(Credit: Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera – Antoni Bofill/Gran Teatre del Liceu – Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
As we end the year its time to look back at the past 365-ish days and the big moments that defined 2019.
It was a great year for numerous singers who broke-out and for established performers who took their careers in new directions or made important debuts. There were others who made history and others who created new operas. Like last year, OperaWire has put together a list of the Opera stars who we believe were among the top in 2019.
But before we get to the main list there are a couple of singers that are worth mentioning who did not make this year’s top 11.
Ailyn Perez opened the Dutch National Opera’s 2019-20 season, won the Opera News Awards, made her role debut as Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni” at the Houston Grand Opera, and became ambassador for Opera America and Opera for Peace.
Tomasz Konieczny made his international breakout at the Metropolitan Opera for his work in the Ring Cycle and revived a production of Danton’s Todd at the Wiener Staatsoper.
Meanwhile, Ermonela Jaho made for her Carnegie Hall debut, released Puccini’s “Le Willis,” and gave an acclaimed turn at the Royal Opera House in “La Traviata,” which went to cinemas and DVD. Her Liù in “Turandot” also garnered rave reviews and was recorded from the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Meanwhile, Luca Pisaroni won the Opera News Awards, made his role debut in the title role of “Don Giovanni,” his role debut as Escamillo in “Carmen,” and created the role of Da Ponte in “The Phoenix.”
Leo Nucci also announced his retirement from the stage after triumphing in his final “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata” at the Teatro alla Scala and Arena di Verona.
Finally, Jessica Pratt made history as “Lucia di Lammermoor,” singing her 100th performance of the role in its original key.
Now onto this year’s list.
11. Brian Jagde
“His voice resounded with sonority and ease” – OperaWire
It was quite a year for American Brian Jagde as he solidified his status as one of the most acclaimed spinto tenors of his generations, debuting five roles in one year.
It all started at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo where he headlined a new production of “Turandot,” role for which he has garnered great acclaim. Performances of the run were broadcast worldwide. He followed that with his role debuts as Luigi and Turiddu in “Il Tabarro” and “Cavalleria Rusticana” with the Dresden Philharmonic. Concert performances were recorded for a future release on Pentatone.
Then came his house debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in his role debut as Enzo in “La Gioconda,” an opera that had not been performed at the house since 2005. OperaWire noted his performance was “youthful” and that was later seen when “La Gioconda” was broadcast live in cinemas.
In the summer he went to Paris for his house debut in “La Forza del Destino.” The role of Alvaro marked his fourth role debut of the season; he performed it a whopping 10 times during the run. In the fall, he opened the Dutch National Opera’s 2019-20 season in an acclaimed production of “Cavalleria Rusticana.” It marked the first time the tenor would perform the role in a staged production and reviews were outstanding, calling his performance “solid” and noting “he posses a dark, round, beautiful voice, with potent high notes.” The production was recorded on radio and video and is set to be broadcast on Takt1.
His final role debut of the season saw him return to the San Francisco Opera where he sang his first Des Grieux in “Manon Lescaut.”
The year also saw Jagde become an ambassador for Opera for Peace and Opera America and also performed benefit concerts for Time’s In and the Kaufman Center. His performance in “Das Wunder der Heliane” was also released on DVD and was nominated for the International Classical Music Awards.
In 2020, Jagde makes his Wiener Staatsoper debut and returns to the Metropolitan Opera house for his principal role and his first HD performance in “Tosca.”
Here is in a clip from San Francisco Opera’s “Manon Lescaut.”
10. Angel Blue
“She wove together magnificent legato lines” – OperaWire
For the past years Angel Blue has been on the rise, singing in major international houses and scoring rave reviews. But 2019 could easily be considered her breakout year with the soprano cementing her star in the opera world.
Blue began the year making her Royal Opera House debut in the title role of “La Traviata.” She followed that by becoming the first black Violetta at the Teatro alla Scala in a revival of “La Traviata.” It also marked her return to the famed Milan house for the first time since 2016.
