Best of 2023: OperaWire’s Top 11 Singers of 2023

By Francisco Salazar

It’s time of the year. The moment we wrap up the year and look back at our favorite moments.

After releasing our favorite performances of 2023 and showcasing our rising stars of the year, it’s time for OperaWire’s annual tradition of naming our top 11 singers of the year, performers that we thought stood out and had major breaks or performances.

So without further ado here are our standouts of 2023 in alphabetical order.

Aigul Ahkmetshina

This year the Daily Mail hailed Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Ahkmetshina, as the “New Netrebko,” an accolade for one of the most sought-after young singers in the opera world right now. Now in her late 20s, Ahkmetshina is becoming a major headliner at major companies around the world. Following an anticipated Met debut at the end of 2022, the mezzo returned to the Royal Opera House for “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” in what she proved to be a triumph for her comic timing. That was followed by performances as Elisabetta in “Maria Stuarda” in which she demonstrated a dramatic turn and had a chance to show off her coloratura skills. And in the summer, Ahkmetshina had audiences and critics raving when she stole the show in the Royal Opera House’s “Werther.” OperaWire noted, “The applause at her curtain call was tumultuous and unparalleled.” For many, this was the most that a star was born and as noted in our review, “Jonas Kaufmann, literally, lifted her off her feet in visible jubilation, acknowledging her achievements.” The Guardian also noted, “Her Charlotte, contained yet impassioned, emerges as the opera’s most interesting, fully rounded character.”

Her Salzburg Festival debut followed thereafter in “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” as well as her Bayerische Staatsoper debut in her acclaimed turn as “Carmen.” Ahkmetshina also performed with the English National Opera in a production of “7 Deaths of Maria Callas.” To top off a year full of important debuts, the mezzo graced the cover of Opera Magazine and won the Female Artist of the Year at the International Opera Awards. She will also close out the year headlining the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious New Year’s Eve production of “Carmen,” which will further solidify her status as a star in the opera world.

You can read more bout the mezzo in our interview here.

Piotr Beczala

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala needs no introduction. He is one of the greats singing today and he only gets better. This year he showed why he is the Lohengrin of our time. He performed the role in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera followed by performances at the Wiener Staatsoper and the Paris Opera. Each performance brought new facets to his interpretation and OperaWire noted, “His voice was pure and truly captivating. His eyes radiated hope and sparkled.” His interpretation was also recorded in HD for the third time, this time at the Met.

There were also two role debuts and an important house debut. First Beczala rang in New Year as Loris in “Fedora” in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera and then he sang his first Calaf in “Turandot” at the Opernhaus Zurich. Both roles brought him into more dramatic territory and in “Turandot” “his strong voice gave us a flawless ‘Nessun Dorma’.” In the summer Beczala returned to the Italian stage after an absence of 10 years. He made his debut at the Arena di Verona in both “Rigoletto” and “Carmen,” charming audiences.

The tenor also participated in Renée Fleming’s Paris film and released two albums. The first was a new album via Pentatone which included music by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and the second was Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” for Sony Classical. He was also nominated for the Opera Award’s Opera Readers’ Award.

At the end of the year, Beczala brought “Halka” to the Teatro Real and is set to ring in the New Year at the Met in a new production of “Carmen” as Don José, one of his signature roles.

Lawrence Brownlee

The American tenor has been a role model this year performing throughout the world and singing some of the iconic repertoire. But there is one project that marked his 2023 and showcased the bel canto singer in a different facet of his career. That was “RISING.” With the project, Brownlee commissioned African-American composers to create a new set of songs based on the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. That project saw him tour Boston, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Ithaca, and Indiana. And in the summer the tenor released an album of the project on Warner Classics which then was nominated for the Grammy Award.

Brownlee also had some major successes in the opera house in productions of “La Sonnambula” in Madrid, and “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Royal Opera House and the Wiener Staatsoper. He got to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Opera, record “I Puritani,” performed Rossini’s rare “Ermione” and performed with Michael Spyres and Levy Sekgapane.

But perhaps two productions that stood out were his “Die Zauberflöte” at the Metropolitan Opera and “La Fille du Régiment” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Zauberflöte” marked Brownlee’s first Mozart opera at the Met and OperaWire noted the tenor was magnetic in arguably the best Met production in years. Then at the end of the year, Brownlee made history singing the first encore at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in decades with his famed aria “Ah Mes amis!” and scored some of his best reviews of the year.

You can read about the tenor in this recent interview here.

Joshua Guerrero

The end of the year has seen Joshua Guerrero shine in three verismo productions. First, there was a new production of “Il Tabarro” at the Wiener Staatsoper in which displayed impeccable lyricism as Luigi, and then there were two surprise performances of “Manon Lescaut” alongside Anna Netrebko. As Des Grieux, critics raved about the tenor noting, “His robust and virile tenor brings intensity and passion to the interpretation of the character, standing out in the most emotional moments of the work.” 

