Bilerico Report

The 10 greatest opera divas of all time

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When it comes to great opera, I am the supreme judge – by which I mean, of course, that like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when it comes to great opera, “I know it when I see it.” Or maybe I’m more like John Cleese’s clever reimagining of Pope Pius and I may not know much about opera, but I know what I like. In any case, I’m treating the erudite readers of the Bilerico Report to a suite of essays – mainly favorites lists, with lots of links – on opera. I begin with the ultimate touchstone of opera, and one of its campiest traditions, la diva.

Opera lovers have very strong opinions about divas, which makes a lot of sense because so many opera lovers are divas (especially the gay ones!). But we take our diva-ing very seriously, down to comparisons of careers or who most fleshes out a particular role (there tends to be a lot of flesh in opera), and even who owns which aria or sings which cadenzas the best. We love the golden-throated Amazon princesses of music, the Titanic voices and Olympic personalities. We are enthralled by their bombast and transported by their vulnerability. We simply cannot get enough of these girls!

Below, I furnish my top ten divas, along with accompanying recordings of each at her best! These ladies run the gamut in terms of repertoire, fach, and style: we have coloraturas and Wagnerians, household names and obscure geniuses. Having few criteria – technical excellence, interpretive beauty, and extant samples of their singing – made the selection of a mere ten quite a challenge, but I believe this list pretty accurately covers the greatest female opera singers in, ahem, recorded history.

Enjoy! And don’t be shy about sharing your top ten.

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