today’s top tenors

I put the task off until today. But since it’s the last day of Talented Tenors month, it was now or never.

(It being the list of top tenors singing today.)

Strangely, there’s lots of information on the best tenors of yesteryear. Just not the best tenors performing today. What’s the cause of that? Recordings, I suppose, are infinitely more accessible than live opera performance though I much prefer to see them and hear them.

These singers range in age from 38 (Juan Diego Flórez, the youngest) to age 70 (Plácido Domingo, the oldest). Apart from Domingo, there’s no more than ten years’ difference in the ages of the other tenors selected. This is important because it presumes a requisite level of experience and exposure that can only be gained over years of time, which is why there are no twenty-somethings on this list.

So, in alphabetical order here they are–the best tenors in the world–today.

Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna — born June 7, 1963, a French operatic tenor of Sicilian descent. He made his professional debut in 1988 as Alfredo Germont in ‘La Traviata’ with the Glyndebourne Opera touring company. His performances as Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden in 1994 catapulted him to international stardom.

Marcelo Álvarez

Marcelo Álvarez — born February 27, 1962, an Argentine lyric tenor. He achieved international success starting in the mid-1990s, his first role being Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini in Córdoba in June 1994. Four years later, he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera La Traviata in the role of Alfredo.

Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo — born January 21, 1941, a Spanish tenor and conductor.  His launch into international stardom occurred in February 1966, when he sang the title role in the U.S. premiere of Ginastera‘s Don Rodrigo for New York City Opera. In March 2008, he debuted in his 128th opera role, and as of July 2011 his 136 roles give Domingo more roles than any other tenor.

Juan Diego Flórez

Juan Diego Flórez — born January 13, 1973,  a Peruvian operatic tenor, particularly known for his roles in bel canto operas. Flórez’s first breakthrough and professional debut came in 1996, at the Rossini Festival in the Italian city of Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace.

Jonas Kaufmann

Jonas Kaufmann — born July 10, 1969,  a German tenor, particularly known for his spinto roles. He was a prize-winner at the 1993 Nürnberg Meistersinger Competition. One of his breakout roles occurred with the 2003 Salzburg Festival for the role of Belmonte in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.” Another significant step in his career came about in February of 2006 with his début as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, at the invitation of James Levine.

Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón —  born February 22, 1972, a Mexican tenor. He came to international attention in 1999 when he won both first prizes awarded in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, an international competition for emerging opera singers – in opera and zarzuela. He made his European debut that same year as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in Genoa. swiftly followed by further debuts at Opéra de Paris as Alfredo in La traviata; and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Álvarez and Flórez at the Met in the last year and seeing Domingo conduct a beautiful Butterfly at WNO. I sincerely hope to see Alagna, Kaufmann, and Villazón in the near future.

What say you? Would these singers be on your list of top tenors?


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Bel canto opera, Opera Awards, Performers, Sunday Best, tenors

91 Responses to today’s top tenors

  1. Helen Samett

    Certainty Neil Shicoff is one of the greatest tenors today. Why did you leave him out?

  2. Alfredo Kraus was a lovely elegant tenor; also no mention of Giacomo Aragall whom Pavarotti said was the ‘greatest of us all’. Aragall’s voice was sublime, one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century. Of the present crop of young tenors I would certainly include Jose Calleja and Piotr Beczala.

  3. Jim Thompson

    Jim T.
    Listen…LISTEN… to the voice of Mario Lanza. From a firm clear astonishing top, to a solid middle and supple lower register, this voice had it all. It was big (it filled cavernous halls like Albert Hall without amplification ever, and there is no singer who had such perfect diction in English, Italian, Neapolitan, Spanish, Latin and not tooo bad in some French works.
    And yes, folks, Lanza trained with Enrico Rosati, Boris Goldofsky, Serge Koussivitsky and others. H was acclaimed, yes ACCLAIMED as a superb singer by the likes of Albanese, Fleming, Leech, Hadley, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Calleja, Vorostofsky, and on and on. Did he sing opera? yes, twice in a production of Madama Butterfly but he did not continue only in that venue. He gave concerts, recorded an astonishing amount of superb works and of course was a pretty good movie star to boot!. MARIO LANZA…one hell of a voice!

