Dolora Zajic – Are you going to tell me that anybody sang this aria better than this in years gone by?

In case you missed it, the title of today’s post is a joke. But it is a joke with a point, because just when you think you have heard the dumbest thing ever said about opera, somebody seems to come along to top it.

But of all the dumb things ever said about opera, this is surely one of the dumbest . . .

“All the great voices . . . where have they gone?”

I have heard this idiotic opinion many times over the years. I think the first time was about 40 years ago (gulp, I must be old) when I was occupying a standing-room place in Family Circle at the Metropolitan Opera. It was at a performance of Trovatorewith a cast that included Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and (if I am not mistaken) Martina Arroyo. Some bozo standing near me turned to another attendee and said something like, “I heard Robert Merrill and Jan Peerce and Zinka Milanov, and these kids on stage couldn’t hold a candle to them . . . where have all the great voices gone?”
Today, I bet I could climb up to the Family Circle and hear that bozo’s grandson saying “I heard Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes and Martina Arroyo, and these kids on stage couldn’t hold a candle to them. . .”

It is an idiotic opinion that won’t go away.

Great Singers Who Have Performed In the Past
Now, I have heard some wonderful singers in the past. These are some that come to mind first . . .

·       Sopranos: Lucine Amara, Montserrat Caballé, Ileana Cotrubas, Regine Crespin, Phyllis Curtin, Birgit Nilsson, Leontine Price, Joan Sutherland, Leonie Rysanek
·       Mezzos, altos and contraltos: Lili Chookasian, Rosalind Elias, Marilyn Horne, Elena Obraztsova, Astrid Varnay
·       Tenors:Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Nicolai Gedda, Richard Tucker, Jon Vickers, James McCracken, Gianni Raimondi
·       Baritones:Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Cornell MacNeil, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes, Hermann Prey, William Warfield
·       Basses:Bonaldo Giaiotti, Martti Talvela, Giorgio Tozzi,  Joseph Rouleau, Cesare Siepi

And Equally Great Singers Today

·       Sopranos: Danielle de Niese, Lauren Flanigan, Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Angela Meade, Anna Netrebko
·       Mezzos, altos and contraltos: Olga Borodina, Joyce DiDonato, Dolora Zajic
·       Tenors: Lawrence Brownlee, Javier Camarena, Juan Diego Florez, Jonas Kauffman
·       Baritones:Placido Domingo, Matthias Goerne, Zeljko Lucic, Luca Pisaroni, Bryn Terfil
·       Basses: Kurt Moll, James Morris, René Pape

Aha! You Got Me!
I know how argumentative opera fans are, and how snarky they like to be when they write comments online. And I just know that one such person is going to read today’s post and make a comment like, “Well, if today’s singers are as good as yesterday’s why do you list MORE old singers than singers who are currently active?”
Simple answer – I had the last 40 years to listen to the singers of yesterday, and only a portion of that to listen to the singers of today. So the list of historical singers simply has to be longer.

And another thing. Whenever in history have there been three stellar tenors who are capable of singing bel canto repertoire in the phenomenally beautiful and stylish way that they do? I am referring to Lawrence Brownlee, Javier Camarena and Juan Diego Florez. Back when I started listening to opera we had Luigi Alva, a very good lyric tenor, and not too many others.  Thoughts like that make me thing that instead of looking back, we should look forward. Things seem to be getting better.