And then there was the opening night of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where he starred as Faust in a new production of “Mefistofele.” It also marked his debut at the opera house. For his interpretation, he was lauded by critics noting “Guerrero plays a convincing character on an acting level and is appreciated, musically, in the third act, as well as in the majestic finale, in passages that require considerable vocal control and suddenly rise to the highest pitch.” All three productions were streamed and were seen worldwide. 

The tenor also saw a return to the Santa Fe Opera to headline a new production of “Tosca” and made major debuts at the Bayerische Staatsoper in a revival of “Manon Lescaut,” and the Paris Opera in “La Bohème.” He also has the release of his acclaimed interpretation of Cavaradossi on DVD in the Dutch National Opera’s “Tosca.”

Leah Hawkins

It was in many ways a breakout year for the American soprano Leah Hawkins. She opened the year with her role debut as Tosca at Opera Memphis, a role she called one of her dreams.

Hawkins was then able to repeat the role in a way she least expected. The American soprano opened and debuted at the Santa Fe Opera in the company’s “Tosca.” While she was set to perform in the production, Hawkins unexpectedly performed every show filling in for a colleague and garnered rave reviews with critics stating she was “riveting” and “Her show-stopping “Vissi d’arte” was a moment to savor.”

It was also a banner year for her at the Met Opera where audiences got a chance to see her in three very different roles and where she solidified her position as one of the leading sopranos at the theater. First, she sang the role of Musetta in more performances than she was originally scheduled and then she got to show her Verdi skills in the Requiem. Finally, she got to headline “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” and was even featured in her first HD performance with the opera house. For her performances of Anthony Davis’ opera, OperaWire noted, “Hawkins, as both Louise and Betty, shone with her voice laden with sorrow and a yearning for change.”

The year also saw Hawkins perform her Marian Anderson Recital at the Kennedy Center and concerts with the LA Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among others.

In 2024 international audiences will get to see Hawkins as she takes her Puccini interpretations to the Dutch National Opera in “Il Tabarro.”

Lucia Lucas

In 2019, Lucia Lucas made history becoming the first Trans singer to perform a leading role in America at the Tulsa Opera. She would later become the first Trans baritone to appear with the English National Opera and she even made her Metropolitan Opera. Fast forward to 2023 and Lucas continues to break glass ceilings.

This year in October the baritone made history by world premiering “Lili Elbe,” the first grand opera written about a historical person of trans experience for a singer of trans experience. The work, which was performed at the Theater St. Gallen was later streamed worldwide on OperaVision, received rave reviews stating that it was “An emotionally charged masterpiece” and “Lucas not only makes Lili’s fate her own but allows her own fate to shine through.”

Lucas also made her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut performing in the world premiere of “Proximity” and became the first transgender star to take a leading role on the Lyric stage. She also headlined “The World’s Wife” at the Barbican Centre to great acclaim with critics noting she had great authority.” Lucas is set to bring the work to the Netherlands in 2024.

And then there was the Metropolitan Opera, where Lucas was featured in a production of “Fedora” and was seen in the company’s Live in HD series for the first time.

You can watch “Lili Elbe” here.

Ermonela Jaho

It’s hard to describe Ermonela Jaho’s commitment to every role she brings to the stage. There is intensity and so much truth that one feels everything her characters are going through.

This year the soprano was recognized by the International Classical Music Award for Artist of the Year for the “unique beauty of her glorious, securely led and magnificently shimmering voice.” There was also the critically acclaimed release of the “Turandot” recording which was nominated for the Gramophone Award and listed as one of the best recordings of 2023 by many critics. Jaho was also nominated for the Opera Awards for Best Female Singer of the Year.

But none of these awards are possible without her staged performances. Jaho opened 2023 with her return to the Metropolitan Opera for a historic “La Traviata” that was arguably one of the greatest performances of the work at the company in many years. OperaWire noted, “Ermonela Jaho Bares Her Soul in Mesmerizing Turn” and added she was “magnetic.” These performances marked the first time she had performed the role since 2020.

Then there were performances of “Adriana Lecouvreur” in Australia and a return to the Royal Opera House in “Turandot.” Jaho also performed at the Bayerische Staatsoper in an acclaimed “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and toured Japan with her acclaimed Traviata with the Teatro Massimo di Palermo.

Her 2023-24 season opened with a new production of “La Rondine.” That production was acclaimed and her interpretation as Magda garnered raves. Critics noted, ” Ermonela Jaho gave a visceral, emotionally scarring interpretation of Magda. Her ability of completely inhabiting a character left many in tears in the audience. Her supple, full soprano gave depth to Magda, her ravishing pianissimi and filati providing nuance to her emotions. It was an extraordinary performance.”

Audiences around the world were also able to see Jaho in a revival production of “Turandot” at the Paris Opera when the company streamed her acclaimed interpretation. The year also saw the soprano celebrate Maria Callas and participate in the July 14 Paris concert seen around the world.

