Best Opera Singers Of All Time


A truly prolific talent who's earned the coveted EGOT — an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony — Barbra Streisand's distinctive voice has been a fixture of American music since the. This list features comparison of the best opera singers in the world's history, ranked by the community. Some of the great opera singers on this list include. After making a list of the best operas, I found myself curious about the best opera singers, so I collected over 25 lists and compiled them into one meta-list of singers from the recorded era. The list below includes every singer on three or more of the original source lists, arranged by rank, with the most-listed singer on top. And it’s all subjective, isn’t it? Nevertheless, Limelight is asking readers to vote for their favourite singer, living or dead. Once you’ve voted, we will combine the popular poll with the views of a panel of singers and critics from Australia and overseas to help us come up with a list of the greatest opera singers of all time. This aria from Bellini’s opera Norma was the signature tune of the most famous, most adored opera star of all time - Maria Callas (or ‘La Divina’ to her millions of fans). It’s probably the best example of a ‘bel canto’ aria – a particular type of singing which demonstrates the amazing range of a soprano, and her ability to dazzle.


Written and compiled by Rudivan den Bulck

It’s a factthat quite a fewcollectors of vocalrecordings –especially tenor freaks- also collect records of synagogue singers.Especially those belonging to the 78rpm era. Yet the world of the Ashkenaziccantoriate (chazzanuth/chazzunes) isnot that easy accessible to the non-Jewish vocal buff for all obvious reasonsbe them religious, language-relatedorstyle and moreover not all cantorial singing as performed in the synagogue issuitable for recording. Yet there are several similarities between thecantorial world and the world of operatic tenor singing. Number one is sadlyenough the same trend in vocal decline.Whereasthe sixties and even the seventies stillboasted a decent amount of tenors the decline in the operatic world is strikingespecially in the heavier tenor parts. For victims of nostalgia as we are thevast amount of great tenors belonged to the past and this decline is likewiseand strikingly apparent in the cantorial world. This lack of great vocal talentis due to several reasons mostly of socio-economical and cultural origin but itwould take us too far to go deeper into this matter important and revealingthough as it may be……

A world gone with the wind............

Pinchas BraunZeidelRovner with boy cantorChaimHerstik

Since themid-seventies -and especially in the US-the female voice entered the cantoriate as well. The 78 rpm era had suchoddities as Sophie Kurtzer or Shayndele but they recorded only and never officiatedin the synagogue as it was and still is unacceptable to orthodox Jewry. The newgender found its way to the liberal and conservative synagogues only.Several of them even recorded with varyingresults and they are often singers who couldn’t make it into the world of operaor the concertstage.

(Sheindele)(Lin Monty)


There have been several cantors who startedout as successful operaand concertsingers or vice versa. Joseph Schmidt, Richard Tucker and Jan Peerce are probablythe most well-known. But there were others. After ending his operatic career Hermann Jadlowker became an Oberkantor in his hometown of Riga. As a youngster he had been trained (together with baritone Joseph Schwarz) in Riga by Boruch Leib Rosowsky. Famous Italian tenor Vasco Campagnano of Cetra fame even made a cantorial record (one of those great rarities) in Milan under the guidance of the legendary La Scala chorus director Vittorio Veneziani, both by the way survivors.Claudio di Segni an Italian tenor of immense talent who never really made it big often sang at the Rome synagogue. Herman Malamood of New York City opera fame also served as a cantor and so did baritone Andrew Foldi.Moshe Rudinow after having sung at the Palestine opera became appointed as a cantor in the States. Robert Paul Abelson another New York City stalwart still serves as a cantor in New York and present day French bass-baritone Laurent Naouri occasionally sings in a smaller Parisian shul.Tenor David Garen a survivor of Theresienstadt became a cantor too and Paolo Gorin –long time baritone of the Israeli opera - served for many years at the Amsterdam liberal synagogue. Seymour Schwartzman and Norman Atkins also come to mind and every lover of Yiddish song is familiar with the great talents of Mischa Alexandrovich, Sidor Belarsky and Louis Danto. Rumanian tenor Nico Feldman ended up as a cantor in the USA as well and so did Roman Cycowski of ‘Comedian Harmonists’ fame. Vittorio Weinberg a baritone of the 78rpm era served in cantorial posts in the States and Israel and South African baritone Louis Berkman became a cantor in London.

