Croatia has a long and steady history of many classical artists of all kinds contributing to the world of art. Composers, painters, sculptors, and writers. Most of them you will hear of are men of big careers and of big reputation who co-created the culture and art we witness and study about to this day.
But in a long line of influential men, Croatia has always had even more astonishing women who had to work extra hard and still managed to make worldwide careers and recognizable names all by themselves which paved a way for women in Croatia today to hold some of the highest positions in the country, such as our President and former Prime Minister as well.
In this short series of posts named simply “Influential Croatian Women”, we will present you some of the prominent women in Croatian history in various fields.
In this post in three parts, we’ll present you three divas that have been enchanting the stage of Metropolitan Opera during the whole 20th century. Milka Trnina, Zinka Kunc, and Ruža Pospiš Baldani have been the three voices that shaped forms of female opera singing for good. Let’s find out more!
Zinka Kunc was born in Zagreb in 1906, and was a student of the legendary Milka Trnina, who we mentioned in our first post on the Metropolitan divas. She had her debut in 1927 in Ljubljana as Leonora in “Trubadur”. For the next decade, she sang all the major roles of the great opera she later sang in Metropolitan. After Zagreb, Zinka went to Prague, where, among other things, she went to audition to Artur Toscanini, who hired her as a solo soprano in Verdi’s “Requiem”. At that time she went on auditions with opera authorities such as Edward Johnson, Edward Ziegler and Artur Bodanzky in Metropolitan where she signed a contract. As the abovementioned trio did not like the name of Kunc for the singer of the Italian opera, Zinka agreed to sing as Zinka Milanov, a variation of her husband’s name.
Zinka Milanov had a debut at Metropolitan on December 17, 1937, as Leonora in “Troubadours” in the original Italian language. One of the most famous opera critics at the time, Virgil Thomson, wrote that “her voice is not comparable to any other in the country.” In the following years, she became the leading drama soprano, achieving great success in “Trubadur”, “Aida”, “La Gioconda”, “Courageous Dance”, “Don Giovanni”, “Cavalleria Rusticana”, “Fortune Destiny” and “Norma”. The last one was written acclaimed by all critics, as well as her Aida sung by Zinka 52 times in Met and 26 times on world tours.
It was proclaimed the greatest Aida and the greatest dramatic soprano of Italian opera.
The ovations that followed the “O patria mia” came to a halt in the performance of the opera, and this was also the case when the first act of Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda”, in the Madonna “Enzo adorato”, was sung by the high pianissimo, so far no one has exceeded.
Zinka Milanov said her professional goodbye to the audience on April 13, 1966, with the opera “Andrea Chenier”.
“They close the door, and I close my books,” she said during the farewell, with an applause that lasted for half an hour.
The notes of the book, however, did not close completely because for years, until death, she was a singing teacher. Among her most famous students were Christa Ludwig, Betty Allen, Regina Crespin, Elinor Ross and Ruth Falcon.
She recorded a lot from the 1940s through to the 1960s, mostly Italian operas.
Zinka Kunc Milanov is among the elite group of people who won the special medal as one of the 87 prominent persons of foreign origin who have contributed to New York and the US with their work.
She died at the Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on May 30, 1989 following a stroke, aged 83, but her legacy still lives on in form of the “Zinka Milanov Competition” for young and aspiring opera singers from around the world.