Who wouldn’t want to sing like the best soprano singers of all time? People often think of opera and classical music when they think of soprano vocalists, but there are countless styles, from opera to pop, that the most famous soprano singers have called their home.
Here are the 21 best soprano singers of all time:
1. Maria Callas
Every list of the most famous soprano singers should start with Maria Callas. She was born in 1923 and lived through 1977. Her vocal skills were never conventional, and she chose to embody the drama in the operatic style rather than the technical perfection that so many sopranos chased.
She also starred in a film directed by the infamous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. However, it was that very desire to break from tradition and carve out her own space in the art world that made people call her “La Davina,” “The Divine One,” and the best soprano vocalist of all time. Unfortunately, her life was defined by controversies.
2. Montserrat Caballé
Remember how we said that classic soprano singers weren’t limited to just opera? Montserrat Caballé is best known for her work in rock and roll.
She was an established opera soprano singer with her own career and contribution to the art world, but she launched into the mainstream when Freddie Mercury, a member of the classic rock gods Queen, asked her to sing with him during his solo tour. Caballé showed that you can take classically honed musical talents and still not be held back by convention.
3. Dolly Parton
You might say that the best soprano singers of all time were never classically trained to begin with! Dolly Parton is a legend of bluegrass, country, and pop music. She’s also a soprano singer.
This just goes to show that being a soprano doesn’t have to limit the direction you take your music. Parton has made a name for herself on stage as an actor, fighting for social causes, and, of course, her powerful music career.
4. Diana Damrau
We’ve covered a few unconventional talents, but now, let’s turn to a classic soprano that is also a rising modern star. Diana Damrau took the opera world by storm with her 2017 performance of the Queen of the Night aria by Mozart. It’s dark, captivating, and has a force behind it that would leave the hardest metal bands more than a little shaken.
Damrau uses her skills as a soprano to show us that classic opera is alive and still changing with the times.
5. Victoria de los Ángeles
You might be noticing a pattern with some of our singers. Classic sopranos have a reputation for being primadonnas whose careers are marked with controversy.
Victoria de los Ángeles went the other way. Even though her career kicked off in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, when being a controversial soprano was the rule, she built a reputation for soft-spoken humility and a good sense of humor.
6. Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt is one of the all-around soprano vocalists that can tackle anything that comes her way. She’s sung in everything from opera to rock and roll. In fact, she’s a rare soprano who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ronstadt hit the scene in the late 1970s with songs like “Blue Bayou” and “Tracks Of My Tears.” If you’re looking for a soprano who knows how to rock, she is the singer for you!
7. Joyce DiDonato
Have you ever heard the expression “break a leg” when someone is about to perform on stage? It’s meant as a sign of good luck, but Joyce DiDonato is a soprano singer who actually broke a leg on stage.
She broke a leg while performing and managed to finish that show. She even went on to finish the entire tour! DiDonato sings classic opera and stage musicals. She even performs on more intimate occasions like the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series.
8. Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price was born in 1927 and stands out for both her vocal work and her historic importance. She fought hard against racism and became one of the first Black American women to reach national fame for her operatic style.
She appeared everywhere from the Ed Sullivan Show to award-winning lyric opera stage performances. Price one said that she loved the sound of her own voice, and every critic seemed to agree. Far from being arrogant, she simply knew what she loved and embraced that aspect of her career.
9. Kate Bush
Kate Bush is one of the icons of modern music. Born in 1958, she took the music world by storm with her debut single “Wuthering Heights” in 1978. Even though she was only 19 at the time, her single reached the top of British music charts.
Bush has won 13 Brit Awards, been nominated for a Grammy, entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received so many other awards. It’s hard to find a more decorated soprano singer. If you love the soprano style, you really should check out the style and music of Bush!
10. Mirella Freni
Mirella Freni is another classic operatic soprano who breaks the mold. In a music scene defined by divas and self-obsession, she was a career-minded singer.
Freni was well known for having no pictures of her career, no framed records, and no awards hanging in her home. She was always honing her craft and working on creating new art rather than resting on what she had already accomplished. She is the picture-perfect definition of a classic operatic soprano.
Björk is a legendary musician. She’s an actress, singer, composer, and one of the most award-winning sopranos alive. Her music combines a variety of styles ranging from classic vocals to avant-garde electronic music. Don’t let her experimentalism fool you, there is a massive classical talent underpinning Björk’s career.