Joseph SchmidtRichard TuckerVittorio Weinberg

Jan Peerce and Moshe Koussevitsky

Who then are the cantors an operatic vocalbuff may turn to if he wished to broaden his horizon of beautiful andimpressive singing? Before heading off for a sort of top ten list let’s firstmake it clear that this selectionisprimarilybased on vocal quality (andthus a portion of ‘de gustibus’ was not to be avoided) and not on standards of‘religious impact or fervour’


1.GERSHON SIROTA (1874-1943) : he was one of the most accomplished cantorsof all times . Sirota had a gorgeous dramatic tenor voice and “his octave leaps, perfectthree-note runs up the scale, fabulous trills, facile coloratura are unrivalledby any other recording cantor” (Arthur E. Knight) . Sirota must have made morerecords than any other cantor . He made his first records in the same year asdid Caruso and he was one of the first cantors ever to make recordings. Sirotaand his family perished in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. A memorial monument waserected to Sirota in the Gensher cemetery of Warsaw in 1961.

2.SELMAR CERINI (1861-1923): Cantor Steifman aka Selmar Cerini was a dramatic tenor who left asuccessful operatic career in Breslau (singing roles such as Raoul, Eléazar,Manrico…) for the synagogue andbecame Oberkantorin the same city. Cerini recorded more than 70 recordings for several recordcompanies mainly cantorial but also some operatic arias and songs.

3.MOISHE OYSHER(1907-1958) appeared in severalYiddishfilms and made numerousrecordings. I’d call him a cantor-robusto. Possessor of a baritonal medium withtrumpet like and vibrant top notes. His is a flexible voice scarce in the useof head voice but one gets lots of schwung instead. Get the earlier recordingsthough. Oysher also featured in several films, some of them available on theDVD medium. His sister Fraydele and her daughter Marilyn were also singers.

Great Male Opera Singers

4.JOSEFROSENBLATT (1882-1933) The Carusoof the pulprit and without doubt one of the most dominating figures in matterscantorial doesn’t need any introduction. Rosenblatt was awell-schooled musician , possessor of aperfect trill and a divine falsetto. Thevoice was a phenomenal instrument with a tremendous range yet it also had itslimits and was not on the same par of a few of his contemporaries orsuccessors. His impact though will be forever enshrined in Jewish musicalhistory. Rosenblatt often met with the greatest opera stars of his time: EnricoCaruso, Rosa Raisa, Titta Ruffo, Tetrazzini, Melba and Schipa to name but afew. His son Henry was a cantor too and recorded an LP with music of hislegendary father.

5.Moshe KOUSSEVITSKY (1899-1966) : arguably the most distinguished cantor andconcert singer of his generation.Hepossessed a beautiful lyric tenor voice, brilliant in tone and of an unusalquality, flexible in emotional wamth yet tempered by the dignity and simplicityrequired by his religious music. His three brothers Jacob, Simcha and Davidwere all talented chazzanim as well and they all made recordings. The Symposiumlabel (UK) issued a wonderful CD selection of the four brothers.

6.DAVID ROITMAN(1884-1943)

A bel canto master with highly developedcoloratura, beautiful fil di voce and improvisational gifts. It was said he wasable to sing the liturgy with the clarity of a spoken sentence.

7.BERELE CHAGY (1892-1954) very sweet and pleasant lyrical tenor voice capable of impressivecoloratura. He was born in Latvia and emigrated to the States in 1921 where hedied of a heart attack in 1954.

8.MORDECHAI HERSCHMAN (1888-1940) : possessor of a beautiful, sweet tenor voiceof great warmth but also some Martinelli-like fire when required.Not only was he a master-cantor he was alsofamous for his great talent to sing Jewish folk music. (seeconcert bill in the gallery) Hershman was among those who chantedprayers at Rosenblatt’s funeral.

