Article 1: Diaz And The Devil By Perry Tannenbaum. In:
Creative Loafing (March 2000)
Article 2: Good guy Justino Diaz drips with evil in 'Tosca' role. In: The Detroit News (May 4, 2000)
Article 4: Justino Diaz Mozart Arias By Roland Graeme. In: Opera Quarterly. - Vol.7 (1990);
Article 5: Justino Diaz by Erik Myers. In Opera News Vol.70, Issue 9 (2006); p14-16 [New]
A legendary baritone's
return to Connecticut
By Dan Mathews
In: Yawanna [05-01-2001]
When writing about the opera Faust (with its overtly diabolical theme) one must control the urge to dabble in satanic puns such as "one hell of an opera," "a devilishly clever score," and so on.
When talking to world-famous baritone Justino Diaz, who assayed the role of Mephistopheles in the Connecticut Opera production of Charles Gounod's magnum opus on April 26 and 28, I endeavored to display the utmost restraint in this regard, especially after the singer's repeated references to Divine Providence as the source of his success.
"I thank God that He gave me talent, and I have always tried to cultivate it," Mr. Diaz told me. "My longevity has been a true blessing."
"Longevity" would seem to be too weak a word to describe the singer's 43-year long (and counting) tenure in the world of opera, a career which began in a church choir back in his native Puerto Rico.
"My first operatic role was at the age of 15; I had one line in La Traviata. At 19 I went to the New England Conservatory in Boston to study voice, and I made my Metropolitan Opera debut at 23." In other words, he practically started out at the top.
Since then, Diaz has become a household name among operatic connoisseurs through his countless appearances on stages around the world. Moreover, his co-starring role as Iago in the Franco Zefferelli film of Verdi's Otello (opposite Placido Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli) assured his musical immortality. "It's a beautifully made film," he said, "a lasting document."
One of the baritone's most auspicious performances was his 1966 appearance in the world premiere of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, in which he played the title role. This is the work that inaugurated the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. But critics and the public panned the opera because of its overindulgent set designs, which dwarfed the cast and distracted from the music.
"For me to open the new Met was absolutely terrific," Diaz recalled. "I remember thinking to myself, 'This is wonderful; I deserve it. It was the right time for me."
He is philosophical about the failure of the production to win critical success: "The event took place, and the critical response doesn't matter," he said.
No wonder he felt this way; throughout the rest of the 60s and 70s, Diaz was in constant demand both at the Met and abroad. "Every morning I put on a coat and tie and went to rehearsals at the Met. I completely missed everything that happened in those two decades; I missed the Beatles, the lunar landing... because I was so totally immersed in my art."
In accounting for his remarkable success over so long a period, Diaz said, "I don't know what my secret is. Luck, I guess, in that I worked with the best right from the beginning, which gave me respect and awe for my art very early on."
Some of the luminaries who inspired Diaz in his early days as a singer include the aforementioned Samuel Barber, Giancarlo Menotti (composer of Amahl And The Night Visitors), Pablo Casals, and Boris Goldovsky.
"I also had fortitude," he continued. "I had health and technique, and a good family support system. I had the sun and sea of Puerto Rico to inspire me, and the tremendously culturally enriching atmosphere that the island offers with its blend of Anglo, Spanish, and African cultures."
Over the four-plus decades of his career Diaz has, of course, developed a particular affinity for certain roles. "My favorites include Iago, Scarpia (which he sang in Hartford last year), Don Giovanni, and Figaro." And, of course, Mephistopheles, the coveted role that has lured him to Hartford once more.
"This part fascinates people because it is the personification of everything that is titillating or naughty in our lives; he's the embodiment of sin. This is why he has captured the imagination of composers and dramatists since the beginning of time, because he provides a face to all of the things we bury deep down."
When he looks back over his storied lifetime in music, Diaz finds little to complain about. "It has brought me enormous joy," he said, "and the enormous satisfaction to have been a partner in genius and greatness, even if it's just brushing up against it. That is its own reward."
Given the obvious love that Diaz has for his craft, his deep understanding of the part he is about to sing, and his formidable resume, which spans so many years, roles, and decades, this performance must have been memorable. In fact, I would sell my soul to get a chance to have seen it!
Sorry, I couldn't resist.