The Best Sopranos Of All Time: Greatest Top 10

Who are the best sopranos of all time? Read and listen to our top 10 sopranos guide featuring old-school divas and today’s superstars.

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Photo: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Who are the best sopranos of all time? Picking the top 10 greatest sopranos is an impossible task. Do you opt for old-school divas like Maria Callas or Montserrat Caballé or today’s superstars – Anna Netrebko or Renée Fleming? Pure, perfect early-music voices or massive Wagnerian ones? We’ve discussed and debated and compiled our list of the greatest sopranos featuring old-school divas and today’s superstars. Scroll down to read and listen to our selection of the best sopranos of all time.

Listen to Renée Fleming’s Lieder on Apple Music and Spotify.

Maria Callas

“The Queen of La Scala,” “La Divina,” “The Bible of Opera” – who else but Maria Callas? The soprano saw herself as two people – Callas the artist, and Callas the woman – but for audiences it was the intoxicating blur of the two that would elevate her from performer to legend. Callas’s repertoire extended from the frothy bel canto of Donizetti to Wagner. Tosca, however, will always be Callas’s greatest role. Her passionate declaration ‘Vissi d’Arte, Vissi d’Amore’ (‘I Lived For Art, I Lived For Love’) might just as easily have been the singer’s own.

Tosca, Act 2 Scene 5: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore" (Tosca)

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Joan Sutherland

When Pavarotti calls you “the voice of the century”, you know you’re something special. Perhaps the best coloratura soprano of all time, Sutherland was celebrated for her extraordinary range, silvery tone, and for her agility. A chance encounter with “a young pianist from Bondi” changed her life; Richard Bonynge became her husband and musical mentor, steering her away from Wagner and into bel canto repertoire. Famously down to earth, Sutherland nevertheless found her niche in Donizetti and Bellini’s histrionic and highly-strung heroines – Lucia, Norma, Amina – though her own favorite was tomboy Maria in joyous comedy La Fille Du Régiment.

Donizetti: La fille du régiment / Act 1 - Je suis soldat

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Montserrat Caballé

In April 1965, American mezzo Marilyn Horne pulled out of a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall. By May, her last-minute replacement had become a star. Caballé’s swift success, and a career that saw her perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera an astonishing 99 times, was driven by her infamously good technique. Capable of enormous feats of breath control and extreme pianissimos, she quickly established herself as a major player in the bel canto revival. Singing all the major Verdi, Donizetti, and Bellini heroines, Caballé’s greatest (and most unexpected) hit was her brief foray into pop music – duetting with Freddie Mercury on ‘Barcelona.’

Montserrat Caballé: "The Ultimate Collection"

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Kiri Te Kanawa

A voice of unusual warmth and mellowness set New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa apart. Sir Colin Davis remembers an early audition: “I couldn’t believe my ears, it was such a fantastically beautiful voice.” It was a voice made for noble, sensuous roles – Strauss’s Marschallin, Elisabeth de Valois, Anna Bolena. Her big break came as Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden, but more dramatic was her Met debut – stepping in to sing her first Desdemona at three hours’ notice. Offstage, Kanawa made headlines with her rendition of ‘Let The Bright Seraphim’ at Charles and Diana’s wedding.

Handel: Samson HWV 57 / Act 3 - Let The Bright Seraphim

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Lucia Popp

Singing was only Austrian-Slovak soprano Popp’s third career choice, flirting with medicine and theatre before settling on music. Her gilded voice went through a similar metamorphosis, maturing from a student mezzo to a young coloratura soprano (singing perhaps the finest ‘Queen Of The Night’ on record), before developing a weightier, lyric quality suited to Wagner as well as Mozart – eventually Eva from Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg would become one of her most successful roles. Popp was anything but a classic diva, and this same sweetness pervades her many recordings, which include lieder as well as the classic operatic roles.

Mozart: Zaide, K.344 / Act 1 - "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben"

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Renée Fleming

“In my long life, I have met maybe two sopranos with this quality of singing.” But who were Sir Georg Solti’s star sopranos? Renata Tebaldi and Renée Fleming. Winning the Metropolitan Opera Auditions was a major turning point for Fleming; she was booked to sing the Countess in The Marriage Of Figaro at Houston Grand Opera, making a spectacular debut. Since then, this rich, lyric soprano, the Met’s go-to diva, has roamed widely across traditional boundaries of repertoire, singing Strauss, Verdi, and Mozart, as well as contemporary music. Fleming is one of the greatest sopranos of our time and captivates audiences with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence.

Brahms: WIegenlied (Lullaby) , Op. 49, No. 4

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Victoria De Los Ángeles

A soprano with no real interest in the limelight, an innocent playing opera’s scandalous women, Victoria de los Ángeles was opera’s most delightful paradox. After winning a major singing competition, the 24-year-old De los Ángeles received a phone call from La Scala: could she come immediately and audition? She declined; she had promised to go straight home to her parents. It proved no setback, and the soprano made her debut at the Met, Covent Garden and La Scala in a single triumphant season. Puccini, Debussy, Wagner –De los Ángeles sang it all, but was always happiest on the concert platform.

Ernani, Act 1 Scene 3: No. 3, Scena e Cavatina, "Surta è la notte … Ernani! Ernani, involami"...