She has been nominated for countless Grammys, won multiple Brit Awards, and has even had art museum exhibitions about her work and style. It’s hard to imagine a soprano with more popular acclaim, classical skill, and recognition than Björk.
12. Anna Netrebko
Anna Netrebko is one of the best soprano singers of all time because she keeps a classical approach to operatic vocals alive and well in our modern age. She isn’t just another soprano, but she’s also trained by a legendary opera master and has a career to prove those skills went to good use.
She is a Russian opera singer who regularly tours international stages. If you want to see a modern-day classic, you should treat yourself to the soprano stylings of Netrebko. She proves that you can do things the old-fashioned way and still make waves in a modern music scene.
13. Birgit Nilsson
Here’s a singer that redefined what the stage presence of a classic, operatic soprano was supposed to be like. Birgit Nilsson started out from the most humble imaginable origins but had a career that was mainstream news up to the 1980s. Before she was a household name for fans of opera, she was a humble farm girl in rural Sweden. Her life started out milking cows on the family farm, but she soon found her way to the stage.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nilsson again made headlines with her operatic presence. She has a cool voice that’s refreshing, balanced, and always in control. She formally retired in the 1980s, but the reports coming from her last performances said that her skills had not faded with age. Nilsson proves that a great soprano is like a great wine, they only get better with age.
14. Jessye Norman
This is one musical career that you just can’t miss a single detail of. Jessye Norman was one of the most famous soprano singers. She had one of the most exciting careers, from humble origins all the way to international stages. Even though she was born in Georgia, she became one of the most internationally recognized singers and was even a member of the Royal Academy of Music.
Norman was a dramatic soprano, but she had never limited herself to just that style. In fact, she had even been appointed an honorary ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. While many sopranos win awards for their singing, only a few are also appointed as ambassadors.
15. Lucia Popp
The golden age of soprano singers is largely defined by international fame. No soprano embodied that quite like Lucia Popp. She came from a truly cosmopolitan background and brought that diverse energy to the stage. At the height of her career, she was seductive, enticing, and a powerful force for soprano vocals.
Like many world-class sopranos, one of the events that made her career was a breakthrough performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Unfortunately, she tragically died in the 1990s due to cancer and that has put a tragic note on the end of a successful and world-class singing career.
16. Joan Sutherland
The 1950s through the 1980s was something of a drought for soprano vocalists. Even though there were many making their careers at this time, few became household names—especially if they were working in the classic opera style.
Joan Sutherland is the exception. She performed on live TV, sang sold-out shows, and, even if opera wasn’t your thing, you knew who she was.
17. Kirsten Flagstad
Kirsten Flagstad is one of the most interesting sopranos on this list because her career started incredibly promising, but a few political missteps cost her everything towards the end. She built up her career as a classic operatic soprano on par with the best of all time. She had rave reviews on stage and became an instant celebrity in the United States.
However, she made the tragic decision to return to Nazi-occupied Norway in 1941 after receiving cryptic telegrams from her distant husband. Her popularity in the United States vanished. She was labeled as a Nazi sympathizer even though she went on to do charity concerts in support of the victims of the Holocaust.
18. Kiri Te Kanawa
Sometimes, the best soprano singers of all time are the ones that put in the hard work of inspiring and training future singers. Kiri Te Kanawa did that and so much more.
Kanawa held masterclasses and educated future singers. Her career was one of international lyric opera fame that even earned her an honorary doctorate. Of course, we can’t end this without mentioning her skill. Her vocals are warm, mellow, and completely natural.
19. Emma Kirkby
Emma Kirkby is one of the most famous soprano singers because of her contribution to the history of the genre. She focuses on early music which ranges from medieval music through the Baroque period.
20. Rosa Ponselle
If you think it takes training to become one of the world’s legendary soprano vocalists, you might be surprised. Born in the late 1800s, Rosa Ponselle was a teenage vaudeville sensation, but she took to the opera stage with zero training and instantly made a name for herself. She would go on to be a working opera singer until her retirement in 1937.
21. Christine Brewer
Christine Brewer rounds out the list of the most famous soprano singers with her versatile vocals. She has retrained her vocal style over the years and proves that you can always expand your talents. Her style is soft-spoken but packs more than enough punch for even the biggest stages.
At the end of the day, the best soprano singers of all time are the omosnes that truly move our hearts and inspire us to find our own greatness. If you loved the list of the most famous soprano singers, check out our other lists of the best musicians throughout history!
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.