Two opera legends die on the same day

May 11, 2023

Opera fans were shocked this week to learn that two of the genre's legendary figures died on the same day.  

According to The Guardian, soprano Grace Bumbry passed away last weekend in Austria at the age of 86 following a decades-long career.

First black singer to perform at Germany's Bayreuth Festival Theatre

The paper noted that Bumbry, who would eventually become the first black opera singer ever to perform at Germany's Bayreuth Festival Theatre, came from humble beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri.

After joining a local Methodist choir at age 12 and singing in school productions, Bumbry participated in a local radio competition.

This in turn led to a national broadcast talent show appearance at age 17, during which she sang from Verdi’s Don Carlo the aria O Don Fatale.

The following year saw Bumbry win a scholarship at Boston University but subsequently transferred to Northwestern University. It was there that she caught the eye of German opera great Lotte Lehmann, who invited Bumbry to attend her school in Santa Barbara, California.

Czech opera star escaped communism

Bumbry went on to have a storied career which took her to New York City's Metropolitan Opera along with some of the most prestigious opera houses of Europe.

Meanwhile, Scotland's The Herald reported that 97-year-old Czech opera sensation Sona Cervena also passed away on Sunday after suffering from an unspecified illness.

Cervena spent nearly two years living under communist rule but managed to escape in East Berlin in 1962 following a performance at the Berlin State Opera.

The singer was unable to return to her home for nearly 30 years and was quoted as telling a Czech radio station, "I couldn’t live and sing without freedom."

Cervena spent much of her career at the Frankfurt Opera but also sang in San Francisco,  Vienna, Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Her final performance came this past September at the Lateran Basilica in Rome to celebrate her nation's presidency of the European Union.

Both women hailed on social media

Tributes to both women quickly appeared on social media, with Opera Magazine hailing Bumbry as being among "the great artists of her day."

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