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Diaz, Justino

Perhaps one of the best known opera singers to emerge from Puerto Rico is Justino Diaz; born 29 January 1940 in San Juan and raised in a humble home in Cataño.

Diaz demonstrated an early taste for and affinity to singing; participating in school music productions from elementary school through high school. He studied voice under Alicia Morales and María Esther Robles at the University of Puerto Rico High School; further whetting his appetite for singing. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Diaz sang in the school’s chorus and committed himself to a career as a professional opera singer.

His first exposure to opera was as chorus member in his high school’s production of Verdi’s “La forza del destino”. His talent and interest enabled his debute age 17 as “Ben” in Menotti’s opera “Telephon”. His studies took him to the New England Conservatory where he studied with Frederick Jagel and Boris Goldovsky, and then to New York to join the Metropolitan Opera Studio.

It was in New York that he contracted with Hans J. Hoffmann, an agent that helped open many doors for Diaz: the American Opera Society, where he sang with such luminaries as Teresa Berganza, Nicosia Greda and Joan Sutherland, and at the Rochester Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1963 Diaz won a competition sponsored by the New York Metropolitan Opera which helped him win a contract with the Met. His debut with that prestigeous opera house was as “Monterone” in Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, in October 1963.

Diaz has sung many roles in his long and continuing career, taking him to opera houses all around the world. His early roles were mostly as leading bass, including Rodolfo in Bellini’s “Sonambula”, as Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s “Faust” and Raimondo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”. Diaz also performed in choral works such as Händel’s “Messiah”, singing Why do the nations so furiously rage together.

At the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, in 1966, Diaz sang the role of Anthony in the world premiere of Barber’s “Anthony and Cleopatra”. A year later Diaz portrayed Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen in a film produced and directed by noted conductor Herbert von Karajan. He also sang as Francesco in the world premiere of Ginastera’s “Beatrix Cenci” at the opening of the Kennedy Center Opera House in 1971.

Since 1980 Diaz has had many more leading baritone roles such as Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca”, Jago in Verdi’s “Otello” and the title roles in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and in Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman” as in this example from Act IV.

In 1986 Diaz portrayed “Jago”, opposite Plácido Domingo singing the title role in director Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Otello”; his signature role sung since then in many famous opera houses such as The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Milan’s La Scala, with Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne, the Paris Opera, the Vienna Staatsoper, Salzburg Opera, the Spoletto Opera, the Rome Opera, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Zarzuela Theater in Madrid and in London’s Covent Garden.

In his homeland, Diaz has appeared in numerous productions over the years as a part of the annual Casals Festival and in performances at San Juan’s Centro de Bellas Artes. He has also sung popular songs with noted artists such as Lucecita Benítez and portrayed Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marín in the musical “Fela”.

Adverstisement

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Discography

Verdi - Otello highlights - Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus (1998)

Händel - Semele - English Chamber Orchestra & Amor Artis Chorale (1998)

Beethoven - 9th Symphony & Cantata on the death of Emperor Joseph II (1997)

Rossini - L'Assedio di Corinto - Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus (1997)

Cherubini - Medea - Chorus and orchestra of the Santa Cecilia Academy of Rome (1997)

Rodgers & Hammerstein - South Pacific - National Symphony Orchestra (1997)

Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots - Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Austrian Radio Chorus (1997)

Cherubini - Missa solemnis in D Minor - The Clarion Concerts Chorus & Orchestra (1996)

Händel - Messiah - English Chamber Orchestra & Amor Artis Chorale (1994)

Händel - Solomon - English Chamber Orchestra & Amor Artis Chorale (1994)

Verdi - Requiem & Rossini - Stabat Mater; New York Philharmonic Orch & Camerata Singers (1993)

Bellini - I Puritani (1992)

Bizet - Carmen (1992)

Delano - Cantata Antillana - Orquesta Sinfónica de PR & Coral Filarmónica de San Juan (1992)

Rossini - L'Assedio di Corinto - London Symphony Orchestra & Ambrosian Opera Chorus (1992)

Rossini - La pietra del paragone - Clarion Concerts Orchestra & Chorus (1992)

Catalani - La Wally - Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra & Turin Lyric Chorus (1990)

Offenbach - Les contes d'Hoffmann - ORTF National Orchestra & Chorus (1990)

Puccini - The Unknown Puccini - Arie da chiesa e da camera (1989)

Mozart - Mozart arias - English Chamber Orchestra (1988)

Mozart - The Mozart Miracle (1972)

Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots - Concert version 1969 (1969)