40 Under 40: The Next Generation of Great Opera Singers – Part Two

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 02:00 PM

Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano

Following last week's survey of gifted male singers under the age of 40 in the opera field comes this look at promising young divas.

Maria Agresta, soprano, captured attention in New York singing Rossini in the 2013 Mostly Mozart Festival. She was excellent in I Puritani at the Paris Opera in the same year and, in other performances (including Amelia in Simon Boccanegra under Riccardo Muti), brought a lovely voice, sensitivity to text, and a beguiling stage presence. With Agresta on the scene, it may be too soon to declare that the great line of Italian sopranos has come to an end.

Meredith Arwady, contralto, made a vivid impression as a Native American in Dr. Atomic at the Met and has since excelled as Erda and Mistress Quickly in Frankfurt.

Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano, winner of the super-prestigious Cardiff "Singer of the World" competition in 2013, is much in demand and is adding roles and song literature to meet it. A major artist is about to take wing.

Julia Bullock, soprano, is still at Juilliard. Based on her recent performance in Cendrillon and other appearances, she seems destined for a fine career.

Karen Cargill, mezzo from Scotland, has a round lustrous voice and compelling stage presence that serve her well in hard-to-cast operas by Wagner and Berlioz, as well as works of Beethoven and Verdi. She has just released an album of Lieder by Alma and Gustav Mahler.

Layla Claire, soprano, will be Donna Anna at Glyndebourne this summer, the Governess in Turn of the Screw in Zurich (November), Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Washington National Opera in February/March 2015 and Anne Truelove in The Rake’s Progress at the Met (May 2015).

Lucy Crowe, soprano, excelled as Sophie in a Munich Rosenkavalier and in a Met Clemenza di Tito as Servilia. She is a popular presence at London’s Royal Opera in her native Britain.

Sasha Cooke, mezzo, is one of my favorites among rising singers. When quite young, she stepped into the Met premiere of Dr. Atomic as Kitty Oppenheimer and more than held her own with Gerald Finley and Eric Owens. She was the title character of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s work at San Francisco Opera. Cooke is a superb recitalist and has the sovereign artistry of singers from another golden age, though she is in every way ideal for opera today.

Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano

Leah Crocetto, soprano, has a particularly warm sound that makes her a very appealing performer of Verdi characters such as Desdemona and Alice Ford and Liù in Puccini’s Turandot, a role I gather she will sing at the Met in the 2015-2016 season. She is also scheduled for Madame Lidoine in Carmelites in Washington during winter 2015.

Ellie Dehn, soprano, specializes in the girlfriend roles (and occasionally wronged women) by Mozart, Puccini, Gounod, Offenbach and others. The Minnesota-born singer also has good comic timing and is a frequent guest on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show.

Danielle de Niese, soprano, began as a teenager in the Met’s young artist program and made an early impression as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro, an opera in which she is now a clever Susanna. She has delighted audiences as Handel’s Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, Despina in Così fan tutte and, above all, her wonderful turn as Ariel in The Enchanted Island. She is also a favorite at Glyndebourne and theaters in Europe.

Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo. Collegial though she is, DeShong usually winds up stealing scenes due to a beautiful voice, great acting and musicianship. Her Met appearances have included The Enchanted Island, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Madama Butterfly. She also has a fascinating blog including many of her photos that evokes the pleasures and challenges of an opera singer’s itinerant life.

Oksana Dyka, soprano from the Ukraine, made a stunning Met debut this year as Yaroslavna in Prince Igor and returns next season as Aïda.

Tara Erraught, a young Irish mezzo, has received glowing notices for her singing in Munich, Glyndebourne, New York and elsewhere in Mozart, Rossini and Strauss. 

Elina Garanca, mezzo. Beauty, intelligence, charisma and musicality are but a few attributes of this Latvian singer who captured attention as Carmen at the Met but whom I loved just as much as Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito (I hope that video will be released). The birth of her second child in January meant she cancelled Octavian and Charlotte (Werther) at the Met. She would be wonderful as Massenet’s Cleopatre and a sensational Eboli in Don Carlo.