    • Gale

      Yes, he was a true talent in every regard. I think my list needs updating because its about five years old, but I still am only including living tenors, and others have stepped up since 2011. But yes, I do appreciate his talent and saddened by his tragic demise.

  4. Michael Kupfer

    Andrea Bocelli. He’s only merely mentioned. He sings classical and pop. Does that take him off the list of candidates? Have you heard his Verdi album? His voice range is greater than many you will see below. How many Millions of his albums has he sold? Pavarotti also sang many popular songs. When I buy an album, Bocelli will be on top. In his “Cinema” album listen to track one Maria…you will be sold.

    • Gale

      Bocelli is really a pop star. While there’s no denying many people enjoy him and also admire him, he can’t be considered a true opera singer, and I think many opera fans if not most would agree with that assessment.

      • Michael Kupfer

        Bocelli has several albums with just opera arias. However as you must realize, it is doubtful that he could act in an opera.

        • Gale

          Mr. Kupfer, My dearest friend’s husband loves Andrea Bocelli. He finds his vocal stylings more accessible than pure opera singers. But I would say that just because one sings operatic music doesn’t make them a bona fide opera singer. I am remembering Luciano Pavarotti’s album pairing him with pop singers. His duet with Sheryl Crow was disastrous. Here is one clip of that pairing:

        • Philip C Reamy

          Singing arias and performing in an opera are two entirely different things. Every person who sing isn’t eligible for “who’s the best musical theater singer” either.

  5. Maggie Smith

    Morschi Franz a young man who has a Beautiful Tenor voice from the Netherlands should be on all lists. Great listening to him. I am not sure how much he has recorded. Wonderful tenor.

  6. Any list without David Phelps in itis a crime. Hoe about a nod to a non-European

  7. congrats great job!….is any future for Joaquin Yglesias from Costa Rica

  8. Travis

    I like this list, but I think Fabiano and Hymel should be on it somewhere.

  9. Omar

    Calleja and Beczala should be on this list in my opinion

  10. Marcel

    Calleja is definitely the greatest tenor alive. He’s got a lot from Pavarotti, some from Caruso and a bit from Lanza!

    • Ted Caro

      Most people I’ve heard would say Bjorling…..

    • Val

      Absolutely he is in my mind by far and away the best tenor of this age, there is a magical quality to his voice, with unbelievably beautiful control of higher and lower register. Just fabulous.

  11. Adri

    They are all great tenors!! I would definitely add Jose Cura.

  12. Kate

    I worked at the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Berliner Philharmonie in Germany for 4 years and had the fortune to hear lots of tenors. I’m currently studying classical singing as well…so that was great opportunity for me. I have to say that Florez was technically impeccable. It was a joy to hear such healthy technique. I’m a big fan of lesser known tenors like Seil Kim (wonderful lyrical tenor) and Werner Güra (who does mainly oratorio and Lied work but also opera) because they sound so healthy and unforced. I really can’t stand the out of control vibrato a lot of these tenors have developed…as for Villazon. He is a nervous wreck before going on stage- experienced it first hand a couple of times. Really makes me feel for him…but he’s always been singing with power and enthusiasm instead of safe technique. That just can’t work for a longer period of time. He’s great to watch on stage, very charismatic….but that has also died down a little bit. Must be psychological. I know how horrible that is…so no judgement here…Kaufmann really isn’t my coup of tea. He’s sexy, sure….but he tends to become very nasally and shrill…to me most of the time it sounds exhausting.

  13. Armand Cannamela

    How can you not include Vittorio Grigolo?

  14. Dan

    Will we ever see another Caruso?