The summer saw her make her long awaited role debut as “Tosca” at the Festival Aix-en-Provence in an avant garde production that had opera audiences talking and which was recorded by Arte. She also made her Canadian Opera Company debut in “La Bohème.”
And then in the fall Blue got her biggest assignment to date at the Metropolitan Opera opening the 2019-20 season in a historic production of “Porgy and Bess.” OperaWire raved about Blue’s interpretation noting she sang with a “tender and intimate” tone and called her Bess “Glorious.” The performance will be released on CD by the Metropolitan Opera.
The soprano also headlined the Richard Tucker gala and made her Staatsoper Hamburg debut in her signature Mimì in “La Bohème.” Next year, the soprano returns to the Teatro alla Scala and also sings the Live in HD broadcast of “Porgy and Bess” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Here is her breathtaking “Vissi d’Arte” at the Festival Aix-En-Provence.
9. Edita Gruberova
“A Bel Canto Queen” – OperaWire
The legendary Slovak soprano made headlines when she decided to retire from staged opera. The soprano began the year with the Hungarian State Opera, singing her iconic interpretation of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” for the first time at the Budapest theater in a staged production. The two performances were also her final ones with the role, which she made legendary throughout her career.
Then in March the soprano said goodbye to opera at the Bayerische Staatsoper with Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux,” a production she created in 2005. Gruberova also received the lifetime achievement award at the Oper Magazine Awards and served on the jury of the Tchaikovsky Competition. Another major highlight during 2019 included her Beijing Music Festival debut.
She is set to continue her farewell tour in 2020.
Here is her final opera performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper.
8. Lise Davidsen
“Her forte sound resounded in the hall and her softer singing resonated just as wondrously” – OperaWire
The Norwegian soprano has already been hailed as “One in a million” and “A once in a generation Wagnerian” and is already being seen as the next great Brünnhilde and Elektra. At 32 years-old, the Operalia winner saw 2019 take her to another level.
She became the first Scandinavian singer to sign a contract with Decca since Birgit Nilsson and Kirsten Flagstad and released her first solo album dedicated to Strauss. Her year got started at the Staatsoper Stuttgaart where she performed her role debut as Lisa in a run of “The Queen of Spades.”
But it was in March where she made a huge stride in her career. Davidsen took on her first major Wagner role as Elisabeth in “Tannhäuser” at the Opernhaus Zürich followed by another run of the role at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Then she opened the Bayreuth Festival in the same role, making a stunning house debut.
Her 2019-20 season began with her role debut as Leonore in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Opéra de Montreal. She then made her highly anticipated Metropolitan Opera debut in “The Queen of Spades” where critics were ecstatic, solidifying her status as the dramatic soprano of her generation. OperaWire noted that Davidsen gave a “superlative performance.”
Davidsen begins 2020 in a sold out run of a new production of “Fidelio” at the Royal Opera House alongside Jonas Kaufmann, before returning to the Bayreuth Festival for her role debut as Sieglinde in “Die Walkure.”
Here is a clip of Davidsen performing Lisa in “The Queen of Spades” at the Metropolitan Opera
7. Xabier Anduaga
“Anduaga has a bright tenor with a plush sound that can easily go from his bottom notes to glimmering high notes” – OperaWire
The Spanish tenor’s rise was quite rapid this year with critics hailing him as a “major talent.”
It all started in Parma and Beijing in performances of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” followed by his role debut as Nemorino in “L’Elisir d’Amore” at the Teatro Principal in Mallorca.
But it was in the summer that the tenor broke out. First came Lindoro in “L”Italiana in Algeri” at the Teatro Regio di Torino where critics said he sang with a “beautiful voice” and had “sublime” phrasing followed his appearance in a new production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Palau de les Arts. He then went on to win first place and the Zarzuela prize at the Operalia competition where international audiences started to take note.
Anduaga ended the summer with a production of “Pagliacci” in Hanover where he performed Beppe and started the fall season with an acclaimed turn in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Opéra de Rouen, which was also recorded and broadcast on French television.
He later made his role debut as Gennaro in “Lucrezia Borgia” at the Donizetti Opera Festival where he scored rave reviews. OperaWire noted that the performance was a “star-making turn” while other critics noted that he stole the show.
