Best of 2021: OperaWire’s Top 11 Singers of 2021

By Francisco Salazar

After a year and a half of limited performances and shut downs,  2021 marked the year during which performers were able to bring their artistry to the stage and to the audiences.

And now 2021 is bringing down its curtain.

There were so any memorable moments in the year and there were truly some historical performances. Like previous years, OperaWire is putting together a list of who we believe were standouts.

Before we look at our top 11, here are some honorable mentions:

Marina Rebeka released her “Il Pirata” recording, was awarded the Toti dal Monte award, starred in her first Feature Film, and headlined a showstopping Tudor concert.

Rolando Villazón headlined two Hollywood productions, “Cabrini” and “The Magic Flute,” and returned to the Metropolitan Opera following an eight-year absence.

Finally, Michael Spyres toured alongside Lawrence Brownlee in a critically acclaimed “Amici e rivali” concert and was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France.

Now onto this year’s list in alphabetical order.

Vasilisa Berzhanskaya

Before 2021, Berzhanskaya was relatively unknown internationally. She was an ensemble member at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and was singing leading roles at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma including a film version of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”

Jump forward to 2021 and her name has become synonymous with Rossini and his music. She began her year winning the opera award for Young Singer and opened a new production of “Così fan tutte” at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino before participating in several concerts at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo as well as in Russia.

In the summer, the mezzo-soprano was the talk of the town in Pesaro. During the highly anticipated production of “Moïse et Pharaon,” she stole the show with her aria “Ah, d’une tendre mère…” At the Rossini Opera Festival, she also participated in the Stabat Mater.

She would continue with Rossini for her Wiener Staatsoper debut when the mezzo took over a new production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” The production was one of the most star-studded events of the year and was subsequently broadcast on national TV and later worldwide.

Berzhanskaya ended her year with a return to the Deutsche Oper Berlin and her highly anticipated debut at the Royal Opera House in a revival of “Nabucco.”

2022 looks to be another year of important debuts and high profile productions at the Aix-en-Provence, the Teatro Massimo, and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, among others.

Lawrence Brownlee

Considered one of the great Bel Canto tenors of our times, Brownlee opened the year with vocal fireworks in a stream of “I Puritani” from the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and then performed in a virtual event for the Houston Grand Opera.

With no performances at the beginning of the year, Brownlee continued his Facebook show “The Sitdown with LB,” an unfiltered and honest look inside the opera world. During his recent season he engaged in conversations with Diane Zola from the Metropolitan Opera; Francesca Zambello from Glimmerglass and Washington National Opera, Anthony Tommasini from The New York Times; and Matthew Horner from IMG Artists, among others.

He returned to the stage in a production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the New National Theatre, Tokyo and also participated in a production of “La Fille du Regiment” in Liege. He then participated in the Opera America Conference. An advocate of new music and featuring composers of color, Brownlee performed three concerts entitled “A Celebration of Black Music” and followed up his 2018 “Cycles Of My Being” project, with his new program “Songs Of My Youth.”

Brownlee also embarked on a tour of “Amici e Rivali” with star tenor Michael Spyres. An uncommon concert series, the tour was a huge hit and became the talk of the town for its fun performances. Another highlight was his gala at the Hungarian Opera. Finally, he also headlined the opening night gala at the Washington National Opera. During the evening the tenor paid tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with an emotional speech and a show-stopping rendition of “A Mes ami” from “La Fille du Regiment.”

Brownlee continues to move the needle forward as an advocate for education and this year joined the faculty of the Juilliard School, teaching the next generation of singers. Alongside all his accomplishments, Brownlee’s recording of “I Puritani” was released on Delos, adding another landmark rendition to his discography.

In 2022, he will bring more surprises including a continuation of his tour and new roles that audiences will not want to miss.

Lise Davidsen 

The words, “one in a million,” have been used to describe Davidsen and she is living up to the promise as one of the biggest opera stars in the world. Davidsen began her year with a concert reading of “Jenufa” and with a recital for the Bayerische Staatsoper’s “Montagsstück” concerts. Both were live streamed for audiences worldwide.

She then released her second solo album for Decca which included music by Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner, and graced the cover of Gramophone. Davidsen was then awarded the Female Singer of the Year at the annual Opera Awards and was the recipient of the Russian Casta Diva Opera Prize for Best Foreign Singer.

The year also saw her debut at the Teatro alla Scala and a return to the Bayreuth Festival for her acclaimed Elisabeth in “Tannhäuser.” She also debuted her first Sieglinde in Bayreuth and performed in a live stream of “Die Walküre” alongside Jonas Kaufmann at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

In the fall the soprano returned to the Met for her first of three productions for the 2021-22 season. She made her role debut as Eva in “Meistersinger” with critics stating “she just stands on the Met stage, starts singing, and instantly fills the hall like nobody else does today.”