  15. What a great web site! Thank you for doing this!

    There are two tenors today — Russell Watson and Jonathan Antoine. Neither of them have sung in an opera production (at least I don’t think so). Russell Watson is from The UK and sings operatic songs, along with other genres. He is very popular, primarily in Europe. Jonathan Antoine is another English tenor. He is only 19 and is absolutely incredible with operatic songs. His first CD doesn’t even yet (in October this year). His voice needs more training and it also needs to mature — but if you haven’t heard him sing — you’ve really missed something. I think he can become the Pavarotti of the 21st Century.

  16. Troye Lang

    Villazon is a great opera star – very powerful – personally my favourite is Vittorio Grigolo – I like Calleja too – for a personal taste of timbre, I like Urs Buhler – very unusual but certainly attractive.

    • Gale

      I have a weakness for Vittorio Grigolo, too. Just so happy he delighted audiences at the Met this season. Thanks for stopping by.

  17. bellaterra66

    Jonathan Stavvy Antoine is an up and coming top-notch tenor opera singer!

  18. Diana North

    What’s Matthew Polenzani? Chopped Liver?!

  19. Mary

    Are there singer scouts who travel to local smalltown concerts to hear choirs that may have a hidden talent, yet to be discovered?

  20. Aaron

    Alfie boe anyone?

  21. Is Pjotr Beczala on the list? He certainly has a wonderful voice that he handles with gerat bravura and he also is a very musical, lyrical singer.

  22. Ivan Sec

    What about Burian, Martinelli, Vinay, Roswaenge, Thill, Fleta, Corelli, Bonisolli, Bergonzi and many others?

  23. Owen

    No Joseph Calleja?

    • Gale

      Hi, Owen. I think I am due to update this list since last created. You’re not the first person to suggest Calleja should be on this list.

  24. we had Lanza,Pavarotti,Bjorling,do not live in the past,yes agreed,they were great,but also do not leave out,Caruso,and salvatore Licitra,who did sound like Luciano he too is gone but lives on through his music,on /Cd.And Del Monaco,and other great tenors,I love these greats and listen when time permits,I also listen to others also to enjoy,God bless us all.martin G.

  25. maria

    I love Flores though he is light lyric tenor with a beautiful voice and Villazon a pationet and highly talented that appearsvto be back. I am Very surprised that you have not included
    Ramon Vargas, his interpretation range and
    technique is far above the ones mentioned here, including
    Domingo. This is a fact.
    Since 1999 in Austria he has been named every
    year the best tenor in the world.

  26. Laura Murphy

    I would add Anthony Kearns. He has very strong control of his voice, and great power, wonderful qualities. If you see his video of “Grace” — you’ll know what I mean. Absolutely breathtaking.

    And Mario Lanza — one of the greats! Though not trained as a typical tenor — still the voice of a legend

  27. One of the great tenor voices today is David Phelps. David does not qualify as an opera singer, however, if you listen/watch him perform the likes of “Donna Non Vidi Mai”, “Nessun Dorma”, “Bring Him Home”, “O Mio Babbino Caro”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and many others, you will agree that his voice is among the elite tenors of the day

  28. Don DeGeorge

    After hearing the Met’s Les Troyens this season, I’d have to add Bryan Hymel to the list; and at 33 he would become the youngest. The world has yet to hear him sing enough different roles to be confident in ranking him among the greats, but he is someone to watch. I see that the list above is alphabetical; otherwise, I’d put Kaufmann & Villazon at the top.

  29. guzi schembri


    • Yes, he really sings wonderfull. Do not miss the chance to hear him.

      • Francesco Filizzola

        I have to tell you a nice story about Joseph Calleja.
        I was singing at the Bassoon bar with my pianist, at one point of the night around midnight arrived Calleja after is performance at Opera House of Covent Garden.
        That night I was doing songs from Italy and Spain, a guy came to me and asked, are Italian right? I said yes sir! He asked me, do you have any classical piece? I said yes sir. any preference? He told me, please start any thing you want!
        I started O Sole Mio, as I started a big man stood up from his chair and came toward me, watching me on my eyes, he asked in avery kind way, could I please join you? I said of course Maestro,
        That man was Jospeh Calleja.
        After O sole mio, we did Caruso, Le Vie en Rose, The Godfather, Besame Mucho, etc etc.