Quinn Kelsey

Baritone Quinn Kelsey has cemented himself as one the best Verdi baritones of his generation. This year he made three major Verdi role debuts. First he returned to the Canadian Opera Company for his role debut as the towering Macbeth and received great reviews with critics stating that he is “a good fit for this role. His luscious voice commanded the stage, and his transformation from a hesitant accomplice tormented by guilt to a determined, blood-thirsty murderer was convincing.”

Then came his role debut as Simon Boccanegra at the Opera Philadelphia and  Renato in “Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Metropolitan Opera. The performances in Philadelphia turned out to be historical where they raved and said, “He was in complete command of the stage here, fully inhabiting Boccanegra’s many facets, from loving father to voluble autocrat to rueful old man.” And then as Renato, he gave “another layered portrayal” singing  “’Eri tu che macchiavi quell’anima’ with impressive force and anger as well as pain and torment.”

Kelsey also brought his famed Rigoletto to Spain for the first time to the Teatro Real and his interpretation was released on Apple from the Met. There were also performances in Carnegie Hall and a run of “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera.

2024 has more in store for the baritone as he debuts another Verdi role in “I Vespri Siciliani” and a Bel Canto role in “Beatrice di Tenda.”

Ailyn Pérez

Ailyn Pérez has had a year filled with firsts as she continued to expand her repertoire and demonstrate why she is one of the great sopranos of her generation.

She made history at the Metropolitan Opera by headlining the first Latin American opera (“Florencia en el Amazonas”) ever presented at the company and only the third Spanish-Language opera performed in the New York house. It also marked her first new production with the opera house and her first Spanish Opera. With the company, Pérez also sang her first two HD performances in “Falstaff” and “Florencia en el Amazonas.”

The year also saw her role debuts as Blanche in “Dialogues des Carmélites” at the Met, Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly” and her highly anticipated debut as “Rusalka” at the Santa Fe Opera. With four role debuts, Pérez soared and showcased the varying colors of her vocal powers. Critics described Pérez as a “force of nature” in Rusalka, “Potent” as Blanche, and “lustrous, full and elegant” as Florencia.

These extraordinary role debuts were also filled with returns to some of her most acclaimed interpretations. There was a return to the Paris Opera in “La Bohème” and performances of Desdemona at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

Pérez also celebrated the San Francisco Opera’s centennial and was a guest performer at the Kennedy Center Honors. She was also a Grammy nominee for her Metropolitan Opera Requiem recording and her opening night performance of “Don Carlo” was released on streaming platforms in Italy.

You can read about the transformative year for the soprano in this recent interview here.

Jonathan Tetelman

Jonathan Tetelman has become one of the most sought-after names in opera and this year he made four important debuts. His first came in April at the Houston Grand Opera in his signature Cavaradossi in “Tosca.” Then came his Salzburg Festival debut as Macduff in “Macbeth.” His performance garnered raves with some saying he was the “Showstopper” and OperaWire noting he was the “Brightest” star on the stage. And audiences around the world were able to see this breakout performance as it was streamed and broadcast worldwide. And then there was “Werther” in Baden-Baden. These performances garnered incredible ovations with critics noting he has a “stupendous legato and mezza voce technique” and he created an emotional portrayal of the tragic figure. Finally, he made his debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper in “La Bohème.”

In September the tenor released his second album on Deutsche Grammophon which climbed to number one on Germany’s Classical Music Charts. The album “The Great Puccini” showcased Tetelman in a variety of Puccini roles, some that he has performed already and others that gave us a glimpse into what is to come in the future.

The tenor also received the Opus Klassik Award for his first album “Arias” as well as the prize for Best Solo Album at the Oper! Awards. There was also a release of “Tosca” from the Theater an der Wien with Kristine Opolais.

Other important dates in 2023 were his participation in Eva Marton’s 80th birthday gala, a sold-out “La Bohème” in Theater Dortmund, an Advent concert, his role debut as Luigi in “Il Tabarro,” and a new production of “Fedora” in Malaga.

2024 has another important date for Tetelman –  his Metropolitan Opera debut which is highly anticipated for all opera lovers.

Elza van den Heever

A New Wagnerian arrived this year in the South African soprano Elza Van den Heever. While she had already performed the role of Elsa, the soprano had yet to sing some of the composer’s more dramatic parts. That changed this year when she sang her first Senta in “Der Fliegende Holländer” at the Metropolitan Opera and later at the Santa Fe Opera.

And then the Met would bring her first Elizabeth in “Tannhäuser.” With these two roles, she showed her “tonal amplitude,” “delicacy,” and “sublime” voice. And there was no doubt that a Wagnerian was born.

Outside of those two landmark roles, the soprano performed in productions of “Die Frau ohne Schatten” in Baden-Baden and at the Wiener Staatsoper as well as in concert performances in Philadelphia, Paris, and Strasbourg.

This year she was also honored with the title of Chevalier by France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her contributions to the arts. She joined such artists as Tim Burton, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Glass. And she was the last soprano to grace the cover of Opera News magazine.


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