keeps busy with concerts between operas. He is particularly known for his work in the Bel Canto repertoire. His work has put him up with some of the best singers known today, such as Renee Fleming and Elina Garanca, and he is quickly making his own name among their rankings.
Best of Lawrence: He has stated that he likes his Met performance of La Centerola with Elina Garanca the best of all his work, and it is outstanding. However, any of his concert work is equally impressive, and perhaps more generally appealing.
Bryn Terfel is a big man with a big heart and a huge voice. But don't let the good-natured smile fool you-- he can turn in a terrifying performance as Scarpia in Tosca, or be a properly roguish cad as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro or in the title role of Don Giovanni.
The Welsh baritone-bass has an incredibly powerful voice, but he can also use it to convey more tender emotions. A successful opera career of over twenty years has found him still at the top of his game. There have been moments when it looked like his days on stage were over, with several back operations and a storm of criticisms when he pulled out of the Royal Opera House's 2007 production of Wagner's Ring Cycle. But he has weathered all of the setbacks and continues to be a fixture in all of the best opera houses. His discography is an impressive roster of classical as well as folk, pop, and musical theatre tunes.
Best of Bryn: I'll always have a soft spot for his album Simple Gifts because it was my first introduction to the wonderful world of classical singing and I still love it. I hope you will too.
What can one say about a classic? Domingo has been revered for decades for his wonderful musicianship and voice. His career in opera started in 1959, and though he doesn't accept many singing engagements anymore he has taken up the conductor's baton to great acclaim.
His early start in music came from his parents, both performers, who gave him encouragement in the field. But perhaps the most amazing thing about Domingo is that he never studied with a teacher or attended a conservatory, learning rather on his own and with occasional coaching throughout his career. It worked, because he has enjoyed great longevity with a career spanning over fifty years, a rare feat in the world of singers.
Best of Placido: It's nearly impossible to choose from such an extended, incredible career. His performances with Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavoratti as The Three Tenors is very well known, and perhaps the best place to start.
Juan Diego Florez
Florez got an early start on the opera stage, filling in a lead role for another sick tenor at the tender age of 23. In the opera world, that's just about the right time to start cutting baby teeth on small roles, but the next year saw his debut at Covent Garden in a concert, and his star has been rising ever since. The notoriously difficult audiences at the famed Italian opera house La Scala broke with a 74 year old tradition and gave him an encore of the aria "Ah! mes amis" in his debut there. And he deserved it-- the piece showcases nine high Cs in a row, and Florez nails them every time.
Though his voice isn't exceptionally large, he has a beautiful fluid sound that fills every corner of the hall. He hasn't stayed completely in opera, but has also successfully worked in the concert hall.
Best of Juan:
Phillip Jaroussky is one of a rare breed-- the castrati, or a soprano countertenor. He has the range of a mezzo-soprano with the rare silky tone unique to his type. Besides the astounding range, his technique is incredibly perfected with great freedom and expression. Though an anomaly on today's stage, he has forged a successful career by focusing on the Baroque works of Handel and Bach, especially because castratis were more popular then and a great deal of music was written for them. But that repertoire hasn't limited him at all-- he has tackled several operas and art songs, proving his versatility.
Most people either turn away in disgust or are completely riveted when they hear a male soprano. The voice type is a rare gift, but there's no amazingly technical explanation for it. It is simply a man with an especially strong falsetto, and in cases like Jaroussky, the technique behind it has been perfected.
Best of Philippe: Any of his Baroque albums are good, but the title work from his album La Dolce Fiamma is incredibly beautiful.
A Mexican tenor known for his large, melting voice and technical prowess, Vargas has been owning opera stages since the '80s. Every major opera company has had him on their stage to great acclaim. His repertoire is vast, especially in the bel canto school of music, and he also has an impressive resume as a concert singer exploring music from many ethnicities and styles.
He also keeps busy with a charity that he and his wife founded for children who have been disabled. The idea was inspired from the life of their son, Eduardo, who suffered a brain injury at birth and lived for seven years as a quadriplegic. Part of the proceeds of his concerts go to the memorial fund which gives help to people with disabilities everywhere. Just another great reason to go and enjoy a concert with Vargas when you get the opportunity!
Best of Ramon: There are several video recordings from various opera productions he's been in around the world. All of them are enjoyable, adding in the fun of the sets, costumes, and acting to the wonderful singing.