Elina Garanca (Gabo/DG)

Anita Hartig, soprano from Romania, sings with such soulfulness and earnestness that she reminds you that the opera characters we most love are the ones with genuine humanity.

Angela Meade, soprano, has had so many notable successes that it seems like she has been an established star for a decade. But she is still quite young and sings a carefully chosen repertory of Bellini, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini that were favorites of her idol Montserrat Caballé at the same age. Initially the cover for other artists, Meade often stepped in with little rehearsal and was a hit musically but had little time to prepare the role theatrically. But, in new productions such as Falstaff at the Met and William Tell in Turin, she has shown dramatic gifts as well.

Latonia Moore, soprano, had a blazing success as a last-minute Aïda at the Met a couple of seasons ago and returns in that role (December 26-January 10). I hope to hear her lush voice in other Verdi and Puccini roles.

Kristine Opolais, soprano, made news this season by stepping into a Met HD broadcast of La Bohéme the afternoon after singing Madama Butterfly. One of several talented Latvians rising in opera, she is the wife of the brilliant conductor Andris Nelsons, who now heads the Boston Symphony.

Lisette Oropesa, soprano, began at the Met in her early twenties and soon sang major roles such as Susanna and Gilda while still performing smaller parts. This experience gave her versatility but has kept her a bit under the radar with audiences who should know her better. This past season she shone as Nannetta in Falstaff and Sophie in Werther.

Ailyn Pérez, soprano, recently had a big success in London as Violetta opposite the Alfredo of her husband, Stephen Costello. She has established a major career in a repertory that combines favorite roles of Renée Fleming and Anna Netrebko and is popular with audiences.

Ailyn Pérez, soprano

Anita Rachvelishvili, mezzo from the Republic of Georgia, was a protegée of Daniel Barenboim at La Scala and had a precocious success as Carmen, but excels in other sultry roles as well, including Dulcinée in Don Quichotte. Don’t let her good looks distract you from real performing ability.

Marina Rebeka, soprano, is yet another beautiful, talented, well-trained Latvian with a great stage presence who can sing roles that require acting, emotion and superb musicianship.

Desirée Rancatore, soprano. The Sicilian coloratura has a notable following in Europe for bel canto roles, especially Gilda. She also performs in French and German and was Kostanze in an unconventional production of Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail from Hangar 7 of Salzburg’s Mozart airport that was telecast live all over the continent.

Elza van den Heever, soprano from South Africa, made a thrilling debut at the Met as Queen Elizabeth I opposite the Maria Stuarda of Joyce DiDonato, shaving her head for more dramatic effect. Had she not done that, it still would have been an amazing night. She sings a range of roles from Handel through Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner and Britten that require generous amounts of voice and emotion. I can’t wait for her Donna Anna next season at the Met.

Amber Wagner, soprano, must be asked all the time if she is related to the composer. To hear her one would think so from her glorious sound in his music, but she also impresses in Verdi (the Ballo Amelia), Strauss (Ariadne) and more.

Pretty Yende, soprano. It has often been remarked that the first name of this South African artist is truth in advertising, but I would add that she is also a talented and is a charismatic singer. She was trained in La Scala’s young artist program and had a huge success stepping in for a colleague in Le Comte Ory at the Met.

And remember, there are at least 200 fabulous singers over the age of 40 who have plenty of voice, talent, experience and a lot to offer. I just saw the superb 90-year old Franz Mazura in Elektra at La Scala and I am glad I did!

Pretty Yende, soprano


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Comments [47]

Stan from Basement

A bunch of nobodies should be on this list as well to make everyone happy.

Feb. 23 2017 05:25 PM

Must hear IDARA AGUINAGA - coloratura soprano and plays violin too.