The year also saw the young tenor win the Best Young Singer Award at the Oper Magazine Awards and the release of two DVDs, “Il Castello di Kenilworth” from the Donizetti Opera Festival and “Ricciardo e Zoraide” from the Rossini Opera Festival.
The tenor ends the year with his debut at the Staatsoper Hamburg in “La Cenerentola.” In 2020, he has a number of high profile engagements including his North American debut at the Dallas Opera.
Here he is performing the showstopping final aria from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Opéra de Rouen
6. Joyce Didonato
“She displayed a number of breathtaking vocal techniques” – OperaWire
Joyce DiDonato continued to share her joy and generosity with the opera world in 2019, once again making our list.
It all began with the release of her SongPlay album which saw the mezzo-soprano crossover into jazz classical music. DiDonato toured with the album around the U.S. performing at such venues as Lincoln Center, Seattle Symphony, and the Schubert Hall.
That followed with performances of “La Clemenza di Tito” which saw her perform her signature Sesto at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time. Critics noted that it was one of her “finest hours at the Met to date.”
During that run of performances, DiDonato held masterclasses at Carnegie Hall. She also made her role debut as Marguerite in concert performances of “La Damnation de Faust,” which were recorded and released on CD by Erato, continuing her collaboration with Berlioz expert John Nelson.
Then, DiDonato went on a successful tour with Handel’s “Agrippina” throughout Europe in such theaters as Gran Teatre del Liceu, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and the Barbican Centre. During the run a recording was made for future release on Erato.
The summer saw DiDonato perform at the Grange Park Opera, Festival d’Auvers-sur-Oise, and on tour with Sir Antonio Pappano in the U.S. She also collaborated with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and had recitals at the George Enescu Festival and in Spain. Her 2019-20 season saw DiDonato open a new production of “Agrippina” at the Royal Opera and her start as the artist in residence at Carnegie Hall.
She also ended her critically acclaimed and historic tour “In War and Peace.” After singing on four continents, 23 countries, 44 cities, and reaching 2.6 million viewers, the mezzo concluded her tour in Latin America and in the U.S.
DiDonato also won numerous awards, including the Opus Klassik and Oper! Magazine award for Best Female Singer. She was also nominated for her eighth GRAMMY Award for SongPlay.
DiDonato ends the year singing “Winterreise” in Boston and Carnegie Hall with a live stream on Medici and heads into 2020 for a new production of “Agrippina” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Here she is on tour singing Berlioz’s “Les nuits d’été” with Antonio Pappano.
5. Anna Netrebko
“Netrebko produced the glorious lyrical lines she has long been known for her” – OperaWire
The Russian diva began an acclaimed year at the Metropolitan Opera headlining a new production of “Adriana Lecourevur.” The production received rave reviews and was broadcast Live in HD around the world.
She followed that with her highly anticipated role debut as Leonora in “La Forza del Destino” in a sold-out run alongside Jonas Kaufmann. With tickets sold out months in advance, audiences were able to see the Opera Live in HD.
Netrebko also made triumphant debuts at the Arena di Verona, which was recorded for cinema and returned to the Salzburg Festival for two performances of “Adriana Lecouvreur.” The soprano also headlined a revival of “Andrea Chenier at the Wiener Staatsoper and sang a sold-out concert with Andrea Bocelli. She also opened the World Olympics in Minsk and headlined Vienna’s opernball.
Netrebko also embarked on a recital tour and concert tour with her husband Yusif Eyvazov where she returned to the Teatro Real and Gran Teatre del Liceu, among other theaters and took on performances of “Aida” at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Netrebko began her 2019-20 season in highly acclaimed performances of “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Deutsche Oper Berlin before returning to the Metropolitan Opera for performances of “Macbeth.” Netrebko later opened the Teatro alla Scala for the fourth time in her career in a new production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” which saw a new critical edition.
The soprano ends the year with a gala performance at the Metropolitan Opera, where she will debut her “Turandot” and perform acts from “Tosca” and “La Bohème.”
