Every year has a share of rising and breakout stars as well as opera singers who solidify or take their careers in new directions. Others make important debuts or create roles that audiences would have never expected and conquer. This is what makes a performer stick in an audience’s mind for the whole year. For this year OperaWire has put together a list of the Opera stars who have really made 2016 a milestone and have created some of the most memorable moments of the year.
11. Nina Stemme: The Wagnerian soprano of our time has had a whirlwind year as she returned to the Metropolitan Opera after a number of years absent from the company. She began the year in Puccini’s “Turandot” followed by Strauss’ “Elektra,” for which she received raves. Then in the fall she opened the Met’s new production of Wagner’s “Tristan Und Isolde” and was universally lauded. All three performances received HD transmissions that helped her solidify her name in the New York stage.
10. Juan Diego Florez: The Peruvian tenor needs no introduction as he is probably one of the most famous opera stars in the world. However, 2016 was a change of pace for the tenor as it was a beginning of new direction in his career. The tenor began delving into heavier repertoire and made role debuts in Donzetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” Massenet’s “Werther” and Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots.” He also performed a concert version of the little known work “Il Templario.” The tenor also celebrated his 20th anniversary since his debut at the Pesaro Rossini festival and sang a new production of the composer’s “La Donna del Lago” and was honored with a Gala. Florez also had one of the most eventful Last Night at the Proms where he got audiences dancing to Spanish ballads and even dressed up as an Inca king. Finally the tenor signed a new contract with Sony Classical and is planning a new album for the next year.
9. Paata Burchuladze: After 40 years on stage the Georgian Bass successfully announced his retirement from the Opera stage. However, he ventured into politics and created his own political party entitled the Georgian Development Foundation Party and became a very popular politician with 75 percent approval rating. He later ran for parliament on the promise to grow the economy by 10 percent in four years, create 250,000 new jobs in the private sector and “cleaned up” politics. He also became pro-EU and pro-NATO. Burchuladze’s new career choice may not be opera related but it is a bold move and it shows the possibilities a singer can have.
8. Joyce Didonato: Known as the Yankee diva, Didonato has revolutionized social media and has created a large fan base. This year she expanded it by being part of a documentary about “Florence Foster Jenkins” and even played her in musical numbers. She also released a major new CD with Erato entitled “In War and Peace” and went on a concert tour promoting the album. She also made a major role debut in Massenet’s “Werther” and the performances from the Royal Opera House went on HD. Didonato will also end the year on a highlight as she closes the year with the New York Philharmonic.
7. Sonya Yoncheva: The speed with which Yoncheva’s career has taken off is incredible as she has become one of the most sought after singers and 2016 was no exception. Yoncheva began the year making a role debut in her first Russian role; Tchiakosvky’s “Iolanta.” It was then followed by even more role debuts including Mascagni’s “Iris and the biggest by far was stepping into the new production of Bellini’s “Norma.” Not only was it a huge risk but she was also opening the Royal Opera House’s season. However, she proved to be a dramatic force, triumphed and solidified her ground for future dramatic roles she plans to tackle. She followed it with another highly praised production of Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffman” and later made her role debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s “Euegen Onegin.” With a busy schedule Yoncheva also recorded a new album entitled “Handel” and also released a DVD of her acclaimed Desdemona from the Met Opera’s “Otello.” It was also followed by a CD of her Live performances of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” and an advent concert CD with Luca Pisaroni. She concluded the year with a Grammy nomination for her work on Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”
6. Tamara Wilson: She may not be the most recognizable of names but soon she will likely be the star of many great new productions around the world. Wilson won the Richard Tucker award this year and took part in one of the most star-studded galas the foundation has had in years. However, she held her own and showcased a promising and vigorous voice. Wilson’s gala was also streamed live through Medici TV and was also performed in Carnegie Hall. Wilson’s schedule is becoming busier and audiences in Barcelona, Munich and Berlin will soon get to hear her glorious voice.
5. Elina Garanca: Garanca is one of the most beloved artists currently in the international scene and this year audiences got to see something different from her. The Latvian mezzo introduced numerous new roles including Lenora in Donizetti’s “La Favorite,” Sara in Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux,” and Santuzza in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.” She went on multiple concert tours where she introduced audiences to new repertoire and joined forces with Joyce El-Khoury and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. She also created a social media presence like no other and has created a big following. Garanca’s accomplishments also brought her to win the prestigious OperaNews Award and she also recorded a highly acclaimed new CD “Revive,” which was inspired by the character Santuzza.
4. Ryan Speedo Green: He may not be the most familiar of names on this list but his meteoric rise to fame came this past year after publishing a book about his struggles as a young child and how opera saved his life. The bass baritone was featured on the New York Times, the Daily Show and on CBS. He also had a breakout at the Metropolitan Opera in the role of Colline in Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Critics praised him and he cemented himself as one of the most promising voices in opera.
3. Simon Keenlyside: It’s hard for a singer to comeback after major surgeries and hardships in the voice. However, after 10 months of vocal rest the beloved baritone Simon Keenlyside made a triumphant return to the stage. He started his season with the musical “Oliver!” and then returned to the Met stage in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The performance was even recorded in Live in HD and critics were impressed. He followed them with his acclaimed “Macbeth,” a role he has sung all over the world. The baritone is making a slow transition back but audiences are reveling in his comeback.
2. Anna Netrebko: Netrebko may seem like an obvious choice near the top of this list but her accomplishments in 2016 are outstanding. The soprano won the OperaNews Award and was also named Best Opera Singer of the year at the Echo-Klassik Award for her DVD of Verdi’s “Macbeth.” She also made her New York Recital Debut at the Metropolitan Opera and went on her first tour throughout Asia. She later went on to make her role debut in one of the most acclaimed productions of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” in Dresden and at the Mariinsky Theater. It was followed by six months of performing Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” to great acclaim at the Met Opera, Bolshoi, Salzburg and Vienna State Opera. She also released a tea set that she designed inspired by “Aida.” The year concluded with the release of her highly anticipated album “Verismo,” which was nominated for the Grammy and a surprise release of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” from Salzburg. Both were greeted with rave reviews.
1. Sondra Radvanovsky: Every accomplishment is important but this year Radvanovsky became the first soprano at the Met Opera to perform all three Donizetti queens in one season. The triumph could not be matched by anything else as she dug deep into the characters and showcased some of the best bel-canto singing and some of the best acting in opera’s recent history. She received rave reviews and audiences greeted her with standing ovations. “Roberto Devereux” was recorded live in HD making her performance widely available to audiences around the world. Her triumphs continued throughout the year with a new production of Verdi’s “Aida” and revivals of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and her signature role “Norma.” The soprano also announced that she will headline the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night for the 2017-18 season.