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Zinka Milanov

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Biography

Zinka Milanov (May 17, 1906 – May 30, 1989) was a Croatian-born operatic spinto soprano who had a major career centred on the New York Metropolitan Opera. Born in Zagreb, Croatia as Zinka Kunc, she studied with the Wagnerian soprano Milka Ternina and her assistant Marija Kostrenčić. She also studied in Milan with Carpi and in Berlin with Stückgolt. On October 29, 1927, she made her operatic debut as Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the young age of 21. Her debut in her native Croatia, at the National Theatre in Zagreb, took place five weeks later as Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s Faust.

After an early debut in Dresden (November 5, 1928, also as Leonora), her teacher, Ternina, was not pleased and much work commenced to perfect her technique. She performed in Zagreb and Ljubljana almost exclusively for the next six years. Later she became a member of the New German Theatre in Prague, where all performances were sung in German. She was discovered there by Bruno Walter, who recommended her to Arturo Toscanini for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Salzburg.

In 1937, the soprano made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, once again as Leonora. At that time she adopted the name Milanov, which was the stage name of her second husband, an actor. According to Milanov herself, “Kunc” wasn’t “glamorous” enough for the Metropolitan Opera. In the article “Zinka Takes Off” (Opera News, November 2004, vol 69, no. 5), it is stated that the name change was deemed necessary since the gentlemen at the Met feared the “implications inherent in what they predicted would be the standard American mispronunciation — but they were never forthright with her about it”.

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