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Voices in the crowd

"Greatest" or "best of" lists are always satisfyingly controversial, since someone's favorite is always missing. But NPR is soliciting votes to come up with a list of 50 interesting, important voices -- great, if not "the greatest" -- to be featured in a series starting next year.

The real function of a "best of" list is to serve as a litmus test against which to measure one's own preferences. The criteria are almost impossible to establish. What makes a voice great? Is it sheer beauty, or expressive power? Does Bob Dylan have a "great" voice? Does Callas belong on the list for her dramatic genius, or Tebaldi for her beauty of tone? And though I was, growing up, more a Domingo girl than a Pavarotti one, I was struck that Pavarotti wasn't on the NPR's preliminary list of nominees.

I couldn't begin to compile a list of greatest voices overall, but if I had to make a list of the greatest voices in opera, it would start with Caruso, Ponselle, and Flagstad. But the others? Callas, Tebaldi, Milanov, McCormack? Ewa Podles? A lot of people would name Di Stefano; I might say Corelli instead. Who would your nominees be?

By Anne Midgette  |  November 4, 2009; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  opera , random musings  
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Of course it's nuts to try to select 50 great voices in opera. I have recordings of hundreds of singers and they all have something to offer, with their greatness falling in different places on a scale that has art at one end and voice at the other.

I took a look at the NPR site, and I think the tenors on offer are Domingo, Caruso, and Gigli. Missing are singers are diverse as Wunderlich, di Stefano, Bjoerling, Bergonzi, Corelli, Valetti, Schipa, McCormick, Melchior, Konya, Urlus, Pears. So, big shrug.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | November 4, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Lisa Della Casa is one of the two or three greatest Strauss singers ever, and should be on any such list for consideration. Alexander Kipnis is one of my personal favorites. No one has ever sung Sarastro's arias better or with more dignity, and his recordings of lieder of Brahms and Wolf are models of their kind.

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | November 4, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Too bad NPR isn't taking more noms. I want to assume Pavarotti is not shown because he's already made the list? On the other hand, they have Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison pictured and I'm not sure why it's a question for them.

It would take too much time to narrow to 50 in opera, but definitely Montserrat Caballe (also on the NPR page) would be on my list. From what's not on the list there or listed here so far I guess perhapsI would also add Tucker, Merrill, maybe Scotto... wow, Birgit Nilsson isn't there either? Definitely her.

Posted by: prokaryote | November 4, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Not opera, unless you include The
Threepenny Opera, in which he performed the role of Mac the Knife at Yale--but still, my kid, Julian Fleisher. Great pipes, amazing versatility, astonishing range and wit. Yes, WIT.

Posted by: RikkiR | November 4, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I love dark bass voices like Gottlob Frick or Matti Salminen. They deserve consideration.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | November 6, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

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