Next year sees Netrebko scaling new heights and singing her first full production of “Turandot” and her highly anticipated role debut as Elisabetta in “Don Carlo” at the Semperoper Dresden.
Here is Netrebko in “Pace, pace mio Dio” from the Royal Opera House’s “La Forza del Destino”
4. Piotr Beczala
“He wove those long phrases with such precision and a seemingly endless supply of breath” – OperaWire
Piotr Beczala is one of the greatest tenors of his generation. Throughout the years the tenor has slowly moved from the lyric repertoire to the spinto repertoire with facility. This year was no exception.
The year started at the Met where Beczala ended a run of “Adriana Lecouvreur” singing his first major verismo role and garnering universal acclaim. OperaWire hailed the tenor stating, “Beczala had a strong night singing with an ardent tone and gleaming high notes.” The run was broadcast on HD garnering a international audience.
That was followed by his role debut as Cavaradossi in “Tosca” at the Wiener Staatsoper. He sang his first run in February, which caused a sensation; the tenor even encored ““E lucevan le stelle” in one performance. Bezcala later returned to Vienna for a second run where he was honored as a Kammersänger by Jürgen Meindl, Head of the Art and Culture Section of the Federal Chancellery. The final performance of the run was recorded and broadcast and also included another encore by Beczala.
During the spring, the Polish artist returned to his signature Des Grieux in a new production of Massenet’s “Manon” at the Openhaus Zürich. He then traveled to Barcelona to reprise his acclaimed Rodolfo in “Lusia Miller.” His performances also caused great enthusiasm and ovations; he also encored the aria “Quando le sere al Placido.”
The summer also saw him return to the Bayreuth Festival for “Lohengrin” and the Salzburg Festival for “Luisa Miller.” Beczala also went on tour through Spain and Europe in successful recital performances.
The tenor win major prizes including the Oper! Magazine award for Best Male singer and a nomination for the GRAMMY for his newly released DVD of “Lohengrin” from the Bayreuth Festival.
He ends the year with one of his dream projects, Moniuszko’s “Halka,” where he will perform the Austrian premiere in a new production at the Theater an der Wien.
And as 2020 rings in Beczala will release two new albums, the first a verismo album and the second filled with Polish repertoire.
Here is Beczala singing “E Lucevan le Stelle” at the Wiener Staatsoper during the historic broadcast.
3. Lisette Oropesa
“She moved effortlessly between nimble, fluttering coloratura and arching lyrical phrases” – OperaWire
Last year, Oropesa scored some of the biggest successes of her career, elevating her international status. And this year she became a bonafide star winning the Beverly Sills Award and Richard Tucker Award for which she headlined a starry gala at Carnegie Hall.
The soprano started the year coming off at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where she opened the 2018-19 season. She then went back to her hometown for a Starry Night gala in Louisiana, followed by her house debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in her role debut in “Rodelinda.”
That was followed by her La Monnaie debut in a concert performance of “Robert le Diable.” The opera marked her second major Meyerbeer opera in less than a year and her role debut as Isabelle. After having won the two major awards, the soprano returned to the U.S. in a production of “Don Pasquale” at the Pittsburgh Opera, which was her only major assignment in the states for the 2018-19 season.
In the summer Oropesa was featured on the OPERA NEWS cover and in Vogue Magazine as she went on to headline three major productions.
First she made her highly anticipated Teatro alla Scala debut in Verdi’s “I Masnadieri” for which OperaWire noted, “her striking performance as Amalia demonstrated that she has graduated fully from soubrette roles to more demanding lyric ones without losing any of the astonishing flexibility of her voice.” That production would travel to the Savonnlina Festival where she debuted and would later be broadcast on Rai TV.
She followed that up with two productions of “La Traviata.” First Oropesa traveled to Greece for Greek National Opera debut and then to headline Franco Zeffirelli’s last “La Traviata” production in a broadcast.
Her 2019-20 season began at the Metropolitan Opera where she returned in her first major diva role as “Manon.” The run featured a live in HD broadcast on Oct. 27, 2019.
