Common wisdom holds that Italian opera singers are some of the best opera singers today. Certainly, the history of opera music begins in Italy, where some of the best operas have been composed. Traditionally, Italian opera composers have written music for the tenor voice and opera soprano singers.
Today, female opera singers and male opera singers of non-Italian heritage are able to establish a successful opera singing career. Below you will find a list of opera singers who were either born in Italy, or took voice lessons on how to sing opera in Italy or became famous opera singers because they performed the Italian opera repertoire.
Italian vacations and Italy tours often include a visit to a grand opera house where you can enjoy opera artists singing opera.
Read to Discover Famous Italian Singers
Italian Opera Singers
Italian opera singers perform in various parts of the world the opera arias we all love to hear.
- How Do You Define an Italian Opera Singer?
- A List of Male Italian Opera Singers Born in Italy*
- Who Were the Castrati in Italian Opera?
- Did the Great Italian Opera Tenors Replace the Castrati?
- Are All Italian Opera Singers Tenors? What About Low Notes?
- A List of Female Italian Opera Singers Born in Italy
- A List of Opera Singers Who Became “Italian” Opera Singers
- Where Are All the Italian Opera Singers Today?
How Do You Define an Italian Opera Singer?
Who Are Italian Opera Singers?
Who are Italian opera singers?
In the traditional definition, an Italian opera singer would be someone:
- born in Italy
- who speaks Italian as a native language, and,
- performs operas that have been written by Italian speaking composers, who were also born in Italy.
There is nothing wrong with this definition, except that there is everything wrong with this definition.
What about the Italian opera singer who is born outside the borders of the present-day political state known as the Italian Republic, but whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born within these geographical borders? In short, what about a person with Italian heritage? Can they be considered an Italian opera singer?
Or, what about someone who was born in present-day Italy, but who as a child spoke a language other than Italian because one (or both) of their parents chose to make Italy their home? Are they Italian opera singers even though they themselves have no blood ties to Italy? Can they be considered an Italian opera singer?
What about opera singers who have no Italian blood and were not born in Italy, but have become some of the best performers of the famous arias and classical tunes that make-up the Italian opera repertoire? Are they Italian opera singers?
Let’s look more closely at these and other Italian opera singers!
A List of Male Italian Opera Singers Born in Italy
List of Male Italian Opera Singers
A list of Italian male opera singers who were born on the territory of present-day Italy and became famous by performing the Italian opera repertoire:
- Farinelli (1705 – 1782)
- Gaspare Pacchierotti (1740 – 1821)
- Mattia Battistini (1856 – 1928)
- Alessandro Moreschi (1858 – 1922)
- Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921)
- Luciano Pavarotti (1935 – 2007)
- Francesco Malapena (1972 – )
Who Were the Castrati in Italian Opera?
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) in his A Complete Dictionary of Music, translated into English by William Waring and published in its 2nd edition in 1779 in London, provides the following definition of a castrato on page 56 (note the style of 18th century spelling and no, ƒophrano is not a typo or spelling mistake!):
A muƒician, who in his infancy had been deprived of the organs of generation, for the ƒake of preƒerving a ƒhrill voice, who ƒings that part called ƒophrano. However ƒmall the connection may appear between two ƒuch different organs, it is a certain fact that the mutilation of the one prevents and hinders in the other that change which is perceptible in mankind, near the advance of manhood, and which, on a ƒudden, lowers their voice an eighth.
Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (Farinelli) was born on January 24, 1705 in Andria, in the southern regions of present-day Italy which, at the time of his birth, were ruled by the House of Carafa, a Neapolitan family of landowners. Farinelli died on September 16, 1782 in Bologna which, at the time of his death, was part of the Papal States (754 – 1870), under the sovereign rule of the Roman Catholic Pope.
Gaspare Pacchierotti was born on May 21, 1740 in Fabriano, which at the time of his birth was part of the Papal States (754 – 1870) and under the sovereign rule of the Roman Catholic Pope. Panchierotti died on October 28, 1821 in Padua, which at the time was within the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia (1815 – 1866), part of the domain of the Hapsburgs, within the Austrian Empire (1804 – 1867).
Alessandro Moreschi was born on November 11, 1858 in Monte Compatri which today is part of the Metropolitan City of Rome and, at the time of his birth, was part of the Papal States (754 – 1870), under the sovereign rule of the Roman Catholic Pope. Moreschi was the last of the castrati to be employed by the Sistine Chapel Choir at the Vatican. He is also the only castrato that lived during a time when his voice could be recorded in a solo performance. Moreschi died on April 21, 1922 in Rome, which by then was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946).
Did the Great Italian Opera Tenors Replace the Castrati?
Italian Opera Tenors
An appreciation for the male high voice is characteristic of Italian opera.
Enrico Caruso was born on February 25, 1873 in Naples and died on August 2, 1921 in Naples, the city of his birth, where he is also buried. In Caruso’s lifetime, Naples was part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946).
Luciano Pavarotti was born on October 12, 1935 in Modena, which is located in the north-central region of Italy, which at the time of his birth was part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946). Pavarotti died on September 6, 2007 in the city of his birth – Modena. He is buried in the Pavarotti Family crypt in Castelnuovo Rangone, which is about 10km south of Modena, Italy in the present-day Italian Republic (1946 - ).
Francesco Malapena was born in 1972 in Naples, Italy.
Are All Italian Opera Singers Tenors? What About Low Notes?