        We sung for more then 30 minutes together, giving to the all few people present at that time of the night an amazing and intimate show.

        I have to tell you guys, first of all he is a really great person, amble and with a big heart and soul, very genuine person. He is a person that even if is famous, he remained the amazing person that was, he share every songs with me, that to be honest I’m not a purist classical singer,
        When he was singing next to me he put all his love he has for music.

        I can’t never forget that night.

    • Troye Lang

      Good but personally prefer Vittorio Grigolo.

  30. I was recently to the concert of Rolando Villazon in Amsterdam and it was amazing! The audience kept applause while standing and his performance was outstanding. He is definitely a great actor and tenor and I can tell you that he 100% back to the stage.

  31. michel D. St-Laurent.

    Mario Lanza est négligé car il excellait en opéra et pop de comédies musicales sans crier a tue tête .J’aim aussi Bocelli. Ceux qui les dénigrent sont es petits cons qui ne connaissent pas grand chose a part leur égo trompeur.

  32. Dr. Ed sterns

    You should Include Carl Tanner in your list! He brought the house down at the Met this past December with is Radames. He also has a very successful Christmas CD that is played everywhere on the radio which I’ve heard he gives all his profits to charity.

    • Gale

      Carl Tanner–thank you for mentioning him. I am interested to find out what he’s all about. Thanks for visiting Operatoonity.

  33. After this Monday..Michael Fabiano goes to the TOP of the charts after his Oronte in I Lombardi..Unbelievable!!!! I also love Beczala,Flores,Calleja,Polenzani,Kaufman,Giordani,Villazon..Domingo does NOT belong here..He is a “baritone’… he says…but no way is he a tenor today..The voice is solid..amazing..but I cannot bear his singing in the wrong fach.

  34. Donna

    i watched PBS here in Louisiana last night and the special was called 4 Tenors. The names were Victor, Remy, Clifton, and Frazier. I have been looking all around for the CD or any other CD’s made by the men. Can anyone help. thank you.

  35. Olga Mincone

    Today’s Top tennors and you leave out Joseph Calleja ??? Calleja must be placed amongst the Worlds best 3 !

  36. David Barrett

    Is it because I only go to the Metropolitan Opera that I don’t think there are great tenors today? Well, except for Domingo; he’s still singing well, but not as he used to. I haven’t heard Jonas Kaufman yet, so I have no opinion on him. I heard Roberto Alagna 2 days ago and, yes, he’s good, but not great. The others I’ve heard in person or on TV and I’m not bowled over. Makes me think there’s no one to match Domingo in his prime, or Pavarotti, or even Mario del Monaco or Jussi Bjoerling in their primes.

    • Gale

      Thanks for stopping Mr. Barrett. I happen to know of two up and coming tenors that are so winning. I will have to write about them.

  37. Handel okoli

    Does that mean Andrea bocelli has no chance here

      • Gale

        Bocelli. I hate to pick on blind people but he’s really a pop star.

        • Kate

          How is saying someone is a pop star picking on people 😉 He is a pop singer, not a classical singer…though most people don’t get that because they don’t really know where the differences are. I don’t even think he is a really good “fake classical singer” but that may just be me…but other than that…being a pop star is great 😀

  38. Mario Vella Laurenti

    I just put Joseph Calleja at the very top.

    • John Allen

      I really like Calleja, there is a touch of Bjorling in his voice, more so than Pavarotti.

