Best Of 2019: OperaWire’s Top 10 Rising Stars Of 2019

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Elena-Cherkashyna/ Arielle Doneson/ Fay Fox)

It’s that time of year during which we look back at the past 365 days and the big moments that defined them.

Every year, the opera world has its share of rising and breakout artists that are likely to become the next generation of stars. These singers are discovered in competitions, festivals or young artist programs, but they simply stand out from the rest with their youthful and raw qualities with a dash of that special sauce the hints at future stardom.

This year OperaWire has compiled a list of 10 rising stars that have announced themselves as the next generation in the opera world.

Xabier Anduaga

Just 24, Xabier Anduaga studied at the Musikene College of Music and was accepted at the Accademia Rossiniana where he studied alongside Alberto Zedda. He later went on to win the  Tenor Francisco Viñas singing competition and made major debuts with the Rossini Opera Festival and Donizetti Opera Festival.

However, it was at this past summer’s Operalia competition that companies started to take note of the tenor’s potential and after his role debut as Gennaro in “Lucrezia Borgia,” there is no doubt that Anduaga’s future looks bright. Of that “Lucrezia Borgia,”  OperaWire’s review noted, “In the summer, tenor Xabier Anduaga took home the top prize at the Operalia competition, cementing himself as a star in the making. But on this night, there was no doubt that he has already arrived.”

Lidia Fridman

At just 23-years-old the Russian soprano had a major breakout this past summer at Martina Franca when she replaced Carmela Remigio in “Ecuba” at the Festival della Valle d’Itria. The young soprano scored rave reviews and immediately convinced conductor Riccardo Frizza and director Francesco Micheli to take a risk on her for the Donizetti Opera Festival.

It was a risk that paid off massively as she put on a winning showcase in the world premiere production of “L’Ange de Nisida.” The soprano was brought on last minute and as OperaWire noted in its review “the results were impeccable.” What was most impressive about the showcase was that this was her Donizetti Festival debut AND her first-ever Donizetti role.

Adriana González

The Guatemalen soprano started her career at the Zürich Opera Studio and continued at the Opéra National de Paris’s Operan Studio. Since then, the soprano has performed at the Opéra de Toulon, Opéra national de Lorraine, Tearo Real de Madrid, and Grand Théâtre de Genève in leading roles.

But it was this year at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and the Operalia Competition that González had a major breakthrough. First she competed at the Cardiff competition and garnered major attention, even though she didn’t quite make it to the finals. But a month later the the soprano went on to win the Top prize and Zarzuela prize at the Operalia competition. Coming into 2020, she is set to sing her first lead role at the Operanhaus Zürich and make her Japan debut.

“I want to express all the beauty in this music and defend what was written. I want people to see how much value this music has and what it can contribute to our society. I never thought opera could teach me so much as a person and that is probably the biggest lesson I have learned doing this. I want to inspire and share this with everyone in the world,” González in a recent interview with OperaWire regarding her future. She undeniably will.

Leah Hawkins

The American soprano’s career kicked off at the Washington Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program when she was still a mezzo. But she swiftly changed to a soprano and joined the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program where she has been for two years.

While she has performed in major houses as the Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, and made her Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2018-19 season, Hawkins broke out during the opening night performance of the 2019-20 Met Opera season. As OperaWire stated in its review of “Porgy and Bess,” Hawkins “blasted out some eye-opening high notes.”

A winner of the The George London Foundation Competition, Hawkins’ mentors have predicted her as a future Aida and Verdi dramatic soprano and she forges that path this spring when she makes her Bayerische Staatsoper debut in the world premiere of the “7 Deaths of Maria Callas” in the role of Desdemona.

Maria Kataeva

Russian mezzo-soprano Kataeva gained significant recognition in 2014 when she won the third prize at the Paris Opera Competition. The mezzo, who studied at St. Petersburg State Conservatory, however, had already gained a lot of experience as she joined the opera studio at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in 2011. She would become a permanent ensemble member during the 2013-14 season and take on leading roles with the company including the title role in “Carmen,” the Composer in “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Cherubino in “Le nozze di Figaro” and Maddalena in “Rigoletto.”

However, it was this year that Kataeva was finally seen in the international spotlight. First she made her long awaited Semperoper Dresden debut as Carmen and then went on to compete at the Operalia competition where she took home the second prize and audience award. Kataeva may only have engagements with Deutsche Oper am Rhein for the 2019-20 season but after her triumph at the competition, audiences are likely to hear more from the mezzo in the coming years.


Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

The American Countertenor had a major breakout when he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2017 with OperaWire calling him the “concert’s showstopper” and a “natural actor.” Quickly after that major win he joined the Houston Grand Opera Grand Opera Studio in 2017-18 and made history by becoming the first Countertenor in the program. Then in 2018 he won the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition and became the recipient of a Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. He also became a San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship during the 2018-19 season where he made his San Francisco Opera debut. 

Already an established singer having made debuts at the Houston Grand Opera and Cincinnati Opera, Cohen made a leap into international territories this year as he competed for the Operalia competition at age 25. Cohen went on win third prize solidifying his status as one of the most promising young singers in the world. He also won a Grammy award for Best Classical Compendium and the Sullivan Foundation Award.  

Kangmin Justin Kim

At the age of 30, Kangmin Justin Kim has already accomplished many important achievements since his operatic debut in 2013. He has made major debuts at the Opéra de Montpellier, Opéra Comique, Salzburg Festival, Edinburgh Festival, and Teatro la Fenice. For his interpretation of the title role of Pym he received nominations as “Best Singer” of the 2015-16 season for the German Theatre award DER FAUST 2016 and was named Best Singer of 2016 by the magazine Opernwelt.

But it was in 2019 that Korean-American countertenor took his career to the next level. Kim made history by becoming the first countertenor at the Royal Opera House to perform the role of Cherubino in “Le nozze di Figaro;” it was his house debut. He also made his Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin debut as Nerone in “L’incoronazione di Poppea” and sang the role of Annio in “La Clemenza di Tito” at Theater an der Wien.

As Kim enters the 2020 year he continues defying the Countertenor standards by taking on romantic, baroque, and classical works. He is also set to world premiere the new work “M. Butterfly” at the Santa Fe Opera.

Konu Kim

Kim studied at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, the Korean National Opera Academy, and in Germany, going on to win numerous singing competitions including the Marcello Giordani and Riccardo Zandonai international singing competitions in Italy; she also won the International Stanislaw Moniuszko Vocal Competition in Poland. In 2016, the tenor started garnering more visibility when he won the first prize at the Operalia Comeptition and quickly went on to become a Jette Parker Young Artists at the Royal Opera House in 2017-18.

While he had performed with the company in numerous roles including Tonio in “La Fille due Regiment,” it was at the Donizetti Opera Festival this fall that Kim finally got the starring role that will no doubt lead him to garner more attention internationally. The tenor performed in the first-ever production of “L’Ange de Nisida” with critics noting, “Konu Kim gave a profound performance filled with different colors and emotions.” In 2020 Kim is set to perform in Friburg and at the Garsington Opera.

Gabriella Reyes

Nicaraguan-American soprano Reyes first came to note when she became a grand finalist in the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and later went on to win the 2018 Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. She would make her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2018 singing the Priestess in “Aida” and appearing as Nella in “Gianni Schicchi.”

But it was in 2019 that she finally came into her own as she was named Lincoln Center’s 2019 Emerging Artist and was the recipient of the Hildegard Behrens Foundation Award. Important performances came right after including her Santa Fe Opera debut as Musetta in “La Bohème” and her first lead role at the Metropolitan Opera as Liù in “Turandot;” she is also returning to the New York stage as the First Lady in “The Magic Flute.”

The soprano is set to make her Bayerische Staatsoper and Greek National Opera debut in one of the most highly anticipated world premieres of 2020, “7 Deaths of Maria Callas.” This production will likely get the soprano international attention as her career continues to grow.

Jonathan Tetelmann

Since his debut at the Tanglewood Festival during the 2017-18 season in “La Bohème,” the Chilean-American tenor has been on the rise. That performance in the summer of 2018 has since launched an international career that has brought him debuts at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Regio di Torino, Gran Teatro Nacional de Peru, English National Opera, and Komische Oper Berlin.

This year he also opened the Opera de Montpelier’s 2019-20 season in his role debut as Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” and made an unexpected debut at the Semperoper Dresden in “Tosca.” He also makes his debut in Sweden at the Malmo Opera and in 2020 he starts the year with his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

OperaWire noted in 2018 that Tetelman “promises that this is just the beginning of what may be a great career, and definitely a tenor to pay attention to.” And indeed it is just the beginning of what will likely be an important career in the coming years.


Special Features