Although composers of Italian opera tend to give the heroic roles to the tenor voice, there are Italian opera singers that perform in the lower register and sing low notes.
Mattia Battistini was born in Rome on February 27, 1856, which at the time was within the Papal States and came under the sovereign rule of the Roman Catholic Pope. Battistini spent his childhood at his family’s estate in Collebaccaro di Contigliano, near Rieti, a provincial capital of the Papal States. Battistini died at his family’s estate in Collebaccaro di Contigliano on November 7, 1928, which by then was part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946).
We are looking to expand the section on Italian opera singers that have sung the low notes required of a baritone or bass opera singer.
A List of Female Italian Opera Singers Born in Italy
List of Female Italian Opera Singers
A list of Italian female opera singers who were born on the territory of present-day Italy and became famous by performing the Italian opera repertoire:
Gemma Bellincioni was born on August 17, 1864 in Monza which, only a few years prior to her birth, had become part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946). Bellincioni died on April 23, 1950 in Naples, in the present-day Italian Republic (1946 - ) where she is buried.
Cecilia Bartoli was born on June 4, 1966 in Rome, Italy.
Monica Minarelli was born about 25km north of Bologna in the town of Pieve di Cento, Italy.
A List of Opera Singers Who Became “Italian” Opera Singers
List of Italian Opera Singers
A list of Italian opera singers born outside the geographical boundaries of the present-day Italian Republic who have either studied in Italy or have lived and performed in Italy, but more importantly, have become known for making the Italian opera repertoire famous:
- Alexander Filippi (1853 – 1922)
- Salomea Krusceniski (1872 – 1952)
- Maria Callas (1923 – 1977)
- Placido Domingo (1941 – )
Alexander Filippi was born on June 19, 1853 in the village of Novyj Vytkiv, Ukraine, which at the time of his birth was part of the Austrian Empire (1804 – 1867) and ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty. In 1881, Filippi traveled to study in Milan, then a part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946). Filippi was personally recognized by the Italian composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1856-1919) for his performance of Canio in the Italian opera Pagliacci. Filippi died on March 9, 1922 in Freiburg, then part of the Weimar Republic, just 8 months after the Treaty of Riga was signed on March 18, 1921 which brought his hometown under Polish rule and part of the Republic of Poland (1918 – 1939). Filippi is buried in his hometown of Novyj Vytkiv in present-day Ukraine.
Salomea Krusceniski was born on September 23, 1872 in the village of Biliavyntsi, Ukraine, which at the time of her birth was a constituent part of Tsysleitaniya (1867 – 1918) – German: Cisleithanien – within the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (1772 – 1918) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867 – 1918). In 1893, Krusceniski traveled to study in Milan, then a part of the Kingdom of Italy (1861 – 1946). Salomea Krusceniski was instrumental in ensuring that the Italian opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1851 – 1924) about a young Japanese girl and her American lover, became part of famous Italian repertoire. The opera premiered as a “fiasco” (a theatre slang term meaning ‘a disaster’) on February 17, 1904 and it wasn’t until Krusceniski, who was a personal friend of Puccini, agreed to perform the lead role of Cio-Cio-San in the revised version on May 28, 1904, that it became recognized as the masterpiece we know and love today. Krusceniski died on November 16, 1952 and was buried in Lviv, which at the time was part of the UkrainianSSR (1922 – 1991).
Maria Callas was born on December 2, 1923 in New York City, USA just after her parents had left the Kingdom of Greece (1832 – 1924), which at the time was ruled by King George II of Greece (1st reign: 1922 – 1924) and just prior to the proclamation of the Second Hellenic Republic (1924 – 1935). In 1937, after the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Greece (1935 – 1941) and the return of King George II as King of the Hellenes (2nd reign: 1935 – 1947), Callas’ mother decided to return to her home country, taking her daughter with her. Callas left Greece to return to the USA on September 14, 1945 – one month after V-J Day on August 14, 1945 and the end of World War II. Subsequently, Callas returned to Europe and made her Italian debut in La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 – 1886) at Arena di Verona on August 3, 1947 and settled in Italy. She went on to become one of the greatest performers of the bel canto style of Italian singing. Callas died on September 16, 1977 in Paris, France. Her ashes were scattered over the Aegean Sea.
Placido Domingo was born on January 21, 1941 in Madrid, Francoist Spain, also historically known as Nationalist Spain (1939 – 1978). As a child, Domingo moved to Mexico with his parents and later to the United States where he resides today.
As more and more opera singers learn the Italian language, study the history of Italian opera and perfect the qualities of Italian performance, the list of Italian opera singers will grow.
Where Are All the Italian Opera Singers Today?
Who Are Italian Opera Singers Today?
Where are all the Italian opera singers today, is a question that is asked frequently.
In answering the question, we need to focus on the emphasis. Is priority given to opera? If so, then the particular singer becomes one who performs Italian opera. Or, is more weight given to the singers who have an Italian blood heritage – born on the territory of Italy to Italian speaking parents singing Italian language opera? Then, no matter what type of opera they perform, the individuals become Italian singers.
Today, it is no longer feasible (or, even desirable) to provide a narrow definition of Italian opera singers. In today’s multicultural, multinational, cross-border world, we embrace all Italian opera singers regardless of their ethnic background, country of birth or citizenship as they perform the arias, tunes, songs… we love to hear and enjoy!
And so, the Italian opera singers of today might be born in Australia, raised in Germany, educated in the U.S. with additional training in Ukraine, singing opera in the Italian language. Hurray to all Italian opera singers!
Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych
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