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Jessye Norman

With a personality to match her powerful voice, Jessye Norman is a fixture among opera’s legends. The African-American soprano couples sheer power with a richness and depth of tone that was made for Wagner’s heroines – Isolde, Elisabeth, Kundry, Sieglinde – Strauss’s songs, as well as Purcell’s Dido and Gluck’s Alceste. Norman was also the first singer to appear at the Met in a single-character production – Schoenberg’s Erwartung. Norman’s voice has been resoundingly praised for its mastery of expression, technical control, and sheer power, while her diverse song repertoire spans standard and obscure operas to German lieder, avant-garde works, and even popular ballads.

Wagner: Die Walküre - Erster Tag des Bühnenfestspiels "Der Ring des Nibelungen" / Erster...

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Anna Netrebko

In 2007 Anna Netrebko became the first soprano to feature in Time magazine’s Time 100 list. Her story is a musical fairy tale, from cleaning floors at the Mariinsky Theatre to making her debut at just 22. Her breakthrough Donna Anna at the Salzburg Festival in 2002 led to engagements at La Scala, Covent Garden, and Carnegie Hall. Netrebko’s gilded, lyric soprano and acting abilities make her a natural fit for opera’s great heroines – Mimì, Violetta, Juliette. Anna Netrebko’s beautiful, dark and distinctive sound, coupled with her elegant and alluring stage presence have won her both popular and critical acclaim worldwide.

Verdi: La traviata - Libiamo ne'lieti calici

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Lise Davidsen

Lise Davidsen shot to prominence in the summer of 2015 when she was crowned winner of the Queen Sonja singing competition in her native Norway. Davidsen went on to win three awards – the First Prize, Birgit Nilsson Award, and Audience Prize – at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition, where she was hailed as “the real deal” by the Financial Times. Since her breakthrough Lise has made a series of acclaimed opera debuts. She is the first operatic soprano to debut at No. 1 in the UK Classical Charts with her self-titled album of Strauss and Wagner songs.

R. Strauss: 4 Lieder, Op. 27, TrV 170 - No. 2, Cäcilie

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  1. David Dudley

    June 23, 2019 at 1:09 am

    Any list that does not include Leontyne Price is fatally flawed and highly suspect. Fleming over Price? I don’t think so.

    • Frances Shelly

      September 11, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      totally agree, Leontyne pushed the emotional buttons and understood the deep meaning of the words she sang, from Handel to Verdi to Barber and beyond. I would have to say the same for Joyce Didonato.

  2. Jay Haskel

    June 28, 2019 at 1:56 am

    Lise Davidson is at the beginning of her career. How can she possible be on such a list? It’s really silly anyway, so dependent is it on one’s age and in-person experience. Recordings just don’t count.

  3. Peter Jensen

    July 1, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Lise Davidsen – mentioning that she has won the Birgit Nilsson Prize – is on this list and Birgit Nilsson is not?! Absurd.

    Don’t make lists like this. The only thing you’ll accomplish is annoying real music lovers.

    • Winston Toft

      September 2, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      I always loved Kathleen Battle’s voice.

      • Bob Sherman

        May 17, 2020 at 7:05 pm

        I like Battle too, but listen to her sing Bach cantata #51. Battle is very good, but Auger is transcendent

  4. Kryttan

    September 4, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Lise Davidsen? exclude Birgit Nilsson? haha! r u kidding me!!

  5. David L Evans

    January 28, 2020 at 10:58 am

    Very difficult to choose only 10, but I would have found room for Kirsten Fladstad and Angela Gheorghiu and possibly Renata Scotto.

    We can of course only speculate how stars of the pre-recording era like Faustina Bordoni or Adelina Patti would have compared.

  6. Huess

    March 20, 2020 at 9:09 pm

    Aida Garifullina on the way to the first place.

    • Wenqi

      June 14, 2020 at 7:38 am

      She is very good but to the top of the list? No way

  7. Francesca

    March 27, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    this list is ridicoulous! so many not even mediocre singers here, and some of the really great ones not? Nilsson, Ponselle, Traubel, Flagstad, were are they? instead such promotion monsters like Fleming, Netrebko, Davidssen? Listen, they all have constricted and very small voices. Go home and learn to LiSTEN before you put out such garbage.

  8. Pinek Pinekski

    June 3, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    What about Anna Moffo?

  9. Victor Dunson

    June 19, 2020 at 11:45 pm

    Leontyne Price ?

  10. murasaki

    June 25, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    Janowitz’s Richard Strauss Four last songs are incomparable. so you know what I mean.

  11. Michael Wright

    September 16, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    I don’t disagree that those included are important singers, but not all of them are groundbreaking or of equal significance. And there are pretty Major omissions: Patti, Tetrazzini, Galli-Curci, Melba, Muzio, Ponselle, Flagstad, Traubel, Varna, Modl, Wellitsch, Price, Schwartzkopf…plus (in my lifetime) names like Margaret Price, Lucia Popp, Karitta Mattila and Josephine Barstow. And I’m sure there are singers I am completely unaware of or have missed!

  12. J

    October 6, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Let’s see. You have Fleming, Te Kanawa, Netrebko, but can’t find room for Milanov, Price, or Tebaldi?
    This is ridiculous, and suggests an extremely limited perspective.

  13. Chris r.weigl

    January 4, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, beautiful voice and long career

  14. thina

    May 5, 2023 at 8:07 am

    No price ,this is a youtube list.

  15. Robert E. Lee

    April 9, 2024 at 6:30 pm

    Lise Davidsen ? You ve got to be joking ! Ha, ha ! OK she is pretty !
    Have you ever heard of Tebaldi, Gheorghiu, Gruberova, Schwarzkopf, Price, Scotto, Battle etc ?
    Never mind, go for Tik Tok !

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