Bori, Lucrezia (1887–1960)

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Bori, Lucrezia (1887–1960)

Spanish soprano. Born Lucrecia Borja y Gonzales de Riancho on December 4, 1887, in Valencia, Spain; died on May 14, 1960, in New York; daughter of an aristocratic family; educated in a convent; studied with Melchiorre Vidal in Milan and at the Valencia Conservatory.

Debuted as Micaela in Carmen in Rome (1908), at Teatro alla Scala (1909), Paris (1910); debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in Manon Lescaut (1912), continuing to appear there until 1936; first woman elected to the Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors, a position in which she served from 1935–60.

Singing was not easy for Lucrezia Bori. At age 28, she had to withdraw from the Met when nodules developed on her vocal cords, and the operation to remove them was unsuccessful. A second procedure was tried in Milan in 1916 which also failed. The surgeon warned her that only long silence could cure her voice. Anxious to continue her career, she followed his advice and did not use her voice for 12 months. A year later, she spoke only in a whisper. During her illness, she regularly visited a shrine of St. Francis, vowing to dedicate her life to charity if her voice was returned. After an absence of five years, she was finally able to return to the stage. "Never during the long dark months when I was not permitted to talk, let alone sing, did I lose faith," she once said. "But it was terrible. I felt as must those stricken with sudden blindness, just as the sun of spring flooded the world."

Lucrecia Borja studied in her native Spain before going to Italy. There, she changed the spelling of her name from Borja to Bori to minimize her connection with the sinister Borgias to whom she was, in fact, related. Her success in Italy was immediate. When Bori returned to the Metropolitan Opera in 1921 as Mimi in La Bohème, she was a devout Roman Catholic and had dedicated her voice to God. An instant love affair flared between Bori and her American audience; from this point forward, her career would mainly unfold in the U.S. where her beautiful voice and superb acting skills made her a favorite for many years.

When the Depression hit, Bori spent her free time campaigning for funds to save the Met, writing letters and making speeches on behalf of the great opera house. She was the first woman elected to the board of directors and remained on the board until her death. Bori also served as honorary chair of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Never forgotten in her native Spain, when Bori died thousands lined the streets of Valencia to bid her farewell. Most were grateful for the funds she had raised for the city after devastating floods in 1957. Summing up the city's attitude, one mourner remarked, "It is because of her I have a roof over my head." Those who work at the Metropolitan Opera could say the same.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia