Justino Diaz



Justino Diaz (born January 29, 1940) is an internationally renowned bass-baritone opera singer.

Early years

Diaz was born in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, but lived and was raised in the town of Cataño. He attended Robinson Elementary School where, at the age of 8, he started to participate in the school's activities as a singer. In his first school play, when he was 10 years old, he sang the song "Old Black Joe", which became his favorite. After finishing his primary education, Diaz attended the University of Puerto Rico High School in Río Piedras. While in high school, he took singing classes and participated in various presentations around the island. 

Diaz joined the choir of the University of Puerto Rico where he sang solo. His operatic debut was in 1957 as Ben in Gian Carlo Menotti's The Telephone. It wasn't long before Diaz enrolled in New England Conservatory in Massachusetts. One of his professors was Boris Goldovsky, who would be very influential in his career. Diaz made his professional debut as an opera singer at the Opera Theater of New England. In 1960, Goldovsky asked Diaz to join his opera company on a 20-state tour. After the tour, he entered and participated in a competition celebrated at the Metropolitan Opera House, winning third place in the New England region.

Diaz moved to New York upon finishing his studies at the conservatory. Goldovsky recommended that he be represented by Hans J. Hoffman, a talent agent. Soon, Diaz was singing alongside other artists at the American Opera Society. He also sang with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Metropolitan Opera House of New York
On March 29, 1963, Diaz won an annual contest held at the Metropolitan of New York, becoming the "first" Puerto Rican to obtain such an honor. As a consequence, Diaz made his Metropolitan debut on October 1963 in Verdi's Rigoletto as Monterone. Among the opera houses in which Diaz has made presentations are: La Scala in Milan, Italy; Paris Opera, The Vienna Staatsoper; the Opera House of Salzburg; the New York City Opera; the Opera of Spoleto; the Opera of Rome; The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden; the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires; the Zarzuela Theater of Madrid, Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu and others. In 1966 he helped to inaugurate the Lincoln Center in New York City by starring in the opening night performance of Anthony and Cleopatra by Samuel Barber.

In Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, Diaz was a frequent participant in the annual Casals Festival. He sang in the inauguration of the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center in San Juan. He also played the role of Luis Muñoz Marín in the 1984 musical Fela. In 1986, Diaz played the role of Jago, opposite Plácido Domingo in Franco Zeffirelli's film adaptation of Otello. In 1967, his Escamillo in Carmen was filmed, conducted and directed by Herbert von Karajan, and also starring Grace Bumbry and Jon Vickers.

Diaz recorded Messiah, Semele and Solomon by Handel. He also recorded Lucia di Lammermoor, L'assedio di Corinto (both with Beverly Sills) and Thaïs (with Anna Moffo). He has also sung the role of Emile De Becque in the world-premiere recording of the complete score from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. He stars in this British-produced 2-CD set opposite Paige O'Hara as Nellie Forbush. In 1987, Diaz played the role onstage at Lincoln Center.

Recognitions and awards

Among the recognitions and awards which Diaz has been honored with are: An Honorary Doctorate in Music from the New England Conservatory, The Handel Medal from the City of New York and The National Medal of Culture from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture

Later years

On March 29, 2003, Justino Diaz retired after 40 years in the arts. However, before he made his last presentation at the Luis A. Ferrer Performing Arts Center, he held a good-bye tour where he closed all of his presentations with the song "Old Black Joe", the same song that he sang at the Robinson Elementary School when he was 10 years old. 

Currently, Diaz and fellow Puerto Rican pianist Elias Lopez Soba, are the artistic and musical directors of the Casals Festival, a classical music event held annually in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


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