Artist Profile: Martina Arroyo, An Iconic Soprano

By David Salazar

Martina Arroyo is one of the transcendent figures in opera history.

Born on Feb. 2, 1936 in New York City, she  would attend Hunter College where she obtained a B.A. in Romance Languages by the age of 19. She studied voice as a hobby at the time, though by the end of her studies it was clear that she needed to pursue it as more than a hobby; her voice teacher Marinka Gurewich was a major force behind this switch in perspective for Arroyo. Thea Dispeker would become her manager during this time after attending one of her recitals.

Arroyo started a career as an English teacher and would then become a social worker so that she continue her voice studies. In 1957, she auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera but was rejected.

She then went and competed in the Met’s Audition in the Air Competition and won; she was also given a scholarship to the company’s Kathryn Long School. From there she gained recognition and in 1959 she made her Met Opera staged debut as the Celestial Voice in “Don Carlo.”

After her debut she moved to Europe and started building her career in smaller opera houses. Her major breakthrough came in 1963 in Zurich when she wound up making her role debut as “Aida;” she would continue as a major prescence in Zurich until 1968. Once she proved her talent in “Aida,” it would become a major calling card for her and she started getting calls to sing the role all over the world, including the Metropolitan where she subbed in for Birgit Nilsson at the last moment. From there it was one success after another for the soprano who would become a major international success everywhere she went.

In 1989 she sang her final stage performance and only came out of retirement in 1991 for the world premiere of “Blake.” After the performance, she became a teacher and established the Martina Arroyo Foundation to support young artists. She was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by President Gerald Ford.

Signature Roles

Arroyo was one of the great Verdi sopranos of her time, dominating such roles as “Aida” and the “Forza del Destino” and “Trovatore” Leonora’s. But she also took on a number of roles in the Verismo repertoire and was famously the first black soprano in history to take on the role of Elsa in Wagner’s “Lohengrin.”

Read More on Arroyo

A Look At Her Career Achievements

Some of Her Rare Roles

Watch and Listen

Here is a renowned “Aida” recording.

And here she is in “Don Giovanni.”


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