21 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Male Opera Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
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There are few things as stirring and powerful as opera. And when it comes to opera, male tenors, baritones, and basses are all essential to the mix, providing the heroic vocals that drive melodic action.

These remarkable artists possess not just voices, but the power to evoke profound feelings, to narrate stories through their timbre, and to transport listeners to realms both real and imagined.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 21 of the greatest and most famous male opera singers in history. Some of them are household names, while others are more unknown outside of the opera world. Let’s get started!

1. Luciano Pavarotti

One of the “Three Tenors,” Luciano Pavarotti is one of the most famous opera singers of all time. Born in Modena, Italy, in 1935, Pavarotti grew up around music with his father being an amateur singer.

His career kicked off in the early 1960s around national opera houses in Italy, with his first performance being Rodolfo in La Bohème. He then went on to make his international debut in La Traviata in Yugoslavia.

Over the next 40 years, Pavarotti had a prolific performing career, winning numerous awards, appearing on countless television shows and specials, and selling over 100 million records.

After a long career, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while on his international farewell tour. He died a year later at the age of 71.

2. Plácido Domingo

Possibly the most famous opera singer still alive today, José Plácido Domingo Embil was another one of the “Three Tenors,” alongside opera giants Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras. He is best known simply as Plácido Domingo.

Born in Spain in 1941, Domingo’s parents knew he would be a musician from a young age. He would regularly win singing contests as a child, and he went on to study piano in Mexico City, where his family moved at age 14.

It wasn’t until he turned 20 that he had his operatic debut where he played Alfredo in La Traviata. He then went on to great success with a prolific performing career, as well as recording over 100 complete operas!

His success wasn’t limited only to the operatic world but also to the Latin, pop, and country genres, where he’s sold millions of records.

3. José Carreras

There are some voices in the world of classical music that are instantly recognizable, José Carreras is one of those singers. Born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1946, Carreras first sang on an opera stage at the young age of 11.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that his career started to get going, and Carreras quickly rose to fame as an in-demand operatic tenor. In 1971, he landed his first major operatic in La Traviata, followed by a string of major house debuts in the succeeding years.

Along with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, Carreras was a member of the “Three Tenors” who performed extensively from 1990 to 2003. The three powerhouses of operatic singing recorded many albums together.

However, in 2009, Carreras officially announced his retirement from performing as an opera singer. He has since focused his efforts on his foundation following his leukemia recovery, the José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation.

4. Andrea Bocelli

Next on our list, we have operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli who was born in Italy in 1958. Bocelli is one of the most famous blind singers as he lost his sight at only 5 months old due to congenital glaucoma.

But his lack of vision hasn’t stopped him from achieving monumental success in the music world. He debuted in 1992 after signing alongside Pavarotti for Italian rock artist Zucchero’s “Miserere.” The song became a worldwide hit, catapulting Bocelli’s fame.

It was six years later that Bocelli made his first major operatic role. Like Pavarotti, he played the role of Rodolfo in La Bohème. His operatic work has since grown to include many works of classical, romantic, and verismo operas.

He has also made waves in the pop genre, with his duet of “The Prayer” earning numerous nominations and winning a Golden Globe Award. He is still active in both the operatic and pop music scene up to this day.

5. Enrico Caruso

Remembered as being one of the best tenors in opera history, Enrico Caruso was born in Naples, Italy, in 1873. His life started humbly, but that didn’t stop him from achieving great fame and success.

His operatic debut was at the age of 22 at a local theatre in Naples. However, it was his engagement with the Gramophone Company that kicked off his career.

These early recordings were a huge hit and resulted in him getting signed to a season performing at The Royal Opera House in London in 1902. The following year, Caruso snagged a spot at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Despite dying relatively young at age 48, Caruso had an extensive career and is generally considered to be one of the first media celebrities.

6. Giuseppe Di Stefano

Referred to as The Golden Voice, Italian tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano is cited by the iconic Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras as their inspiration.

As a teenager, he was voice-trained by Italian baritones Mariano Stabile and Luigi Montesanto. After a brief hiatus from singing when he served in the Italian army during World War II, he resumed his singing career with radio recordings.

He made his debut in the operatic scene in the late 1940s as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, as well as Alfredo in La Traviata. His talent reached the shores of New York, and he made his American debut in 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto.

He had an incredibly long operatic career and continued performing until 1992. Di Stefano tragically passed away at the ripe age of 86 after sustaining injuries following a robbery at his home.

7. Beniamino Gigli

Italian lyric tenor Beniamino Gigli grew up loving opera, but his parents discouraged him, seeing no career prospects in the field. Despite his parents’s disapproval, Gigli joined an international singing competition when he was in his early 20s and won.

His victory led to his operatic debut that same year in 1914, with the role of Enzo in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. This was followed by a series of major roles in the next years, particularly his roles as Rodolfo in La Bohème, Umberto Giordano in Andrea Chénier, and Edgardo in Lucia Di Lammermoor.