The year also saw Oropesa return to the Washington Concert Opera for a performance of “Hamlet;” she also won the Giulio Gari Foundation Award. Finally Oropesa made her debut in Sao Paulo at the close of 2019.
In 2020, Oropesa will to expand her repertoire at the Paris Opera, singing her first Rosina in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”
Here is Oropesa’s moving Teatro alla Scala debut in “I Masanadieri”
2. Javier Camarena
“He displayed immaculate coloratura lines and expressiveness of his vocal line which moved effortlessly” – OperaWire
Javier Camrena crowned himself the “KING OF THE ENCORES” as he made history in numerous theaters this year and continued to bring joy to audiences around the world.
He began the year at the Metropolitan Opera where he sang an acclaimed run of Donizetti “La Fille du Regiment.” During the run he gave encores in seven performances including the HD performance, which marked the first time the Met allowed a soloist to give an encore. In total the singer went on to sing a total of 126 High Cs during the run in addition to other high notes he pulled off.
He continued the season with performances of “Don Pasquale” and “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Opéra de Paris and Bayerische Staatsoper and in the summer he once again made history at the Royal Opera House in “La Fille du Régiment. He became the first artist in the company to encore four consecutive performances in a run.
That was followed by the tenor opening the Opéra de Paris season in a revival of “I Puritani” before heading to the Teatro Real for a recital, his role debut as Gualtiero in a new production of “Il Pirata” and a historic performance of “L’Elisir d’Amore” where he gave audiences the fourth encore in the Teatro Real’s history since the theater’s reopening in 1997.
Throughout 2019, Camarena also embarked on a recital and concert tour and received an important accolade in Mexico. He will end the year celebrating his 15th career anniversary reuniting with Cecilia Bartoli at the Opernhaus Zürich for “La Cenerentola.”
Here is Camarena making history at the Metropolitan Opera in “La Fille du Regiment.”
1. Saioa Hernandez
“Saioa Hernández is the diva of our century” – Montserrat Caballé
Making this selection was truly challenging. While there is no denying the historic years of such singers as Bezcala and Camarena around the world, these are incredible singers at the peaks of their careers simply setting the bar even higher.
But in our view, Hernandez didn’t so much reset the bar as much as she simply threw it away and set her own. It has been quite some time since a singer, despite a solid career, simply explodes onto the international stage the way that the Spanish soprano did this year. In the context of this career, when the opera world looks back on 2019, they will remember it as the year that Saioa Hernandez established herself as one of the great singers of her generation.
Prior to 2019, Hernandez had forged a path singing in numerous regional and Italian houses where she scored major successes. But it was her Teatro alla Scala debut that opened up doors for the soprano and gave her international recognition.
She began 2019 ending her run of the Teatro alla Scala’s opening night production of “Attila” where she became the first Spanish soprano to open the famed theater. That was followed by her role debut as Maddalena in “Andrea Chénier” in the Emiliano Circuit performing the role at the Teatro La Piacenza, Teatro Dante Alighieri, Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti, and Teatro Municipale Valli. Following the run, the soprano made a surprise debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in “La Gioconda” and took over the HD performance to great acclaim.
She then made her German debut, Semperoper Dresden debut and role debut as Abigaille in “Nabucco” alongside Plácido Domingo in an acclaimed run that had audiences ecstatic. Critics stated, ” Her voice seemed very suited to this repertoire: strong, dramatic, with a round, velvety color, a lyrical quality and spectacular, secure, shimmering high notes.”
During that run, the soprano was called in last minute to make her Royal Opera House debut in “Andrea Chénier” alongside Roberto Alagna.
She also made her Arena di Verona and Macerata Opera Festival debuts over the summer where she sang “Aida,” “Tosca” and her first Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth.”
The soprano ended her year singing at the Verdi Opera Festival in a highly acclaimed production of “Nabucco” and celebrated Domingo’s 50th Anniversary at the Teatro alla Scala.
The soprano begins 2020 with a new production of “Tosca” at the Teatro alla Scala, where she will sing a total of three productions and a Japanese tour.
Here she is performing “Suicido!” from “La Gioconda” at the Gran Teatre del Liceu