I'm kinda partial to Tony myself. Bada Bing :o)
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I also agree with the vote for Elly Ameling. She is also fantastic with Schubert Lieder. Pentatone is releasing this as an RQR SACD.
I heard from reliable source that she's not a very nice in person.
Caballe, on the other hand, is great and charming in public. Only wishing she's in better health though. Flew to NY over Memorial Day week-end to attend her concert only to find out she had to cancel last minute due to illness.
If you're looking for beautiful soprano voices that "absolutely melt you away," I'd recommend in particular (limiting this to the about last 50 years) Victoria de los Angeles, Leontyne Price, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, and Renee Fleming. All had/have major soprano voices of great beauty, and all could/can "absolutely melt you away" when in their primes. Callas was a great singer and a great artist but not conspicuous for the beauty of her voice, which always had problems. Bartoli is a fine artist but not a soprano.
Gaudio eek, I agree about Milanov's "Pace pace mio Dio" (the old mono one), a great recording. In her prime she could float a high pianissimo like no one else. Her 1952 mono "Il Trovatore" with Bjoerling, Warren, and Barbieri (still the best one) has more of these ravishing, floated high pianissimos.
I go with Callas.
She has unique sense of drama and passion that infuses her vocals that others just cannot match. Although technically not greatest vocal range compared to someone like Sutherland, he voice in the 1950's was magnificent and can be heard on quality mono recordings during this period. The stereo work from early 1960's is still pretty good but best years behind her. One of the best collections is "La Divina" 3CD set which contains some prime mono era work........many many more good collections also available.
Although most of Cecilia Bartoli's work is with Rossini and Mozart, she is in her real element with the rare Vivaldi and Gluck collections. Comes packaged in cool hardbound book format
Yes, Kiri Te Kanawa should have been on my short list of most beautiful soprano voices, and here's a stunning, offbeat track of hers that most opera buffs don't know about. In 1974, when she was in her youthful prime, not yet an internationally famous singer, she recorded the aria from the mythical opera Salammbo in the RCA "Classic Film Scores" series: the recording (issued as both LP and CD) is "Citizen Kane: Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann," Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Like all the recordings in this series, this was engineered by the great Kenneth Wilkinson, and this is one of Wilkie's triumphs: the sound is simply awesome; the music is colorful, imaginative, original, with lots of unusual sounds; the entire recording is an audiophile's delight from beginning to end. Young Kiri's singing is breathtaking, and her aria, played on a first-rate system, will knock your socks off.
Just got all 3 of Pentatone RQR SACD of Elly Ameling (recorded in '73): 1 of Schubert Lieder, 1 of Schumann Frauenliebe und Leben etc., 1 of Mozart Opera & Concert Arias. What lovely performances with beautiful remastered multi-channel sound to boot. Those who like this kind of repertoire should seek these SACD's out.
Definitely Victoria De Los Angeles and for one opera, Beecham's "La Boheme" with her as Mimi and Bjorling as Rodolfo, just heaven.
There are so many others too, Callas in anything, for that unique voice and the emotion in her singing, Swharzkopff for Strauss, Te Kanawa for Mozart, Cecilia Bartoli for Rossini, Sutherland, Leontyne Price. I am afraid the one mentioned I don't like is Caballe. I have one opera recorded later in her career, where her voice has the character of chalk scraping on a blackboard.