He is often regarded as “Caruso Secondo,” owing to his immense talent that’s often compared to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. However, Gigli paved a name for himself during his four-decade singing career.

Beyond opera, he played in musical dramas and films, such as Ave Maria and I Pagliacci. He retired from the operatic scene in 1955 and passed away two years later.

8. Francesco Tamagno

Performing in nearly 30 countries as an operatic dramatic tenor, Francesco Tamagno is one of the best-known opera singers all over the world.

He is also among the few considered as a tenore robust, which means his powerful and resonant voice could effortlessly fill the grandest opera houses with little effort.

He was the first to perform Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, and he is also the pioneering Gabriele Adorno of another Verdi opera, Simon Boccanegra. He toured extensively in several countries, including England, Spain, France, Portugal, Germany, and many more, performing in the major opera houses.

His successful career was unfortunately cut short in his 50s due to a chronic heart condition. He suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in 1905, and his legacy lives on in the form of symphonies, operas, and other orchestral pieces.

9. Lauritz Melchior

Considered a Wagnerian tenor due to his extensive work with Wilhelm Wagner’s operas, Danish opera singer Lauritz Melchior made his debut in 1913 as Silvio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

Initially, Melchior was cast in baritone roles until contralto Sara Charles-Cahier was impressed by Melchior’s high timbre during an Il Trovatore performance. She wrote to the Royal Opera to restudy his voice, which marked a turning point in Melchior’s operatic career.

In 1924, Melchior took a tenor role at the Royal Opera House in London, which jumpstarted his repertoire in Wagnerian operas. After a string of successful operatic performances, Melchoir explored Hollywood musical films from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s.

He continued to be active in both the operatic and entertainment industries until his last public appearance in 1972. He died a year later.

10. Roberto Alagna

French-Italian operatic tenor Roberto Alagna began his foray into music, busking in the streets of Paris and performing pop music. Influenced by Mario Lanza, his interest switched to opera, and he impressively taught himself to sing a different style.

In the late 1980s, Alagna won a Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition, which led to his operatic debut as Alfredo Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata. He reprised the role several times throughout Italy and France, growing his reputation.

His breakthrough came in 1994 as Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo Et Juliette, catapulting his fame to an international level. He, however, received backlash in 2006, following an ill-received performance where he walked out mid-performance.

This, however, didn’t dampen his spirits. Alagna continues to perform in operas until the present day.

11. Jussi Björling

Johan Jonatan Björling, popularly known as Jussi Björling, is a Swedish operatic tenor born to a musical family. A six-year-old Jussi, alongside his father and two brothers, performed together as the Björling Male Quartet.

Björling began his operatic career with small roles as a younger performer until he had his first major role in 1930 as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In 1937, he debuted his American tour at Carnegie Hall, and the following year, he debuted in New York’s Metropolitan Opera where he performed for many years.

Björling had a fruitful career for more than three decades until he suffered a heart attack in 1960, right before a performance. He made his last performance a month later as Faust. In September of the same year, he died of cardiomegaly at the age of 49.

12. Ezio Pinza

Unlike most of the singers in this list, Italian singer and actor Ezio Pinza was an operatic bass performer.

He had an early start in the opera industry, debuting at only 22. He played Orveso in Bellini’s Normana in 1914 as his first role. After serving in the military during the First World War, Pinza resumed his operatic career in 1919.

Three years later, he performed at Milan’s most famous opera, La Scala, and his career took off. He went on to become one of the most in-demand operatic basses in history, performing in many other opera houses in Europe and the US.

After retiring from the opera in 1948 at the peak of his career, he dabbled in Broadway, as well as Hollywood. His foray into entertainment was short-lived, however, as he died in 1957 at the age of 64.

13. Alfredo Kraus

Another important male opera singer is Alfredo Kraus, a Spanish tenor from the Canary Islands. Born in 1927 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, he began studying the piano at the young age of 4.

It wasn’t until he was 29 that he made his operatic debut playing The Duke in Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, then going on to have his debuts with the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and The Royal Opera House in Convent Garden over the next 10 years.

Typically, opera singers put their voices through a lot of strain and work so they aren’t able to sing for much more than a couple of decades. However, Kraus performed even into his early 70s which is thought to be from his great technique.

He last performed in 1994 and he died five years later in 1999.

14. Alfie Boe

Born in 1973, Alfie Boe is a British tenor who has achieved success in both classical and popular music genres.

His music career started with studying at the Royal College Of Music and the National Opera Studio. He then went on to join the Royal Opera House Young Artists Programme where he was picked for a leading role in Baz Luhrmann’s production of La Bohème on Broadway

Having played opera houses all over the world, he’s probably most known for playing Jean Valjean in the theatre production of Les Misérables. He was also booked to sing at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in 2012.