The soprano also saw debuts at the Teatro San Carlo, a new production of “Fidelio” at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and an appearance at the Moscow Music Festival.

In 2021 Davidsen also filmed a movie “Lise,” with the Norwegian Opera, and was featured in a new recording of “Fidelio” for PENTATONE as well as a recording of Sibelius works for Chandos.

The Norwegian also embarked on a worldwide tour with Leif Ove Andsnes, which will be the basis for her upcoming third album, which was recently announced and will be released in 2022. That tour will also continue in 2022.

Asmik Grigorian

This year, the Lithuanian soprano solidified star power that has been building over the past few years.

The year began with the release of her “Elektra” performance from the Salzburg Festival, which was a triumph on many levels as it was performed during the height of the pandemic.

But it wasn’t until the summer that she truly got to return to the stage when she made her debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Senta in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production of Wagner’s “Der fliegende Holländer.” Grigorian not only debuted at the festival but also opened the season in what was a historical evening for the world of opera.

Then she returned to the Salzburg Festival for a reprisal of Chrystothemis in “Elektra.” Her 2021-22 season opened with a highly anticipated debut at the Royal Opera House in a new production of “Jenufa” by Claus Guth. Originally expected to debut at the Royal Opera in 2020, the production was rescheduled due to the pandemic. However, the wait was worthwhile as one of the performances was broadcast worldwide; critics raved that Grigorian has a “powerful instrument, with plenty of gleam and brilliant.”

Her following engagements included a return to the Wiener Staatsoper for “Eugene Onegin” and the premiere of a new production of “Salome” at the Bolshoi Theatre, which was a preview for her upcoming Metropolitan Opera debut. She also participated in a production of “Madama Butterfly” at the Royal Opera Stockholm which was recorded and broadcast through OperaVision; she also appeared in concerts at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and in Lithuania. She was also featured at the Aids gala for the Deutsche Oper, which was broadcast throughout Germany and Austria.

Outside of live performances, her “Rusalka” production from the Teatro Real was released on DVD and on CueTV and Grigorian became an ambassador for the Rimantas Kaukėnas Charitable Foundation, which is devoted to helping ill children in Lithuania. Grigorian became very involved with the group, including being a “model” for the clothes that they sell to raise money for the foundation.

2022 will see Grigorian continue her growth as she will release her debut album on Alpha Classics and will tour across Europe.

Jonas Kaufmann

The German tenor had a big year with his return to the United States embarking on a recital tour and performing in Florida, Boston, New York, California, Houston, Washington D.C., and Ann Arbor. The ovations were so great that Kaufmann performed up to six encores in an evening. There were also concerts in Madrid, Vienna, and a debut in Verona.

Throughout the year, Kaufmann was also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Music, London by the Prince of Wales, the Presto Music Award, and the Opus Klassik Award for Opera Recording of the year for “Otello.” He was also honored as the official ambassador of the UNAOC in front of the Foreign Minister of Turkey and received the special Media Prize at the Österreichischer Musiktheater Awards. The tenor also released his new album “Liszt: Freudvoll und leidvoll;” an extended version of “It’s Christmas;” and a DVD of “Die Tote Stadt.” He also began his Instagram show “Coffee with Kaufmann.” 

But the biggest highlights of Kaufmann’s year were his return to some of his iconic roles. He headlined a live stream of “Aida” from the Paris Opera, which was showcased worldwide, and then joined Elina Garanca and Ludovic Tezier for a new production of “Parsifal” from the Wiener Staatsoper, which was also live streamed. Kaufmann also performed many iconic “Tosca’s” including one in Salzburg with Anna Netrebko, another in Graz with Kristine Opolais, and two in Spain, which made history. At the Teatro Real in Madrid, he and colleague Sondra Radvanovsky made history by performing a double encore of both “Vissi d’arte” and “E lucevan le stelle.” The evening marked the first time that two arias were encored in the same opera performance at Teatro Real. The performances marked the return of Kaufmann to the theater, having performed his last opera there in 1999. There was also a live streamed first act of “Die Walküre” from the Bayerische Staatsoper and Kaufmann opened the Teatro San Carlo di Napoli with a new production of “Otello.”

Perhaps his most memorable and defining moment was his role debut as Tristan in “Tristan und Isolde.” Broadcast from the Bayerische Staatsoper, the production received rave reviews with OperaWire noting, “It inigh impossible to imagine a deeper, darker Tristan thaKaufmann” and “it does seem destined to become one of his signature roles.”

As the tenor continues to push his career in new directions, there is no doubt his role debuts as Calaf and Peter Grimes are already highly anticipated.

Will Liverman

In 2020, Will Liverman’s operatic career seemed to be on the rocks with COVID-19 striking and canceling all his performances. He started signing up to take digital marketing classes online trying to find ways to survive.

