Bass-baritone Justino Diaz is one of the most famous Puerto Rican opera stars of all time.
Born in San Juan, he started to participate in his elementary school’s vocal activities at the age of eight.
He would go on to University of Puerto Rico High School where he would continue his development as a singer; this continued at the University. In 1957, he made his operatic debut in Menotti’s “The Telephone, or L’Amour à Trois.”
From there he went to the New England Conservatory and joined the Opera Theater of New England for his professional debut. After a 20-state tour with the company, he moved to New York.
On March 29, 1963, Diaz won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, becoming the first Puerto Rican to accomplish the feat; that same year he made his Met Opera debut. He would go on to a successful career with the company and was the singer to headline the production of “Antony and Cleopatra” at the New House in Lincoln Center in 1966.
In addition to his exploits in New York, he would also go on to perform all around the world with such companies as the Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera, Teatro alla Scala, and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, among others.
He also performed consistently in Puerto Rico frequently. He received an honorary doctorate of music from the New England Conservatory, among other honors.
Diaz’s big roles throughout his career were in the operas of Mozart, taking on the title role of Figaro in “Le Nozze di Figaro” a total of 27 times in his Met career.
He was also a renowned Scarpia and Iago in his time. He was famously picked by Franco Zeffirelli to take on the villain in his film version of Verdi’s final tragic masterwork; Scarpia was the last role he sang on the Met stage.
Read More on Diaz
Watch and Listen
Here is an album of Mozart arias.
And here is a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”