He has also recorded several solo studio albums, earning him multiple Platinum certifications. He has also been nominated and won several accolades for his performances, including the PPL Classical Award by Silver Clef Awards.

15. Jonas Kaufmann

German-Austrian tenor Jonas Kaufmann was born in Munich in 1969. After singing in choirs at school and learning the piano as a child, his career began to kick off in 1994 with a number of opera houses in Germany and Europe.

His breakthrough came in 2006 when he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera playing Alfredo in La Traviata by Verdi. This led to several more performances in Italian, French, and English theaters over the next years.

Some of his most notable roles include Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Don Alvaro in Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino, and Maurizio in Wagner’s Parsifal.

He also holds the honor of being the first German music artist to perform “Rule, Britannia!” a British patriotic song, in 2015. He continues to be active in the opera and classical music circuits, performing in both the United States and Europe.

16. Franco Corelli

Known as the Prince of Tenors because of his enchanting voice and handsome face, operatic tenor Franco Corelli was born in Ancona, Italy, in 1921.

He was a late starter in the opera scene, making his operatic debut in 1951 as Don José in Georges Bizet’s Carmen. This quickly led to a series of bookings across Europe and the US. His career was highly successful, and he won several awards for his performances.

In 1976, after more than two decades of his career, he made his final performance as Rodolfo in Torre del Lago. He cites his declining vocal strength as a major factor in his choice to retire.

Corelli lived up to the ripe age of 82 until his death in 2003.

17. Mario Lanza

Next on our list, we have Mario Lanza who was a tenor and film star born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921. At only 16, he was already in local operatic productions until he was offered a full scholarship at the prestigious Berkshire Music Center.

His career took off since starting Berkshire, making his first operatic debut at age 21 when he played Fenton in The Merry Wives Of Windsor. After an interruption due to World War II, he continued his career performing and studying all over the world.

Aside from his successful career as a singer, Lanza was also a Hollywood star in 9 films, including The Great Caruso and Seven Hills Of Rome.

Sadly, Lanza had a relatively short career. He died at the young age of only 38 due to a pulmonary embolism. He was known for his addictions struggling with alcohol and food.

18. Morris Robinson

Former college football player and operatic bass singer Morris Robinson was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1959.

He grew up playing football and had a knack for singing, which resulted in a scholarship to The Citadel. He built quite a reputation for breaking into song so much so that his fellow cadets lovingly referred to him as The Singing Knob.

After graduating, he moved to Washington DC where he pursued a musical career. He made his operatic debut at the Boston Lyric Opera in 1999, playing the King of Egypt in Verdi’s Aida.

Following this, he went on to perform at many of the biggest opera houses in the world, including The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Sydney Opera House.

19. Lawrence Brownlee

Known for his bel canto repertoire, Lawrence Brownlee is an acclaimed operatic tenor born in Ohio in 1972. Brownlee exhibited a natural talent for singing from a young age. He honed his skills through formal training and joining the church Gospel choir.

In 2002, he made his professional operatic debut in Rossini’s The Barber Of Seville. Since then he’s gone on to perform extensively in opera houses around the world with a number of recordings and winning awards for his voice.

Brownlee also introduced a groundbreaking work in 2018 called Cycles Of My Being, which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Opera Philadelphia, and Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited. It was not only a musical composition; it was a profound exploration of the African-American experience in modern times.

20. John Holiday

The operatic countertenor John Holiday was born in Texas in 1985 in a musical family. His mother was a singer and clarinetist, and his grandmother was a church pianist.

As a singer, Holiday is incredibly versatile performing in many different genres, from baroque choral music to gospel and jazz. He’s sung modern works by great opera composers like Stravinsky and Handel and worked with a number of high-profile orchestras like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.

He made his operatic debut in 2012 at the Carnegie Hall for Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. He took on many operatic roles the same year and the subsequent ones, including the titular role in Giulio Cesare In Egitto and Dido and Aeneas.

His latest project was on season 19 of NBC’s singing competition, The Voice, where he came in 5th place.

21. Wynne Evans

Welsh tenor Wynne Evans is best known for his role as Gio Compario for the advertisements for Go.Compare, a British car insurance comparison website. However, he is a man of many talents, including a comedian and opera singer.

He began singing as a child and went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the National Opera Studio. After graduating, he’s gone on to great success in the operatic world playing numerous parts with the Welsh National Opera, the Opera de Lyon, and many others around the UK and the world.

Among his most notable roles are Ubaldo Piangi in Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir D’amore, and Prunier in Puccini’s La Rondine.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Male Opera Singers

That wraps up our list! We hope you learned something new or discovered some new singers to check out. If not, we hope this article has at least made the world of opera a little less intimidating.

Opera is indeed an impressive art form with a great history and incredible artists around the globe, so don’t be afraid to explore it for yourself!

We’re more than happy to add more to this list too, so let us know if we missed a favorite of yours!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.