The Marriage of Figaro has been voted the greatest opera ever written, in a BBC Music Magazine poll of 172 of the world’s greatest opera singers, including tenor/baritone Plácido Domingo, sopranos Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
Mozart’s comic opera received more than double the number of votes than the runner-up, Puccini’s La bohème. Written in 1786 in just six weeks, Figaro famously received five encores at its première, and has gone on to become one of the most performed operas in history.
Singers said they chose the comic opera for its exciting momentum, fine ensemble writing and rich portrait of humanity. ‘The Marriage of Figaro is such a human portrait’ says Renée Fleming. ‘No matter how many times I sing this opera I am always completely stunned how little people have changed since Mozart’s time, in terms of relationships and the manoeuvring they do.’
Soprano Dame Felicity Lott, meanwhile, praises Figaro’s ‘sublime and well-drawn characters’, while bass-baritone Gerald Finley calls the work ‘a singer’s rite of passage’, particularly in the roles of the Count, Susanna and Figaro himself.
Mozart was generally popular in the polls, with Don Giovanni also making the top 20. Puccini also appears twice, with La bohème in second place and Tosca in sixth.
While the works in the Top 20 span over 500 years of opera, 20th-century operas constituted almost half of the top choices – despite being one of the few English operas in the international repertory, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes reached fifth place, and in fourth place was serialist composer Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. Ten singers also nominated an opera written in the past 30 years.
For the full Top 20, along with a rundown of the 172 singers’ choices, buy our October opera special issue, out now.