The last century bore witness to some of the best voices of the History of Opera. In addition to great interpreters, the sopranos of the XX century transformed opera into a universal cultural phenomenon and contributed to retrieving from oblivion great works which are performed on today’s stages.
We at Opera World wish to pay tribute to these great dames of opera by highlighting the ten best sopranos of the twentieth century.
1. KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD
The Norwegian soprano is the Wagnerian voice of the XX century as she embodies the ideal dramatic soprano for such roles as Sieglinde and Isolde. She was successful on both sides of the Atlantic during the tumultuous postwar period. Mrs. Flagstad’s voice resembles that of a golden bell with an almost supernatural metalic glitter which leaves musical notes perfectly dangling in infinity.
2. ELISABETH GRUMMER
Pure German beauty, Elisabeth Grummer’s voice leads us into the world of dreams with it’s distinctive sparkle and languor. Thanks to her admirable breath control, she was able to depict interminable and ethereal phrases of such narcotic beauty that one cannot but lose oneself in their immensity.
3. ELISABETH SCHWARZKOPF
We are talking about possibly the most beautiful timbre of the century. The German soprano’s voice is simply one of those sounds that one must absolutely listen to at least once in a lifetime. Considered the best Lieder singer of her generation and Strauss’ definite Marschallin, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was the voice par excellence in the post-World War II re-emerging Europe.
4. LISA DELLA CASSA
Another unrepeatable voice which must undoubtedly be included among the best sopranos of the last century. The Swiss soprano Lisa della Cassa is surely the leading singer of the The Land of the Alps: a grand artist whose high notes were of a rare perfection and set a definite trend. Her style may appear somewhat old-fashioned today, yet was enhanced by a wide vocal range and truly enviable both diction and musicality.
5. VICTORIA DE LOS ÁNGELES
The Catalan soprano put Spain on the opera world map and was fundamental in recovering Spanish and Latin American concert repertoire. Victoria de los Ángeles was an exceptional artist: she was blessed with a unique voice which combined ductility and rigorous singing line, Mediterranean warmth and German elegance as well as magnificent expression and technical precision. A truly eternal soprano who always provides new nuances in every listening, in a way quite similar to precious pearls.
6. MARIA CALLAS
La Divina, an eternal artist with an overwhelming personality, a social and artistic myth which continues to fascinate opera lovers world wide. The Greek soprano is possibly the best known and most listened to soprano in history. She stands out for her vocal technique, achieved as everything else in her life through iron-clad self-discipline, and her vocal extension, capable of reaching hair-raising high notes and fleshy low notes. Her overpowering stage personality kept all those who saw her in true awe.
7. JOAN SUTHERLAND
La Stupenda, the great dame of Belcanto who together with her husband, the Australian conductor Richard Bonynge, was responsible for captivating the operatic world with her extraordinary vocal agilities. She possessed a bomb proof voice which she managed with jaw-dropping ease within the most intricate pages of the Italian romantic repertoire. A large and truly beautiful voice which continues to astonish everyone.
8. LEYLA GENCER
The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer was one of the best sopranos to sing the Italian Belcanto repertoire, which she helped to recover alongside Callas and Sutherland. Her vocal instrument was capable of proyecting sound towards elevated peaks with the strength of a canon, yet its essence was limpid and ethereal. She dared to take on a different multitude of roles within a wide musical spectrum, from Mozart to Verdi’s Lady Macbeth.
9. MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ
La superba, the Spanish singer shines with a unique light in the firmament of sopranos. Her velvety timbre, an exquisite stylistical intelligence and an insurmountable technique, allowed her to skillfully navigate between different repertoires. The universal Catalan singer has left for posterity memorable and truly unquestionable interpretations of such roles as Bellini’s Norma or Verdi heroines.
10. RENATA SCOTTO
Maestra of maestros, the Italian soprano is possibly THE Verdi soprano of the XX century. She was a hurricane on stage and her style is still remembered at the MET. Television and records, in addition to her roles alongside the best tenors of the time, allowed her dramatic and expressive voice to reach all the corners of the planet, making Renata Scotto an unforgettable artist. Today she is one of the great pedagogues of vocal teaching and honorary director of Opera World.