Cher Public

The Quantification of the Diva: Upon Reflection

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who are the greatest divas (Classic and Contemporary) of them all?”

And the mirror replied, “I’ll tell you right after the jump!”

What a week it’s been, cher public, and La Cieca (speaking on behalf of herself and Jay Caspian Kang) only hopes you’ve been enlightened by our little étude as much as we have found pleasure in bringing a little joy into your humdrum lives.

The scores have been tallied, and all that is left is to view the bubble graphs.


So, now that everything is settled, La Cieca is ready to entertain questions or to…. what’s that? You say the bubble graphs are less than clear in delineating a winner or winners? Oh, well, you’re right, of course, but aren’t all those colorful little bubbles lovely? How they remind La Cieca of the poster for the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette!

Dear Loni Zoe Ackerman—whatever is she doing with herself these days? ….Oh, yes, of course: the diva rankings!


1Leontyne Price830
(tie) 2Montserrat Caballé825
(tie) 2Renata Scotto825
4Leonie Rysanek820
5Jessye Norman800
6Régine Crespin770
7Tatiana Troyanos725
8Joan Sutherland710
9Christa Ludwig640
10Marilyn Horne580
11Hildegard Behrens520
12Mirella Freni495


1Edita Gruberova725
2Angela Gheorghiu705
3Anna Netrebko690
4Karita Mattila680
5Renée Fleming675
6Cecilia Bartoli605
7Waltraud Meier590
8Dolora Zajick530
9Joyce DiDonato520
10Natalie Dessay480

So, what have we learned, cher public?

Well, to begin with: it’s easier to be an older diva than a younger diva. Age adds to the “legendary” quality.

Retirement from the hurly-burly of the operatic stage perhaps adds a luster of soft focus to a diva, glossing over flaws that may have been more apparent when witnessed in real time.

Emotional Journey counts for a lot. Kunst and Stimm are about equally important, but you’d better have a lot of one or the other, or you’re no diva.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t be stingy with the Scandale!

La Cieca now invites the cher public to discuss the rankings, about which she is sure you will all be in complete agreement.

(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Jay Caspian Kang, who has delighted us so often at Free Darko, also may be heard tweeting at maxpower51.

  • poisonivy

    I’m not really a fan of the actual sound of Edita’s voice, but I have to admire her for her dedication to her career. I was talking with a friend today about how many sopranos after the age of 50, especially ones with families, slag off on their careers. They don’t really want to learn new repertory, and don’t like becoming second cast or third cast, so they stick to one or two houses or the occasional concert. Sometimes they whine that no one calls them anymore, but they don’t do much to pursue opportunities either.

    So I have to admire the Editas, Mariellas, and (yes) Renees.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I’m not sure Renee is quite in that category yet. While I agree she appears to have the drive you mention, and the thought of her continuously adding new roles to her repertoire is not in the least surprising, I’m also pretty sure her agent is still more or less in a position to choose where and when she appears. After all, it’s not like the Met was desperate to do Armida at all costs and went begging to her, is it?

    • richard

      But doesn’t EG pretty much sing only in three theaters these days? Barcelona, Munich, and Vienna (where she can drive in and out on the day of the performances). And I would guess an occasional date in Tokyo where I understand she is extremely popular.
      She may do concerts elsewhere, I don’t know.

      I don’t really find this a fault, after all she is not just plus 50, she’s plus 60. But is certainly is a career that is whittled down to just a few venues.

      • La Valkyrietta

        Yes, pity Edita did not sing more at the Met…”il tempo vola”.

      • operacat

        I thought I heard somewhere (this site?) that Gruberova wanted to sing more in the US, however her European agent kept scheduling over things that her US agent and after a major US company got “screwed”, no one here would hire her. Does anyone know if there is truth to that?

        • Grubifan

          The most important reason that Edita stays predominantly in Europe is because she wants to stay home more often and she is affraid of flying. In Europe (indeed often in Germany Austria and Barcelona) she travels by train.

  • poisonivy

    I think Renee is belonging in that category. She’s still being very aggressive in her career, demanding new productions, new roles, and maintaining her position as Queen Bee of the Met.

    Edita took on Norma when she was I believe pushing 60. She’s kept Zerbinetta, Lucia, etc. in her repertory, at an age when even Sutherland was resorting to Merry Widows and Adrianas.

    Not that I think there’s anything wrong with wanting to spend more time with the family and kids once the voice fades and you’re no longer the hot ticket. But I do admire the sopranos who don’t seem afraid of aging and continue to pursue a major career in their 50s and 60s.

    • richard

      Definitely Renee is pursuing her career very agressively . From the bits and pieces one hears on sites like this, she has projects in the works until 2015-16 or so at the Met where she is one of the very top stars. She’s operating on a level with the other really big names; Netrebko, Draculette, I suppose Garanca.

      Only Domingo trumps all these stars where you have opera companies selling packages of tickets so that if you want to see Placido you have to buy a series
      of other performances. I noticed SFO is doing this.

      From my viewpoint both Grubbi and Devia have scaled back their careers a bit. Neither is coasting but they pick their venues very carefully so that they don’t have to travel a lot and they have audiences that are very much attuned to what she still have to offer. Good for both of them! They must really enjoy what they are doing and have worked out a way to continue with it while giving themselves some time to themselves.