Voices are what carries the tune in a great deal of operas. While the orchestra is filled with vital instruments for the success of an opera, without the voices it would be less interesting. With that in mind we wanted to create another list of wonderful opera singers that have brought joy and empathetic heartache to audiences everywhere.
1. Adelaide Borghi-Mamo
Born in Bologna in 1826, this first singer on our list was a mezzo-soprano, which is typically a female singer whose vocal range falls somewhere in the middle of soprano and contralto, For forty years Borghi-Mamo toured singing for audiences at theaters all over the world. Her husband was Michele Mamo, a tenor, and they had a daughter, Erminia Borghi-Mamo, who is a soprano and has her own opera success.
Borghi-Mamo’s first training as a singer was with Francesca Festa in Milan. Her first appearance as an opera singer was in Urbino at their opera house in 1843. She sang the role of Bianca in Il giuramento by Saverio Mercadante. In 1844 she became a regular singer in Messina at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele.
From there her fame grew and she was continually invited to perform at theaters all over Italy. In 1851 she played Morna, a lead role in the premiere of Giovanni Pacini’s Malvina di Scozia, at the Teatro di San Carlo. Two years later she was the first to play another lead role, this time it was in a Saverio Mercadante work titled Statira.
That same year Borghi-Mamo would create the role of Odetta in another Pacini work called Romilda di Provenza. Other roles she performed included Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore, Gaetano Braga’s Alina, and Lauro Rossi’s L’alchimista. She performed many times at the Teatro di San Carlo and performed at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples.
Borghi-Mamo died at 75 in her home of Bologna at the turn of the 20th century.
2. Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa
Named Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron in New Zealand, this soprano began her career in 1968 and has had immense success on the opera stage. Her vocals are warm and full and has been described as ripe and exciting and is said to seem “unforced.” He repertoire consists of many works of several languages and she primarily sings pieces that hail from the 17th century to the 20th.
Composers she seems to favor include Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, Puccini, and Hendel. Te Kanawa’s perfect role is that of royalty, like a princess or a countess. Adopted as an infant, she began studying at Mary’s College in Auckland and was trained by Dame Sister Mary Leo, DBE, RSM during that time. When Te Kanawa first sang professionally, she was a mezzo-soprano but she eventually stepped up her game and matured to a full soprano.
An interesting fact is that New Zealand’s first gold record was hers. It was a recording of her vocals on a piece from the operetta Casanova by Strauss called “Nun’s Chorus.”
Te Kanawa was a pop star in New Zealand when she was in her 20s and was always seen in print. She won several awards including the Mobil Song Quest in 1965 for her portrayal of Vissi d’arte in Tosca by Puccini. In 1966 Te Kanawa became a student at the London Opera Centre and began to develop her instrument with Vera Rózsa and James Robertson.
Her first operatic appearance after this was in The Magic Flute as the Second Lady. She also sang in Dido and Aeneas by Purcell, the title role in Anna Bolena by Donizetti, and the lead role in La donna del lago by Rossini. When she auditioned for the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Colin Davis, who served as conductor said he “couldn’t believe [his] ears.”
Te Kanawa would play that role in New Mexico in 1971 for John Crosby, who was the founding general director of the Santa Fe Opera. The production was for their summer opera festival. That same year she took this role and performed it at Covent Garden in London. From there she has performed with the Opéra National de Lyon, the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and at the Glyndebourne Festival.
Other companies she has performed with include, Paris Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sydney Opera, La Scala, Cologne and Munich.
3. Angela Gheorghiu
This next singer is a Romanian soprano who was born in 1965 in Adjud. Gheorghiu and her sister Elena Dan began to sing opera when they were young girls. Our soprano began her professional training when she was attending the National University of Music Bucharest, which she began at the age of fourteen. Gheorghiu’s main instructor was Mia Barbu.
Gheorghiu graduated from the University after Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted as leader. This enabled this singer to move her career into the international arena. Her debut was as Mimi in La bohéme for the Cluj-Napoca Romanian National Opera in 1990. For her performance, she won 3rd prize in the Belvedere International Competition.
In 1992, Gheorghiu made her global debut at in Don Giovanni as Zerlina at the Royal Opera House in London. Then she took on the role of Adina in L’elisir d’amore at the Vienna State Opera. Yet it was her depiction of Violetta in La traviata for the Royal Opera House that gave Gheorghiu international opera stardom.
Other roles she had conquered include Magda from La rondine, Nedda in Pagliacci, and Marguerite in Faust. Her vocals are described as colorful yet dark. Gheorghiu’s range is vast and she can handle large musical peaks with sensible interludes.
Concerts are another specialty of hers and Gheorghiu sometimes flies solo or is accompanied by other singers. She sang at the celebration for the reopening of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1999, the Teatro Malibran in Venice in 2001, and in Valencia when they opened their new Opera House. The latter found Queen Sofia of Spain in the audience.
4. Juan Diego Flórez Salom
Born in Peru, this tenor is best known for his portrayal of bel canto characters. Bel canto is derived from the Italian language and means “beautiful song.” Hailing from Lima, his father was a guitar player and his mother a popular singer of music that is historically Peruvian. When his mother ran a live music venue/bar in Lima, there were times when the band would not show, so she would put him to work as a singer and this experience, Salom believes, helped shape his career immensely.
At 17 he enrolled in the Conservatorio Nacional de Música and, although he dreamt of being a pop star, he found his talent for classical music and soon became a soloist for the Coro Nacional of Peru singing in Mozart works and Rossini pieces. Salom then moved on to the United States when he was awarded a scholarship to train further with the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
Salom was in Philadelphia for three years in the mid 1990s moving on to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. His profession debut was at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, home of the composer, in 1996. He sang the tenor lead role in Matilde di Shabran when the original tenor grew sick and couldn’t do it; it was his breakthrough performance.
This tenor has won many awards including a nomination for a Grammy in 2009 for Best Classical Vocal Performance for his work on Bel Canto Spectacular.
These are some of the ‘who’ of opera; now check out these great ‘where’ for the genre: 4 Opera Houses in the United States.