But it was during that time that he started working on passion projects and he finally recorded “Black composers, Dreams of a New Day.” That album was released in February 2021 to great acclaim and debuted on the Billboard’s Number one Classical Music Charts. Now Liverman is a double Grammy nominee for his second solo album and for his recently released recording of “Ahknaten” from the Metropolitan Opera.

2021 marked his return to the stage with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in which he performed a Juneteenth concert and headlined “Highway 1, U.S.A.” He also performed at the Park Avenue Armory, the Met Opera Summer Recital’s SummerStage, and at the Green Lake Festival. He was also a participant of the Aspen Music Festival’s Special Event concert.

But it was in the fall that things took a turn. Liverman became the face of the Met Opera for its new production of “Fire Shut up in My Bones.” When the Met announced it was moving its production to the 2021-22 season, Liverman actually learned the main aria in a day, sent in a tape through his agent, and was cast in a week. Audiences could see his face in Subway stations, bus stops and on billboards. And Liverman delivered with a showstopping performance on opening night. As OperaWire noted, he created a “nuanced portrait of Charles Blow.” That performance instantly made him a singer on everyone’s radar.

With so much success he was cast in the Met’s 2023 production of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Malcolm X).”

The year was also marked by the announcement that Liverman would become the Virigina Opera’s Creative Partner and Advisor for the 2021-2022 season and beyond. On top of that he wrote “The Factotum,” with the DJ and producer K-Rico, an updated take on Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” The Lyric Opera of Chicago workshopped the piece and even released a documentary of the making of the opera. There are now talks of the work being produced by the major company.

Latonia Moore

Latonia Moore began her year winning a Grammy for the Met Opera’s recording of “Porgy and Bess” in which she performed the role of Serena with critics clamoring that she stole the show. Then the soprano participated in a Glimmglass Festival preview gala and was featured on the front cover of OPERA NEWS.

In April, she returned to the stage for her debut with the Austin Opera where she performed “Tosca” at a Racetrack. Her performance “provided a brilliant display of vocal colors” and she astonished audiences when at the end of the show she leaped off the stage backwards. During the summer, the soprano made her Glimmerglass debut performing Leonora in “Il Trovatore” and in the fall the soprano returned to the Metropolitan Opera to open the 2021-22 season in the historic production of “Fire Shut up in My Bones.” As with her Met performances of “Porgy and Bess,” Moore ran away with the show, proving she is not only one of the greatest singing actresses of our time, but also a performer that gets better and better. The opening night production marked the second time the soprano inaugurated a Met Opera season. She concluded her year reprising her Grammy award-winning interpretation of Serena in “Porgy and Bess” at the Met, once again scoring raves.

In the coming year, audiences will see Moore with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Dallas Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a reprisal of her signature “Aida” at the LA Opera.

Erin Morley

Erin Morley is finally getting her moment in the spotlight.

The American soprano has been performing with some of the world’s greatest companies for years but it seems like she is finally getting the recognition she has deserved for long.

In 2020, Morley brought comfort to audiences around the world with her virtuosic performance during the Met’s virtual gala and performed in other at-home recitals. And in 2021, she began the year winning the prestigious Beverly Sill Award and followed it up with a return to the stage in a gala performance with the Staatskapelle Dresden. Her recording of “Das Land des Lächelns” was also released on DVD for Franz Lehár’s 150th birthday.

Her big return to the opera came in the summer at the Santa Fe Opera where she took on Tytania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She followed that up with her debut in Bordeaux in “Robert le Diable” with OperaWire raving about her Isabelle. “Her top notes are so stable and brilliant” and her voice has a “beautiful velvet quality,” wrote Mauricio Villa.

She capped off the year with two Grammy nominations (for her recordings of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 and Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmelites” at the Metropolitan Opera) before headlining the Met Opera’s premiere of “Eurydice,” which was broadcast live in HD. Of her performance, OperaWire’s David Salazar commented that “Leading the pack was Erin Morley who was undeniably having a blast in the leading role… As the story developed, there was definitely a clear deepening in her characterization and the vulnerability she brought to the role. This was particularly notable in her two arias in the first part and second part of the opera. In both, she delivered with fluid and elegant legato lines, interspersed with some potent high notes that made their appearance throughout. When listening to Morley, there’s always this sense of musical and vocal security that was undeniably present here throughout.”

Next year Morley continues her big breaks making important debuts at the Teatro alla Scala, Staatsoper Berlin, and Washington Concert Opera.

Maria Jose Siri

Historic is one word that can be associated with the Uruguayan soprano this year.

