This guy was famous enough to get a chef to cook his steak differently from everyone else's in a hotel kitchen without hearing complaints (said steak being named after him for its tenderness and unique blend of Oriental flavors). Chaliapin was every Russian operagoer's hero in his time. He made very popular a number of Russian operas that weren't performed much in the U.S. or in the major European houses. His Boris Godunov is among the most famed and well-loved of the role's many interpretations. He also brought quite a lot of Russian art song, written for voice and piano, to the attention of the European masses. That's not to mention the acting he did onstage, which was more naturalistic than the norm of his time. While others had done it before he did, the immensity of his popularity made him quite the role model for singers after him, who took up the acting style and built on it throughout their own careers.
Colombara has been very widely praised for his talents, which have led to him being called "The great Verdian bass" in Le Figaro, quite a statement considering the legendary basses who built careers on Verdi's music in decades past, and considering the many requirements Verdi made of his singers when he wrote his operas. Though he is incredibly well known for his Atilla, more famous still is he for taking the bass part of Verdi's "Messa di Requiem" in memory of one of his great colleagues, Luciano Pavarotti. Colombra has sung in the most prestigious houses in the world and has been a part of some of the most notable operatic performances and productions of our time, including the worldwide broadcast of Puccini's "Turandot" from The Forbidden City, Beijing, conducted by Zubin Mehta. He is scheduled to appear as Morales in "El Juez" in July.
Sir John Tomlinson is very, very, very famous for singing the greatest of Wagner's bass and bass-baritone roles. He sang at the Bayreuth Festival every year from 1988 to 2006 to extraordinary acclaim due to the richness and grandness of his vocal stylings, stylings that landed him the lead role in the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's dark and highly noted opera, "The Minotaur," at the Royal Opera House. At the age of sixty-nine, he says he "is still studying singing... on a daily basis," and performs regularly with the Royal Opera and the English National Opera to keep his skills sharp.
Three-time Grammy Award winner, Giorgio Tozzi, was one of the biggest Met Opera stars in the Twentieth Century. His voice and technique landed him a wide variety of roles that ranged from the title character in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" to Phillip II in Verdi's "Don Carlo." He even took on a Wagner role or two and helped to set the standard of the "all-in-one voice" for basses after him. In 1958, the "first American grand opera," Vanessa, by Samuel Barber, won the Pulitzer Prize. Tozzi had created the role of The Doctor that same year. He died in 2011, having retired in 2006 as Distinguished Professor of Voice at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.
Kurt Moll retired in 2006, leaving behind a legacy of recordings that fascinate listeners for the emotional insight and polished interpretive skills showcased within. During his career, he became very well-known, much like his bass-baritone colleague, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, for easing on the belting in favor of generating interest in the details of classical vocal music. His recording for Orfeo of Schubert's "Lieder fur Bass" set an intricate and intimate standard for that particular cycle. His seven complete recordings of the Baron von Ochs in Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier" are all noted for their thorough exploration of the character. In 1990, a Grammy Award solidified his "Great Artist" status.
Jerome Hines was a man of multiple talents, not all of them musical. He wrote several books on higher mathematics, contributing novel theories of his own to the field. He composed and sang the title role of an opera, "I Am the Way," which enjoyed success for several decades during his career. He also wrote a memoir and two books on singing. However, if he'd had only his voice, he would still have become a legend in his time and remained one of the world's most loved operatic basses today. His most well-known roles were Sarastro, Ramfis, and Boris Godunov, the size of his voice and person being more than an appropriate fit for them all. Having cared well for his voice, he was able to perform at the age of seventy-nine.
For forty-six years, Paul Plishka was one of the leading basses at the Metropolitan Opera. Before his retirement in 2012, he had performed 1,642 times there, and is acknowledged by the Met as one of its most frequent performers, being placed at number ten on its official list, a list dating back to 1883 when the company was founded. Among other great recording projects he was a part of was the legendary 1972 "Anna Bolena" starring Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett. Though his life has been filled with tragedy, the music he has made despite it has gained him the admiration of opera lovers all over the world.
Matti Salminen's voice is notable for its massive size and expressive qualities, which Salminen has used to their full in many of the major Russian, Italian, and German bass roles. He started his career when he was only twenty-four and continues to perform with the Zurich Opera in his seventies. One of the most significant projects of which he was a part in recent years was the PBS video broadcast of the complete "Ring of the Nibelung," which had the largest audience of any performance of Wagner's most extensive work in history. He still performs complete operatic roles. One of his performances of King Phillip II was released on DVD in 2014.
Mark Reizen's name is on the list of the greatest Russian basses in the world ever. He started his career in the shadow of Feodor Chaliapin and carved out one of the most extraordinary careers of any operatic bass known in his time or now. His voice was acclaimed everywhere for its evident beauty and incredible size, both of which served him well in heavy and extensive roles such as Wotan, Boris Godunov, and the role that got him offers for an apartment and a contract at the Bolshoi from Stalin, Mephistopheles. One critic said Reizen rivalled Chaliapin and Ezio Pinza with his easy and spellbinding messa-voce. Thankfully, he was well-recorded and left many recordings that opera aficionados won't be found without.
The bass who gets the "Recorded More Than Any Other Bass in History" prize is Samuel Ramey. His voice being extremely flexible and dark, he has been cast as the greatest villains in opera and has tackled some of the most difficult music ever written for bass, which includes coloratura by Rossini, making him in a way unique on this list. He has been as intimate with the music of Verdi and Puccini as with that of Handel and Mozart. He has recently taken on the dramatic baritone role of Bluebeard and taken it down a knotch, earning great acclaim at Opera Omaha. He still gives around seventy performances a year, applauded everywhere as one of the most versatile basses in opera.
Are there any you would add to the list? Write their names in your comments below, and don't be a stranger. Next week, I begin an article series on the best up-and-coming artists of the now. I hope you show up. With all of the amazing talent that I have to brag on, you may regret it if you don't. Ciao, my fellow opera crazies and all you opera newbies!