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 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is leyla gencer?!!!!

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

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

November 4, 2008 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 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 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 3:36 AM  
Anonymous Steve J. said...

It requires a modicum of class and taste to comment intelligently on the list. I gather you have neither.

November 6, 2009 6:18 PM  
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 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’d love to ascertain that too!

November 19, 2009 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been looking all over for this!


January 2, 2010 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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January 3, 2010 4:56 PM  
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February 21, 2010 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

March 9, 2010 6:12 PM  
Blogger elektric_lady said...

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

March 22, 2010 3:04 PM  

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