9.SHLOMO HARTENBERG : A mystery cantor if there ever was one and who recorded some 78 rpm’sin pre-war Germany. Biographical data are impossible to come by. A pity as theman was the possessor of a simply unique voice. Similar to Schmidt’s in timbrebut more robust. If you want to be surprised go to thesoundbites section and enjoy a probably fascinating discovery.

10.PIERRE PINCHIK (Pinchas Segal) (1900-1971) :He wasborn in the Ukraine and died in New York. Pinchik is another sweet lyricaltenor as can be judged from the soundbites section.

Ofcourse there were many others, all of them magical singers.Recordings with these great voices willalways give a permanent pleasure :Hungarian Joshua WEIDER, Jerusalem born Zvi HALPERN, Ben ZionMILLER’searliest recordings show a mostgifted tenor voice in the great tradition, Antwerp-cantor Benjamin MULLER hasthe greatest cantor voice I’veeverheard live.

LeibGLANTZ born in Kiev belongs to the great tradition of pre-war cantors and soare Moses MIRSKY and Ben-Zion KAPOV-KAGAN.Evelyn Lear’s grandfather Zevulin KWARTIN is another monument incantorial singing. Salomo PINKASOVITCH who graduated from the Odessaconservatory even recorded ‘Vesti la Giubba’ but the operatic world wasdeprived from his vocal talent, a solo CD was issued by Pearl and would make anice addition to your record library.Rumanian born (are we surprised?) Shalom KATZ was a strong contender forthe top ten if only for his recording of ‘El moleh Rachamim” one of thegreatest cantorial recordings of all times. The recording was used to greateffect in De Sica’s magnum opus ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Contini’s”.Joseph SHLISKY was anotherone of those talented tenor-cantors tornbetween an operaticand a cantorialcareer, no wonder if you listen to his rendition of Eléazar’s lament in the soundbitessection.The best way to getacquainted with these golden vocal cords is to buy one of the many cantorcompilations.


Areaninteresting way to get acquainted with some of these legendary voices. Awarning though as not all compilations are of the highest quality. Severalduplicates abound. The Pearl and the Symposium labels are quite reliable inquality and offer a good overall selection of the greatest recordings in thecantorial field. Often their booklets written by some real experts asElie Delieb are great assets too. But thereare other interesting releases by other firms as well such as the releases bythe Beth Hatefutsoth museum in Tel Aviv (they’re on-line) one of them ‘Themusical tradition of the Jewish reform congregation in Berlin’ features rarerecordings of Joseph Schmidt, Hermann Schey, Paula Lindberg and FredericLechner amongst others.

Best Opera Singers Of All Time Female


Have always been hard to find especially todayand a definitive work on these great masters still has to be written. There wasof course the above mentioned biography on Rosenblatt written by his sonSamuel. Cantor Samuel Vigoda sadly never lived long enough to complete andpublish his second volume on ‘Legendary cantors’ (NY 1981). Still available Isuppose is the book on Moshe Koussevitsky by cantor-authorityAkiva Zimmerman (Tel Aviv 1999) mainly inHebrew but with a sufficient English section and

loads of rare and interesting photographs.

Books with cantorial music and transcriptionsfrom the great masters were/are available either from regular bookshops,second-hand bookshops or ebay.MarkSlobin a professor of music wrote an interesting book on the story of theAmerican cantorate. (Illinois 1989).


Greatest Male Opera Singers

At long last the most famous cantors of the Golden Agecan now also be seen on DVD. This collection, comprised of the videodocumentaries GREAT CANTORS OF THE GOLDENAGE and GREAT CANTORS IN FILM along with 7 newly digitally restored cantorials, includes some of the onlyknown visual and sound recordings of the most famous cantors from the 1930s tothe 1950s. It is produced by cantor Murray Simon and these releases stand as atribute to those cantors’ legendary artistry and all who cherish liturgicalmusic. The DVD’s are released by the National center for Jewish film. Please gotowww.jewishfilm.orgfor moredetails and info.

The Best Opera Singers Of All Time

For morebiographical material and soundbites go to