    • ExSinger

      Sheep vibrato on Calleja. Something is not right in his voice. Anyway de gustibus… Unfortunately after the Alagna of the 90s and the first 5 years of Josè Cura I cannot find really beautiful/unique/stylish voices like those of Pavarotti/Corelli(with some diction problems)/young Carreras (who didn’t sing right too but… such a beauty). Florez abilities together with a nice voice (not like that of 80/90s english school ) are really good but I wouldn’t say his voice is anything relevant. Maybe today’s Tenors are too good technically and they sound all the same…

  39. CROFTS

    Question:- Who was that fantastic tenor who sang Nessan Dorma
    in the Hyde Park Prom ??

  40. Barry O Rourke

    My personal opinion all from live performances –
    Lawrence Brownlee – I Puritani – NYM – class act far better then Florez
    Joesph Calleja – only two live concerts but brilliant
    Matthew Polenzani – great live performer- excellent voice projection
    Also enjoyed Grigolo much better live then on record.

    Disappointing for me;
    Villazon – great actor but the voice has gone;
    Kaufmann – walked out – nasal tones and forced top brrrrrrr;;
    Alvarez – for me the worst a spitter who really has no high C like Domingo
    Florez – in concert 3 times twice he cracked on the high note???

    • I am also somewhat disenchanted with Kaufmann. I heard him sing Schubert’s Winterreise last year, and it was – well, disappointing. I have heard far better interpretations by less famed singers. Also I do not think his Mozart is up to the niveau one ought to expect from someone titled the best tenor of our times. Still, he is arguably the best contemporary Stolzing or Lohengrin. Lately, I think, he seems tired and exhausted…

  41. admin

    Hmmm. Just tell me who your favorites are. I am always interested in finding out who rings readers’ chimes, so to speak. Thanks for stopping back.

  42. asperia

    :))) i am looking forward to your top baritones list. hope you wont omit to mention my biggest favourites.

  43. asperia

    how about a list of top baritones?

    I must say, i like these tenors, and it is true, that Calleja is great, or Kaiser, or Beczala, or Groves ….Polenzani…Vogt…

    my biggest favourites are Kaufmann and Florez:)

  44. Eric McKeever

    I would have included Lawrence Brownlee and possibly Matthew Polenzani

  45. It’s so difficult to come up with a definitive list. I’ve heard all the above including TWICE for Eric Cutler, not as well known……. once in I Puritani at the MET and At the Canadian Opera Company in MARIA STUARDA. He has stature, voice and as Anna Netrebko said: It doesn’t hurt to do Puritani with someone as gorgeous as Eric.

  46. This is a good list. For me Alvarez is the absolute winner as my nickname shows. 🙂 I miss Piotr Beczala, who is the great rival of Alvarez in the lyric tenor category. If there were additional places I would also include Johan Botha, Ben Heppner and Eric Cutler. Of course, all this is very subjective. 🙂

  47. I agree with most of the choices, except for maybe the inclusion of Villazon–I haven’t seen him make a secure enough comeback to reinstate him at the top. He’s done a good job for himself, however, talking about being a tenor! I’d love to see him actually SING (and sing well) more!

  48. I’d definitely put Joseph Calleja on my list. I confess I’m a bit surprised by the inclusion of Villazon. I’m glad to see that he is beginning to make a successful recovery from his vocal woes of the past few years, but is he on secure enough footing for such a list? (I confess I haven’t heard him live, precisely because these vocal woes resulted in multiple Met cancellations.) Alvarez… well, Alvarez is very good, and I’m probably just being picky; I just haven’t felt that his singing has the sort of strong individuality or visceral impact that would put him on my “top” list… admittedly a subjective choice. There are so many fine tenors working, though… I’d like a list for each fach!

    • I’d like to see a list for each fach. I think that would look great on Opera Obsession! Thanks, as always, for your input. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for putting up with my wordy comments! Another two cents: if you can fit a Kaufmann performance into one of your NYC trips, I’d be willing to place a bet that you wouldn’t regret it. 🙂 Thrilling voice and simply loads of charisma.

  49. Indeed. What a role–Alfredo! Thanks for stopping by.

  50. Interesting how Traviata was a breakthrough performance for most of them.