At this moment in history, the most beautiful female voice in the world is probably that of Emma Kirkby, an Englishwoman who specializes in early music. Herein some fannish remarks and a stolen picture.
The image above is stolen from the website of her record company and I think it would be a good idea if you ran out and bought a few of 'em, so I can't imagine they'll object. You might want to click on it to see it full-size; it's outstanding.
The first time I heard Emma I was driving somewhere and a version of Mozart's Laudate Dominum (K339) came on the radio and I just about drove off the road because it was so beautiful.
Think of honey, lots of honey, poured out in a beautiful curve and surfaced with sterling silver; you're about a quarter of the way to what Emma's voice sounds like.
at the record company has a bunch of samples (
.rm format, sigh)
so you can check her out for yourself.
One of my favorites is her A Portrait collection (L'Oiseau-Lyre 443 200-2), which I bought because it had that Laudate on it, but it's full of other gems too. You might want to skip the opening Handel throwaway, and a perfectly nice tune by T.A. Arne is pretty well ruined because the line “Where the bee sucks, there suck I” just can't be sung straight-faced any more, but the rest is like one gem after another on a rare diamond necklace.
Another wonderful recording, although it's by no means all Emma, is Vivaldi: Cantatas, Concertos, and Magnificat (Hyperion CDA66247), with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Vivaldi might have written the same concerto a couple of hundred times, but you know what, it was a damn good concerto, and three of 'em (for strings, no voices) are here to mix up with the vocal pieces.
In fact, I've never encountered a bad record with Emma's name on the cover, so visit your local classical-music retailer and do yourself a favor.