Artist Profile: Soprano Zinka Milanov, Verdi Specialist

There aren’t many well-known Croatian opera stars. But there is Zinka Milanov.

Born on May 17, 1906, the Croatian diva would go on to one of the most stable careers at the Metropolitan Opera.

She studied in Milan and Berlin during her youth, making her opera debut in Slovenia at age 21. Her role? Leonora in “Il Trovatore.” It was clear early on that she was destined for big meaty roles.

Her Met debut came at age 31 in 1937 in “Il Trovatore” and would become a fixture at the house.

One fun fact about Milanov is that her original last name was Kunc, but she ultimately changed it to Milanov, taking her husband’s name because it was not “glamorous enough for the Met.”

She would leave the house in 1947 and made her La Scala debut in 1950. However, the arrival of Rudolf Bing was the event that brought the soprano back to the Met. She closed out the old Met in 1966, ending her career and turning to teaching. Among her students were Grace Bumbry, Regina Resnik, and Christa Ludwig, among others.

She passed away on May 30, 1989.

Signature Roles

During her legendary career at the Met, Milanov was the queen of Verdi operas taking on such roles as Leonora in “Il Trovatore,” Amelia in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” Leonora in “La Forza del Destino,” Amelia in “Simon Boccanegra,” and Desdemona in “Otello.” But the role she performed more than any other was “Aida,” which she starred in 75 times, 16% of all her performances at the Met.

Her first Met “Aida” came in 1938 and her final one was 20 years later in 1958.

Read More on Milanov

Roles shared with Birgit Nilsson 

Watch and Listen

Listen to Milanov in “Aida” from the Met.

And here is a look at her unique vocal qualities.

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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

1 Comment on "Artist Profile: Soprano Zinka Milanov, Verdi Specialist"

  1. Solomon Epstein | May 20, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Reply

    I was fortunate to hear Madame Milanov several times at the old Met—- as Aida, Desdemona, Gioconda, Leonora (Forza),and several others. She used her ravishingly beautiful voice with faultless technique. Her high pianissimos seemed to come from another world ! Fortunately, Milanov reigned in an era before detailed acting and stage movement were demanded, and when no sane person would have dreamed of expecting her to look like Audrey Hepburn. Therefore she was free to SING—- and SING she did ! As Desdemona in Act Four of “Otello:, she sat at her dressing table and barely moved a muscle throughout the Willow Song. She did not have to—- the audience sat spellbound by the sheer beauty of her voice. She cast a spell through allowing her voice to change color subtly in response to small changes in mood or meaning. As Gioconda, on the words “O madre mia !”, she slowly and majestically crossed the stage from upstage right to downstage left to her mother La Cieca, all the while sustaining a high B-flat pianissimo that the angels must have envied.

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