Which opera do opera singers think is the greatest

September 7, 2017 by norman lebrecht


According to ‘172 of the world’s leading opera singers’ polled by BBC Music magazine, the all time greats are:

1 Marriage of Figaro

2 La Boheme

3 Rosenkavalier

4 Wozzeck

5 Peter Grimes.

Well, the sample is rather small and anyway, professional singers stand too close to the flame to judge the heat.

A list of greats in which Verdi and Wagner figure first at 9 and 10 cannot be representative.


Comments (24)

  1. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Too true. The list probably represents ‘Operas I like singing most’.

    1. Fionn MacCumhaill says:

      You surely have heard “My Lovely Horse” then, lyrics by Ted Crilly, music by Dougal Maguire. Now that is real singing.

      1. Sue says:

        A masterpiece!! Nobody has mentioned baroque operas, my personal favourites by a long way.

    2. Tosca was # 6. Tristan und Isolde, an opera that changed music forever is not in that ranking. So, is this serious?

  2. Ungeheuer says:

    Wozzeck #4? Pitiful. I’d like to see the 172 names.

    1. Mike Schachter says:

      But it is very politically correct, socially aware etc. Whether anyone would like to listen to it is of course beside the point. Personally I wouldn’t mind every 20 years or so

      1. Bruce says:

        “Politically correct, socially aware, etc.”???

        That’s just weird. Some people like Wozzeck & Lulu, but nobody has thought it was their duty to like (or say they like) 12-tone music for a good 30 years now.

  3. Meaux Feaux says:

    Yes, how dare their opinions be wrong. Quick, everybody, pile in and overreact. No time to explain..

  4. Alex Davies says:

    Only operas 1-5 are listed above and there is no link to the full poll. I have looked on the magazine website and cannot find anything there either. I’d be interested to know what operas are in positions 6-10, other than knowing that 9 and 10 are taken by Verdi and Wagner.

    It’s a fairly silly poll, really, because opera is so broad. It is an art form that has been around for 420 years and exists throughout, and beyond, the western world. Its subject matter has included the Judeo-Christian scriptures, classical mythology, ancient history, Shakespeare, Walter Scott, social commentary, philosophy, theology, folklore, history, politics, current affairs, comedy, and realistic, human stories of love, jealousy, and revenge. Surely nobody could really claim to be able to say whether Serse is a better opera than Moses und Aron, or whether Fidelio is better than the Ring Cycle, or Ariadne auf Naxos better than Billy Budd, The Merry Widow better than Jenůfa, and so on. It would be like asking whether Fra Angelico was a greater painter than Picasso, or Chaucer a greater poet than E.E. Cummings.

  5. JS says:

    All caveats here true for sure; still it’s gratifying to see the somewhat under-rated Peter Grimes get this recognition, however flawed the survey methodology may be….

  6. John Borstlap says:

    Such lists change every couple of years and every couple of singers. But it is encouraging to see Wozzeck and Grimes being mentioned at all. Amazing that Don GIovanni is not included in the top 5, together with Figaro it forms the absolute top. Not too difficult to evaluate.

  7. Bruce says:

    It would be interesting to see the full list of operas and also what criteria the singers were using.

  8. herrera says:

    How can there be 172 “leading” opera singers? There aren’t 172 “leading” opera singers in all of opera history, much less alive at any given time.

    Sure, sure, there are of course at least 173 opera singers in the world, and the 172nd opera singer would be by definition “leading” the 173rd one, but even so, of the “leading” 172, how many would you listen to or care about his or her opinion on anything?

    Might as well ask the world’s leading 172 conductors of their favorite symphony.

    1. Bruce says:

      So in other words, the poll is pointless and was voted on by a group of people who don’t even exist. Got it 😉

  9. John Daszak says:

    Oh! Nobody asked me…

    1. Ks. Christopher Robson says:

      .. Orme 🙁

  10. Douglas Nasrawi says:

    They stand too close to the flame to judge? They stand in the fucking fire! Unlike the critics.

      1. Ks. Christopher Robson says:

        + 2

  11. Kundry says:

    Wot, no Parsifal?

    1. John Borstlap says:

      No, because Parsifal is church music, not opera.

  12. Debussy admired Parsifal as ” one of the most beautiful edifices on sound ever raised to the glory of music”

  13. BBC polls are not serious. 172 leading singers? Verdi and Wagner almost out of the top 10?. greatest opera or favourite opera for singing?.

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