IDARA AGUINAGA - The next Joan Sutherland! - Check out her NEW YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/c/kinnorclassics

Thank you for listening.

Nov. 09 2016 03:39 PM

I'm always happy to learn more names for me to search on Youtube to listen to.

Jul. 31 2016 10:54 PM
Dale B. from Mason, Ohio

Please excuse my ignorance as I am new to your station. I was just wondering if any of you have had the pleasure of coming across Amira Willighagen of the Netherlands. At 9 years old she won Hollands Got Talent and now 11 is becoming a very accomplished child soprano. He tender age and capabilities has reduced large crowds to tears her voice is so incredible. I would encourage everyone to take a look at this incredible young girl. Some great Youtube video's to be seen!

Feb. 14 2016 05:48 PM

American soprano Angel Blue should be on this list. Saw her debut at La Scala as Musetta in La Boheme and she is phenomenal.

Aug. 26 2015 06:41 PM
Voice_7 from USA

Idara Aguinaga - The next Joan Sutherland - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPETVNeD09ChIkEuvuJSZZg

Feb. 17 2015 12:40 PM

Oh no ! How in God's earth did Danielle deNiese make the list of promising young sopranos ?

Aug. 12 2014 11:01 AM
Eliza O'Doherty from NC

Mary-Jean O'Doherty is the 1st Prize Winner PARIS OPERA WARDS 2013. The jury composed of: Sherrill Milnes, Martina Arroyo and Daniel Lipton.

Jul. 02 2014 04:53 PM

Katie Bolding should be on here. She was at the Met and currently is in Germany. The best Opera singer I've ever heard.

Jul. 01 2014 11:24 AM
Madeline Sosnowski

A beautiful and talented young mezzo not mentioned on your list is Emily Righter. Check her web page. Opera is in good hands with young singers of this caliber on the horizon.

Jun. 29 2014 01:58 PM
Anita from St Pete., FL

Wait, have you heard mezzo soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller? The list definitely should be longer.

Jun. 20 2014 11:37 PM
EBG1985 from wisconsin

Emily Fons is extraordinary as are many of these singers! www.emilyfons.com to check her out!

Jun. 20 2014 11:37 PM
David Levine from Riverdale, NY

That is Wendy Bryn Harmer, not Garner. I hate smart phones anticipating (usually incorrectly) spelling of partially typed words.

Jun. 20 2014 06:56 PM
David Levine from Riverdale, NY

How about Wendy Bryn Garner and Sarah Coburn?

Jun. 20 2014 06:51 PM

I think you should include the superb Albina Shagimuratova to your list. She was a superb Lucia in Los Angeles this season.

Jun. 20 2014 03:23 PM
Sarah E from The Bronx

While I liked the write-up of the under 40 Opera singers, I could not help but notice only one Count tenor and Alto in the group. (And no, I do not count Mezzos, they are Soprano who high note is A rather than C two over middle C.) It would be nice on the range that not even a step-sister in the field of Opera. I know most Opera is written for upper range with Bass as the heavy, but give the Alto some play in the mix.
Thank You

Jun. 20 2014 02:34 PM
Brooklyn Mimi from Brooklyn

Michelle Johnson!!! Amazing Soprano, with great presence, and an impressive range.

Jun. 20 2014 11:37 AM
Anita James

Ronnita Nicole Miller mezzo soprano...what a voice.

Jun. 19 2014 11:07 PM
Anne Troy from NYC

Fred, you have some great choices here - thanks for keeping the faith in the new generation.

Jun. 19 2014 09:18 PM
Rosanna from NYC

What about Julianna Di Giacomo & Anna Smirnova? Please add them to your list.

