There are several types of singing styles associated with opera. There are the sopranos, the tenors, the baritones, and the altos. It is the mixture of these high pitched vocals with medium toned ones alongside low bass singing that gives opera performances the full and warm qualities that make them powerful.
One of the most important vocal ranges is the tenor. It sits between the baritone and the alto and is considered the highest range for the ordinary adult male. Many operatic performers hail the tenor voice and have reach worldwide acclaim doing so.
This is what led us to list nine of our favorite opera tenors of all time.
9. Ignazio Boschetto
This youngster was born on October 4, 1994 in Bologna, Italy. He is a member of the opera influenced pop singing ensemble Il Volo formed in 2009. Boschetto has been a professional singer since he was fourteen years old and his voice is said to be as clear is crystal. His vocals have been mistaken for that of a mature man in his forties opposed to a boy in his late teens. In 2010 Boschetto joined along singing “We Are the World 25 for Haiti.”
8. Alfie Boe
This tenor was born the baby to a family of nine children in Blackpool, Lancashire, England. Boe’s earliest memories of music were his father’s Richard Tauber records and his first experience with Puccini’s La Bohéme.
Boe passed the time while apprenticing to become a mechanic at the TVR factory in Bispham, Blackpool by performing opera areas while buffing cars. On a random day a customer suggested he audition for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company so he did. Boe blew them away and was offered a slot to attend. Boe has never been able to thank the customer that suggested he audition.
After moving to London Boe studied at the Royal College of Music, the National Opera Studio, and the Royal Opera House’s Vilar Artists Programme. He was also showcased as the “opera dude” on recordings by the Clint Boon Experience in 1999 and 2000.
In 2010 Boe accepted the role of Jean Valjean of the musical Les Misérables in a concert performance at the O2 Arena in London.
Boe also performed for English National Opera in January of 2011 in La Bohéme and The Mikado. In March of that same year he sang three shows in Idaho quickly going on to sing in The Great British Musical – The Famous and the Future in April of 2011. This performance was held at the St. George’s Day celebration concert Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Central London.
This tenor continues to perform last singing on June 4th and 5th of 2015 at Symphony Hall with the Phoenix Symphony. Boe filled in for Colm Wilkinson, who had to drop from the concert due to sickness.
7. José Carreras
This tenor hails from Catalonia, a self-governing community of Spain. He is principally identified for his stunning executions of Verdi and Puccini operas. Carreras sits among Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti as one of the infamous Three Tenors. He founded the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation after he struggled with the deadly form of cancer.
Born in a working class district of Barcelona, Carreras was the youngest of three children. His talent for singing showed up early and his interest in the art deepened at the age of six when he went to the movies to see Mario Lanza in The Great Caruso. Carreras claims that after seeing the film he would continue to sing arias and operatic performances in his home to the point of being locked in the bathroom.
Two years after the Lanza film inspired him Carreras performed publicly for the first time on Spanish National Radio. Accompanied by Magda Prunera on the piano Carreras sang “La donna é mobile” at the age of eight.
By eleven Carreras made his operatic debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s great opera house. His role was the boy soprano in El retablo de Maese Pedro, composed by Manuel de Falla.
Still Carreras first tenor role wouldn’t come until Norma, which opened on January 8, 1970 in Liceu, Flavio. His role was a small one but his vocal abilities as tenor garnered enough attention and soon he was singing alongside Montserrat Caballé in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. This production opened on December 19th, 1970 and was what Carreras believes to be first adult role as tenor.
Since then he has sung tenor in operas alongside famous singers like Birgit Nilsson, Viorica Cortez, Sylvia Sass and Agnes Baltsa.
6. Mario Lanza
Born on January 21, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Alfred Arnold Cocozza, would soon become the great American tenor Mario Lanza.
Lanza began studying the art of singing at sixteen. In 1942 Lanza debuted in opera as Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai. This was when he shredded the Cocozza name and officially became Mario Lanza. At the young age of twenty-one The New York Times claimed that Lanza had, “few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth, and power.”
Yet, before his operatic career could truly take off Lanza was appointed to Special Services in the U.S. Army during WWII. He served his time appearing in wartime shows On the Beam and Winged Victory.
He performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947 and subsequently signed a seven-year movie contract with Louis B. Mayer. The following year Lanza sang the lead role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly.
Mario Lanza died at the age of thirty-eight after going through a controversial surgical weight loss program called, “the twilight sleep treatment.” He had already suffered a minor cardiac infarction earlier that year as well as being diagnosed with double pneumonia. Lanza is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
5. Andrea Bocelli
Our next tenor is the second on our list who hails from Italy born on September 22, 1958. He lived with his parents Alessandro and Edi Bocelli on their farm where they made wine in La Sterza, which is part of Lajatico, Tuscany, Italy.
Bocelli’s musical education came at an early age and his own mother said music was one thing that could constantly sooth the boy. His is multi-instrumentalist playing piano, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and the drums. Still, it was when he received his first record of opera singer Franco Corelli that Bocelli knew his calling to become a tenor.
