If you’ve read a few or more of my reviews and essays on various opera performances over the years, then you already know that I harbor a decidedly favorable bias toward the lower female voices… The chestier and more expressive a mezzo, the more fervor my admiration for them. So I freely admit to having been neglecting the soprani and the operatic men in the past (and I’m not promising to get better either). For the curious, though, here are a few of my favorite operatic leading men performing on the stage today:
1. Jonas Kaufmann: This German singer is one of the most versatile operatic tenors in living memory. His sizable, dark, colorful, ringing, and expressive voice matches perfectly with his ruggedly handsome look… That he also has a brain that defies the old trade’s favorite dumb tenor stereotyping jokes simply makes this talented theatrical cake too well-iced to ignore! There aren’t many singers around who can boast of having had success in as wide ranging a repertoire as Kaufmann’s: from the Mozart light tenor roles all the way to Forestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio and the Puccini heroes. All the while managing to draw attention away from even the shirtless baritone he’s sharing the stage with… (ladies beware, though, Herr Kaufmann is happily married with many cute kids).
2. Ramon Vargas: Many gorgeous-voiced singers are content to savor the glory of their own sound and the high notes it can produce – Ramon Vargas, happily, is not one of them even though he is in possession of one of the noblest tenor voices in the business. Vargas hit stardom in the 90’s, establishing himself as his generation’s premier Mozart and bel canto tenor… one who can almost make you sympathize with his Tebaldo rather than with Romeo whenever he sang in Bellini’s I Capulet e i Montecchi, and who blew everyone up to and including Neptune away singing the dastardly difficult Munich version of Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Salzburg Festival () in the early 2000’s. With more heft to the voice now, though, he is gravitating more toward Verdi’s late operas and Puccini.
3. Dmitry Korchak: This young Russian tenor is one of the upcoming bel canto specialists to watch. His career got off to a good start winning the Francisco Vinas International Competition in 2004 and is now busily engaged at premier opera houses and festivals all over the world especially in the Mozart and bel canto leading roles. I first encountered the lad in November 2006 when I attended the OONY concert performance of Donizetti’s Dom Sebastien at Carnegie Hall where he sang the title role with such panache that many in the audience were severely tempted to demand an encore of his high-flying aria even though we were all anxious to go home to find out about that night’s election result!
4. Torsten Kerl: In the era in short supply of ringing Heldentenor voices, there is Torsten Kerl around to keep the operas of Wagner and Korngold in business. This young German has been lending his nobly bright tenor to critically acclaimed assumption of Paul (in die tote Stadt), Siegmund, Lohengrin, and Tannhäusser at various operatic stages around the globe. His performance along with Angela Denoke’s make the Arthaus Musik DVD of Die tote Stadt from Opera Strasbourg a mandatory buy for lovers of German opera. He also appears in the concert portion (Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde) on the DVD portrait of the great German soprano Waltraud Meier.
5. Octavio Arevalo: This not so well known Mexican tenor is one of the best bel canto singers in the business. Not only does he possess an impressively agile and refined masculine voice, but he is also a splendid voice actor who can make whatever operatic character he is impersonating jump right out of the radio at you.
6. Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Affectionately known as Hvoro by his fans, this Russian baritone is the operatic equivalent of Richard Gere, completed with man a golden throat. A wild man in his youth, Hvorostovsky has now mellowed into opera’s suave baritone with enough animal magnetism to cause collective swooning among the female audience just by his presence on the stage.
7. Bryn Terfel: At 6’3″, big Bryn Terfel towers over just about everyone he ever shares the stage with, but he is such a natural actor that he can be as convincing as an adorable pudgy boy as he can menace your worst nightmare as a villain of demonic proportion. His is a irresistibly handsome dark bass-baritone voice is as agile as it can be ringing (he sings anything from Mozart to Wagner). Terfel has curtailed his performances somewhat to spend more time with his young family, but whenever he shows up to sing, the man is as dependable as WD24.
8. Simon Keenlyside: This English baritone is one of the most acrobatic Papageno I’ve ever witness. How in the world does he manage to still sing brilliantly while diving headlong across the stage in his vain pursuit of the rubber white chicken is beyond my comprehension… Comedic flare is just one of his many assets, though. His devastatingly manly Abalyados in Donizetti’s Dom Sebastien () has me root for his bad guy rather than the opera’s hero… And then there is his Billy Budd…. If a straight man can ever turn gay from exposure to an operatic performance, an auditorium-ful of women would find themselves putting their husbands on a leash by the end of that show!
9. Rene Pape: From Sarastro in Mozart’s The Magic Flute to Philip in Verdi’s Don Carlo, this German basso profundo doesn’t play his roles as much as he embodies them. His tall presence holds your attention even when he is quiet. And when he is singing, the roof could be caving in on you and you’d still find it hard to stir from his spell!
10. Ferruccio Furlanetto: Here in San Diego we call him the Ace of Bass… and whenever he is in town (which is almost a yearly event here. He’s like our operatic hometown hero now!) he is to be found either at the Civic Theater or on one of the area’s many beautiful golf courses. And, as hard to beat on the golf course as he is, on the stage he is even more imposing. It isn’t so much his voice as his overall package… And it also doesn’t hurt that the signor has this confounding lovable quality that makes it easy to sympathize with his character even when he’s playing a meanie!
11. Luca Pisaroni: Aside from keeping lovers of Italian food well supplied with the savory parmesan cheese, Parma, Italy also seems bent on keeping up well stocked with awesome musicians. Opera lovers hold a special place in our heart for Parma for having given us Giuseppe Verdi, and now Luca Pisaroni, a young bass-baritone who is rocking the leading opera houses around the world as the lyric bass to fetch for Mozart and Handel operas. He is an involved actor and a splendid singer who makes everything he sings sounds deceptively easy to hum… even when sprinting up and down flights of stairs!
There are many more wonderful young (and manly) opera singers performing on the stage today, of course. I don’t get it when some audience insist that today’s performers aren’t as good as those from the last century were. The current crop is as musically well trained as you could hope for (considering all the things they have to cope with that singers of past generations never had to deal with) and even keep in very good shape! Check out the sample clips included and buy a ticket to a show at the opera house near you. These handsome dudes with awesome voice are worth savoring in real time!