Jun. 19 2014 02:04 AM
Fred Plotkin from New York

To Mark from Los Angeles: I hope your blood has been reduced to a simmer or even calmer. You have not carefully read my two articles, my comments or the headlines. Nowhere do I say these are the best 40 singers under 40. I say that people lament that there are no good singers any more and I want to present some singers (not ALL) who I think merit the attention of those who think there is no one worth purchasing a ticket to hear. Take a deep breath, read both stories thoroughly and then be so kind to name additional young singers you like whom I did not mention. The goal is to identify people who will be part of opera's future. Thanks, Fred

Jun. 19 2014 01:43 AM
Mark from Los Angeles

Lists like this make my blood boil. So this guy knows all of the potential members of TNG of Great Opera Singers?! I seriously doubt that. And if he does not, he should call his list, "Some of my personal favorite singers under 40."

Jun. 18 2014 03:00 PM
newton from Richmond, VA

Fred, I'm going to come out and thank you for putting this list up! Lots of familiar names on it. You also gave us several new ones we can look out for.

Invariably, people gripe at such lists (sometimes understandably so), but the obligatory postings of "oh this list is meaningless (because X is not on it)" or "how could you forget Y" are tiresome.

Hopefully, this is a prescient list and we see many of them in the coming years adding maturity to their already beautiful voices.

Jun. 18 2014 12:34 PM
Carol Zimmerman

Here is Part II of The Next Generation of Opera Singers, this time the women.

Jun. 18 2014 10:35 AM
Nyc82 from New York

These lists are ridiculous. They read like a "most popular" list out of a high school yearbook. This, along with your silly article on singing with dynamics are useless. Another "critic" or "expert" who has plenty to "contribute" but teaches us nothing....

Jun. 18 2014 04:38 AM
Fred Plotkin from New York

OK "Truth from LES" and also Duck Deadeye: As the latter points out, I have not listed all blondes. First of all, you might not know that a writer writes but an editor selects illustrations. In this case, there are five photos: two blondes, two brunette and a redhead. And I picked these singers of all shapes, sizes, races, nationalities because I admire their singing and, in almost every case, their voices. And to remind all readers: look at my comment from June 16. I only selected singers whom i have heard in full opera roles, not simply in recital, on recordings or on YouTube. And I was very specific that I am not naming the 40 BEST as there is no such thing. I am naming 40 singers under the age of 40 I think are doing excellent work and have something to say as artists. But, of course, there are many more and commenters have named some of them.

Jun. 18 2014 01:55 AM

@ Truth from LES

Yeah, I noticed that there were no coy, barefoot male photos. But as they say in the Fosse musical 'Chicago,' "That's showbiz!" And not all of the female photos were blondes.


Jun. 17 2014 10:01 PM
The Truth from LES

I am impressed with the variety of blondes in your spread: 1) Bubbly, American, leg-in-the-air blonde 2) Severe, glamorous S&M blonde 3) Cool, Nordic enigmatic blonde. Am I missing any categories?

Jun. 17 2014 08:04 PM
Laura H.

Like one other person here, surprised that Kate Lindsey was not on this list. Same with Isabel Leonard. Oh well, let a thousand flowers bloom, I guess.

Jun. 17 2014 03:59 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

I forgot to add Erin Morley, Brenda Rae, Amanda Majeski, and Kate Lindsey, brilliant singers and excellent stage presences.

Jun. 17 2014 01:33 PM
joanne bourland from PLEASANT HILL CA

Loved your list. But why didn't you include NADINE SIERRA?

Jun. 17 2014 12:49 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I am waiting for the release of LaClemenza as well. What gorgeous music in that one. Do not know why it is neglected. As for Ms.Garanca, my son calls her Opera Babe. Ms. Moore is a fine soprano and hope her career soars.
Thanks Fred.

Jun. 17 2014 12:46 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Where are the names of Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard, a Fiordiligi-Dorabella duo for the ages?

Jun. 17 2014 12:04 PM
EA Mastro from New Paltz, NY

What a great list. I too hope that La Clemenza di Tito will be released. Let's start a movement - especially since Garanca has said that will be her last performance of Sesto.