When his parents were advised to abort him Bocelli’s mother refused. Still, they said he would be born with a disability and his loss of sight was predominant. Doctors detected Bocelli had congenital glaucoma and Bocelli lost all of his sight by the age of twelve.
This did not stop him and the tenor has recorded fourteen solo albums, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas. Bocelli has sold more than eighty million records around the world and has had the rare success of crossing over from classical performances to rise to the top of global pop charts.
4. Enrico Caruso
Another Italian singer graces our list of great tenors with Enrico Caruso. Born on February 25, 1873, Caruso performed in many of the great opera houses in Europe and the Americas. Between 1902 and 1920 Caruso released roughly two hundred and sixty commercial recordings.
Caruso was born in Naples, Italy and began singing lessons at the age of sixteen with Guglielmo Vergine. He made his singing debut at the age of twenty-two at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples. It was a performance in the not-well-known opera L’Amico Francesco by composer Domenico Morelli.
Following his first professional performance in Naples, Caruso went on to sing at other little known opera houses in the area.
In 1903 Caruso fulfilled a new contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He debuted in a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which opened on November 23 in that same year.
After a long career Caruso died at the age of forty-eight in Naples most likely from peritonitis and a subphrenic abscess in 1921. For many years his embalmed body was displayed in glass at Del Pianto Cemetery in Naples for all to view. That was until 1929 when his body was preserved in a stone tomb.
3. Carlo Bergonzi
The first one to reach top 3 in our list is the Italian Carlo Bergonzi. Carlo was born on July 13th 1924 in the Italian town of Polesine, near Parma. He used to sing in church when he was a child, and in a few years he started acting in children opera roles in Busseto and attending the Parma Conservatory.
Bergonzi’s professional operatic debut was actually as a baritone for the lead role of Figaro in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” in 1948. Only in after three years and several other baritone roles he were to realize that the tenor repertoire was better suited to his voice.
His US debut was with the Lyric Theatre of Chicago as Luigi in Puccini’s “Il Tabarro,” in 1955. In the next two decades of his life, Bergonzi had a busy international career, performing around the US, UK and Italy, and spending much of his time in the recording studios.
Even though his official American farewell was in 1996 at Carnegie Hall, in the year 2000 Bergonzi announced that he was going to take on the demanding title role of Verdi’s Otello – at the age of 76. This generated huge interest as he had never performed such role on stage, and had many important opera names in the audience such as Anna Moffo, Licia Albanese, Sherrill Milnes, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. The performance, however, was considered to be a disaster. Bergonzi was only able to sing for two acts due to an air-conditioning irritation, and was substituted by an understudy Antonio Barasorda for the remaining two acts.
Carlo Bergonzi left a legacy of multiple recordings of individual arias and complete operas by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and many others. He was considered to be the pre-eminent Verdi tenor of his age, singing more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Bergonzi later claimed that his first opera he saw in his life was Verdi’s Il trovatore, when he was only six – maybe his connection to the opera of Verdi started from that early age!
2. Plácido Domingo
This second from the last of our great tenors was born in Madrid, Spain on January 21, 1941. His mother says Domingo could instinctively hum complex tunes from a zarzuela, a Spanish style of lyric driven drama that is spoken and sung. It was this time when she realized her son was destined to be a musician. Right before he turned eight, Domingo and his family moved to Mexico.
After studying piano as a young boy he moved on to the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City to further his studies at the age of fourteen. Two years later, in 1957, Domingo performed professionally for the first time with his mother in a concert at Mérida, Yucatán.
In 1959 Domingo tried out for a baritone spot with the Mexico National Opera but was instantly asked to audition for the role of tenor. The work he sang was the aria from Fedora.
Domingo’s operatic debut came in 1961 as Alfredo in La traviata. This introductory performance was at the Teatro Maria Teresa Montoya in Monterrey.
Still, his greatest fame came from a duet he recorded with John Denver of the song “Perhaps Love.” From there he made a good deal of albums focusing on Latin music. Yet, he couldn’t leave his opera roots behind, and Newsweek dubbed him “King Of The Opera” in 1982.
1. Luciano Pavarotti
Probably the most recognizable tenor on our list is Italian born Luciano Pavarotti. His father was an amateur tenor and his mother a cigar factory worker. Pavarotti was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps when listening to his recordings of Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa, and Enrico Caruso.
In 1954 after realizing his dreams of being a football goalkeeper should be abandoned, Pavarotti began to study music seriously. In 1955 Pavarotti gained his first taste of success in singing alongside his father as a member of Corale Rossini, a male choir from Modena.
Pavarotti made his operatic debut as Rodolfo in La Bohéme at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia. His first global performance was in La traviata in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and in 1963 he performed the same role at the Vienna State Opera. From there the rest is tenor history.
This tenor didn’t make it all about himself though, Pavarotti hosted annual charity performances in Modena, his hometown, under the name of Pavarotti & Friends. Famous singers to join him in his humanitarian endeavors were B.B. King, Adrea Bocelli, Jon Bon Jovi, Bono, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Queen, Sting, Meatloaf, and the Spice Girls.
After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Pavarotti died at home on September 6, 2007. His body is buried in the Pavarotti family crypt.
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