If we have said it once we have said it a hundred times: without the opera singer, the genre wouldn’t exist. Luckily, there are a number of recognizable voices and we would like to focus on a few. Let’s skip the introduction and get right into it.
1. Joan Sutherland
Starting with a soprano, this vocalist was born in Sydney, Australia on November 7, 1926. Her mother was a singer and a piano player so the younger Sutherland trained under the elder until she was in her late teens. John and Aida Dickens became her professional trainers when Sutherland was nineteen years old.
A few years later Sutherland performed in many live events and her debut performance in Dido by Purcell in 1947 was important for her career. Sutherland also performed in the lead role of Judith by Eugene Goosens. She sang in the world premiere at the Sydney Conservatorium. Our soprano would win Australia’s leading singing contest.
All of these experiences led Sutherland to London where she began her training at the Opera School at the Royal College. While in the U.K., Sutherland also became a dancer with the Covent garden company. Her debut with this prestigious institution was in the role of First Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
From there Sutherland would go on to wow audiences in her performances and she was the first to put life into many characters having sung in numerous world premieres. For making a mark on Australian culture and contributing to the Australian identity, Sutherland was awarded the Australia Post Australian Legends Award in 2004. One of the perks from that award was having a stamp with Sutherland’s picture. In fact, she didn’t appear on one stamp, she was featured on two.
In 2004 Sutherland was also given a Kennedy Center Honor for Outstanding Achievement. Several structures were named after this soprano in her honor including the Sutherland House and the Dame Joan Sutherland Centre. These venues are located at St. Catherine’s School in Waverly.
Learn what this opera enthusiast had to say about her experience watching Joan Sutherland performing live at this edition of Spectator Stories!
2. Andre Bocelli
Our next vocalist 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.
3. Cecilia Bartoli
Born in Rome on June 4, 1966 this mezzo-soprano has built her career on Baroque and classical operas and performing Rossini and Mozart works. Her interpretations of characters are unique and sets her apart from her peers. It is her distinctive timbre that makes her singing so recognizable and special.
With parents that are professional singers, it is not strange that a young Bartoli would follow closely in their footsteps. Starting with lessons from her parents the young soprano to be put on her first public performance at the young age of eight in Puccini’s Tosca. Bartoli would eventually go on to train at Rome’s Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia.
While many opera singers don’t reach their peak of choral development until their thirties, this mezzo-soprano reached that level of professional achievement by her early twenties. At the Arena di Verona, Bartoli performed debuting as an opera professional in 1987. Only one year later and Bartoli was starring in The Barber of Seville in a tour of the Zurich Opera, the Cologne Opera, and the Schwetzingen Festival.
Sticking with Mozart, which is a favorite of the singer, in 1990 Bartoli took on the role of Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and also took on the role of Idamantes in Idomeneo. The next year she would make her first performance at La Scala in Le comte Ory.
Bartoli has focused on baroque style music and specifically prefers composers like Gluck, Vivaldi, and Salieri. She also took some time to study the Italian Romantic era and bel canto. In 2012 this honored mezzo-soprano was named artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. She took this opportunity to refocus the direction of the festival and this lead to record breaking ticket sales.
There is no doubt, whatever Bartoli puts her stamp on, it soars.
4. 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.
5. Jessye Norman
This soprano, the first person of color on our list for the day, was born in 1945 in Augusta, Georgia. Her mother was a teacher and her father an insurance salesman. Yet, as previous entries have shown us, a lot can happen when you come from a musical family. The Normans were musically inclined and her grandmother and mother both played the piano.
Due to her mother’s insistence Norman began piano lessons while very young and she went to public schools in her hometown. Another musical talent she showed was singing and she regularly showed off her vocal stylings at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Norman was turned on to the opera world when she was given a radio as a birthday present at nine.
Norman moved to Europe and on the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. A result was a three-year residency at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Her debut role was in Wagner’s Tannhäuser and reviewers called her the “greatest…[soprano] since Lotte Lehmann, another soprano we will visit at another time.
There were several unique things about Norman that set her apart from the other singers. She was tall and her voice was lush and larger than most. This American operatic legend has taken on roles like Aida, Carmen, and Dido. A few of the numerous awards she has received include several Grammys including Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance in 1984, Best Opera Recording in 1988, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Amazing opera by fantastic operatic vocalists: check out here for the best of opera with Cennarium!