Tuesday, October 2, 2012

10 FAVORITES (64): Divas and Divos!

Last week for my birthday, I got to do something I've always wanted to but never got the chance (be it for whatever reason: finances, time, interest, etc.!).  I got to attend my first live Opera.  Yes, I have seen Opera on Television or heard great Opera recordings. And I even have seen some Opera singers sing live at events or concerts.  But this was my first Opera live and in person.  And what a way to do it with the perfection of the San Francisco Opera at the gorgeous War Memorial Opera House (where I also saw my first ballet many a year ago!).  The production was of Giuseppe Verdi's classic Rigoletto and it was truly amazing.  No, I did not see any Opera "stars" like Bryn Terfel or Anna Netrebko.  The people in this production were Opera singers from other parts of the world (our title character was an Italian baritone and our leading female was a Russian coloratura, just to give you an idea!) and they were just as brilliant as those who have made names for themselves performing at the Metropolitan in New York or Covent Garden in London or the all-too-famous La Scala Opera House in Milan.  But now I've begun to think of the famed Opera singers of the past and how they inspired me to dream of one day seeing a live Opera.  There have been so many names that have over the hundreds of years Opera has existed that have become synonymous with the Art.  So, that is why I am devoting this week's 10 FAVORITES to:

Miss Piggy and Link Hogthrob on The Muppet Show "honoring" Opera

Dame Joan Sutherland
This Australian soprano was noted for her soaring high notes.  Nicknamed "La Stupenda," she became noted for her phenomenal breakthrough in Franco Zeffirelli's 1959 Covent Garden production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (recreated below for TV's Bell Television Hour).

Jose Carerras
The third of "The Three Tenors" was considered one of the most desirable males in Opera.  The Portuguese singer was a popular ticket especially when he played the swooning romantic leads like Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata or Puccini's Rudolfo in La Boheme (below).

Marilyn Horne
One of the most amazing mezzo-sopranos of the 20th Century, Marilyn Horne did it all and did it all quite well.  She did great Operas (she performed Bellini's Norma with the likes of Joan Sutherland or Monterrat Caballe), she worked in Film (most notably as the singing voice for Dorothy Dandridge in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones) and even Television (she did multiple PBS specials and appeared several times on Sesame Street!).

Enrico Caruso
Before WWII, this Italian tenor was the very definition of Opera.  His recordings were always big sellers making Opera popular with the masses.  It became "chic" to love Caruso.

Andrea Bocelli
Though he doesn't perform in Operas, this amazingly-voiced blind tenor has recorded some of the most famous Operas and those record sales have added to his classical pop recordings.  He mixes his lush Operatic sounds with a popular sound that makes audiences swoon and soar.

Leontyne Price
This groundbreaking soprano has more Grammy Awards than any other Opera star.  With her gorgeous voice, she made people look beyond the color of her skin and defy some of the prejudices people have when it comes to Opera (bringing a whole new audience to the art!).

Beverly Sills
Known in many circles as "Bubbles," this cherub-faced soprano showed the world you didn't have to be a temperamental diva to be a great Opera star.  Her personable style and fantastic sense of humor made her a pleasure on many talk and variety shows throughout her career, most notably on The Muppet Show!

Placido Domingo
This brilliant Spanish tenor is still active today (and is also the Creative Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company!).  With his full voice, he has performed some of the most famous roles all over the world.  To date, he has sung 140 different roles and intends to perform two more new ones come next year!  With his voice, every day is a "pleasant Sunday."

Maria Callas
She was known as "La Divina" and (too many of her critics) as "The Tigress."  For many, she was more famous for her social interactions (multiple marriages, a long-standing affair with Aristotle Onassis, etc.).  But it was her voice that I first heard (before I knew anything about her personal life!) and absolutely adored.  I felt it was one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard.  Just listen to her perform the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen (below).

Luciano Pavarotti
But more than Callas, this is the voice that brings me to tears (especially when he sings the "Nessun Dorma" from Verdi's Turandot!).  Out of the Three Tenors, Luciano was by far my favorite (though it was amazing to watch those three perform on the same stage!).  For me, Pavarotti is and always will be Opera.

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