While she began the year with a stream of “Il Tabarro” from Verona, it was on March 25 at the Teatro de las Palmas where she made history becoming the first female singer in the history of the opera house to perform an encore of an aria – during the second performance of “Adriana Lecourevur,” an opera which Siri was performing for the first time, she repeated “Io son l’umile ancella.” The soprano would return to the opera for a new production at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which was later recorded and streamed to audiences worldwide. Siri also participated at the Teatro Municipale di Piacenza’s special presentation of the Verdi Requiem which was dedicated to the victims of COVID-19 and was streamed and seen by over 22,000 people.

On July 22, at the Arena di Verona, she made history becoming one of the select few to perform both soprano roles in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” in the same performance. The double bill is generally performed by a tenor and it is rare to see the same soprano in both works. Regarding the evening Siri noted, “It’s a dream come true for a singing actress to have the pleasure to perform two roles on the same night, especially two such contrasting characters.”

In the fall the soprano opened a new production of “La Forza del Destino” in Liege which was then streamed worldwide. The end of the year was filled with two surprises as she returned to the Wiener Staatsoper in a production of “Nabucco,” replacing an ill Anna Netrebko, before taking over in a production of “Don Carlo,” also for an ailing colleague.

Siri opens 2022 by returning to Las Palmas for a production of “Manon Lescaut” and then heads to the Teatro Comunale di Bologna to present her iconic interpretation of “Tosca.”

Sondra Radvanovsky

Sondra Radvanovky has made history throughout her career, most notably during the 2015-16 season when she became the first soprano at the Met to perform Donizetti’s three queens in one season. And since then she has consistently gone against expectations with repertoire choices on her way to some of the most memorable moments in recent opera history.

And a pandemic didn’t stop that from continuing in 2021.

First, Radvanovsky made her debut as Imogene in a streamed performance of “Il Pirata” from the Teatro San Carlo di Napoli before joining Piotr Beczala in the Met recital series. She then premiered a new production of “Aida” at the Paris Opera, which was streamed worldwide and garnered a massive audience. She returned to live performance in Barcelona when she sang her Tudor Concert with critics stating that she “amazed in Donizetti’s Three Final Scenes.”

In the summer, Radvaovsky returned to the Teatro Real during a production of “Tosca,” which became the talk of the opera world. During the production, the soprano encored “Vissi d’arte” in all but one performance and became the first female singer to give an encore at the Teatro Real during an opening night. She followed up that historic run at the Festival Castell de Peralada where she also performed an encore during a performance of “Tosca.” Both the Madrid and Peralada performances were recorded and broadcast worldwide.

In the fall she made her debut as Lady Macbeth, a role that she considered a dream and for which critics said she “exuded power and confidence.” The debut was streamed and recorded for audiences to see worldwide. The soprano ended her year with her return to the Metropolitan Opera, a theater she had not performed at for two years. She brought her iconic Tosca to the stage and stole the show with her “Vissi d’Arte.”

As we enter 2022, Radvaonvsky will continue to add roles to her repertoire including “Turandot” and Odabella in “Attila,” which will no doubt be exciting.

Ludovic Tezier

The Frenchman is undeniably one of the greatest baritones of his generation, having performed all the great baritone roles at every major house in the world. That continued throughout 2021 with Tezier seemingly EVERYWHERE all the time.

He began his year with an acclaimed production of “Thaïs” from Monte-Carlo which was televised worldwide. With most theaters still closed at the beginning of the year, Tezier headlined two major live streams, “Aida” from the Opera de Paris and “Parsifal” from the Wiener Staatsoper. Both works featured new productions, all-star casts, and were among the most-watched streams of the year.

In March he returned to the Teatro alla Scala for a virtual recital. It was in the summer where the baritone finally got to perform for live audiences starting with a production of “Tosca” in Paris which Mauricio Villa emphasized that Tezier “was truly despicable here as his performance was fueled by believable emotions that provided psychological layers to the character.” On June 27, he was honored with Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France by the Ministry of Culture.

He returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper for a production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” and a recital before performing a Nuit Verdianne in Orange.

And then came the end of the summer when Tezier made headlines by doing the unthinkable. While performing a production of “Tosca” at the Salzburg Festival, he jumped in for an ailing colleague in Graz’s simultaneously-running production of “Tosca,” sometimes performing performances on back-to-back days. The Graz production was eventually recorded and broadcast worldwide.

In the fall the baritone began his season at the Wiener Staatsoper, where he heroically also took over performances of “Tosca” all while performing a new production of “La Traviata” at the same time. Like his summer “Tosca’s,” he would perform on back-to-back nights, all while receiving raves and standing ovations.

He concluded his year by receiving a Gramophone Award for his 2020 Verdi album and his historic 2020 performance of “Macbeth” at the Festival Verdi received the Premio Abiatti in Italy. The performance was later released on CD and became the first recording of Verdi’s French version. Tezier also reprised his “Rigoletto” in Paris and returned to Zürich for “Simon Boccanegra.”



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