Jun. 17 2014 11:14 AM
Dasha Denisova from operabubbles.blogspot.ru from Russia

Nino Machaidze should be in this list!

Jun. 17 2014 11:04 AM
Genny from Napoli, Italia

Cool... but where is Marianna Pizzolato?

Jun. 17 2014 09:41 AM
Helen E Faith from Hackettstown NJ

You forgot to mention my granddaughter, Julia Moorman, just 25 and still studying in Hamburg Germany - an amazing voice.

Jun. 17 2014 06:08 AM
Jacky from UK

Good list, but could I add Olga Peretyatko, who sang Matilde di Shabran at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, with her husband, Michele Mariotti, conducting.

Jun. 17 2014 03:42 AM

Still no Becca Pedersen? Well I have to leave a comment to archive my prediction. She will be the next opera Diva!

Jun. 17 2014 01:55 AM
Fred Plotkin from New York

Readers: Thanks for your comments. I do want to make a couple of observations. This article, and the previous one with male singers, is not the 40 BEST opera singers. I would not make such a list. Rather, I am answering the specific complaint I hear nowadays of "There are not good singers nowadays" or "There are no good new singers. So I took the age of 40 as an arbitrary measure because many young singers come into their own in their 30s. And I picked 40 singers to emulate Fortune Magazine's "40 Under 40" in the financial world about younger people who are doing important work or blazing new paths. I am glad you are mentioning other singers--this proves my point that there are many good young artists. One of my criteria is that I would only select singers I have seen perform in roles. So, for example, Nadine Sierra (who I think is great) I have only heard in arias and songs. But I know from other people that she is wonderful in complete operas. I just have not had the pleasure. Same with Eglise Gutierrez. Leah Crocetto made my list because I have enjoyed her in recital and then had the pleasure of hearing her as Alice Ford in Frankfurt last winter and she was excellent. Secondly, I have tried to make this list more international. I have readers all over the world and there are great singers from all over the world. And to the reader who accuses me of ignoring singers of color, you really have the wrong guy if you think I am doing that. And you are not reading carefully and looking at the pictures. The male singer whose photo is most prominent is a person of color (to use the operative term of the moment) and there is a gorgeous South African woman who has her photo on the page of the female singers. And they are not the tokens....there are more if you read my two articles. I just did not name thing singers YOU like and that is because I have not heard them in a full opera performance. I wish I did not have to spell that out but I simply will not let a charge of racism or prejudice stand when my writing and public pronouncements are the complete opposite.

Jun. 16 2014 08:10 PM
Luckless Pedestrian

Some of these singers are sounding threadbare in roles they should have outgrown by now. This is a compilation of singers most people have heard of.

Jun. 16 2014 07:59 PM
Debbie from Denver

Kirsten Chambers, soprano
/her international career is just beginning!

Jun. 16 2014 07:54 PM
Sally from Boston

I think these are all obvious P.R. Driven names. Some are great some are just who gets hired. Also who cares about age? That boheme would have been better out the incredibly talented super famous "cover" who had been Mimi in that production had been allowed to go on.. Unfortunately after she was already in the dressing room getting ready gelb decided she is too old... Rubbish.

Jun. 16 2014 05:29 PM

what about Corinne Winters, Sarah Coburn and Rachele Gilmore? All wonderful sopranos having major international careers!

Jun. 16 2014 03:56 PM

Lots of great mentions. I would love to see more performances from Elza van den Heever and Anita Hartig.

Jun. 16 2014 03:34 PM
Edward DeWinnle

What about Janai Brugger, Michelle Johnson? A very WHITE list indeed!

Jun. 16 2014 03:19 PM
Terri from Boston

Excellent choices! I am surprised, however, that I don't see soprano Nadine Sierra mentioned. If she hasn't crossed your awareness yet, please pay attention. She sang an unbelievably beautiful Gilda in Boston in March, showing that she has the acting chops to match her lovely voice.

Jun. 16 2014 03:18 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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