Barbara Hannigan

Barbara Hannigan

Soprano • Conductor

• Born 1971

Editor's Choice

Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan has done more than any other to expand the concert and operatic horizons of her art form. She’s premiered work by such many prominent contemporary composers and had particular success with the operas written for her by George Benjamin (Written on Skin and Lessons in Love and Violence) and Hans Abrahamsen’s vocal work Let Me Tell You, based on the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Her special qualities as a singer – a clear and flexible vocal tone, totally in service of meaning and expression – were put to excellent use in a recent collaboration with the late Reinbert de Leeuw, the Dutch pianist and conductor who made a speciality of music from the Second Viennese School. Their 2018 album, Vienna - Fin de Siècle, saw them shining a light on songs by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and their contemporaries Alexander von Zemlinsky and Alma Mahler.


Barbara Hannigan is a soprano and conductor who specializes in avant-garde opera and vocal music. She has premiered over 85 new works, collaborating with many notable contemporary composers.

Hannigan was born on May 8, 1971, in Waverly, Nova Scotia, Canada, where she began her training. She studied at the University of Toronto, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1993 and her master's degree in 1998. Hannigan also studied at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Ravinia's Steans Music Institute, the Orford Arts Centre, and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Her teachers included Meinard Kraak and Neil Semer. She has premiered many contemporary works, including pieces by Henri Dutilleux, Gerald Barry, Friedrich Cerha, Louis Andriessen, and George Benjamin, among others. Hannigan has sung and conducted performances of György Ligeti's Mysteries of the Macabre, and is especially noted for her performances as the title character in Alban Berg's Lulu and as Marie in Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten. She has appeared as a vocalist and conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia, and the Gulbenkian Orchestra. She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2016, and in 2020 was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Hannigan has been the subject of several documentaries, including I'm a Creative Animal from Accentus.

Hannigan has recorded for several labels, including Deutsche Grammophon, Accentus, and Bel Air Classiques. Her 2017 debut recording as both vocalist and conductor, Crazy Girl Crazy, on Alpha Classics won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. In 2019, she was featured in the Nimbus release George Benjamin: Lessons in Love and Violence, which was nominated for a Grammy Award later that year.