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. RĂ©gine 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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