Ternina, Milka (1863–1941)

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Ternina, Milka (1863–1941)

Croatian operatic soprano who sang the title role in the first presentation of Puccini's Tosca in London and New York. Born on December 19, 1863, in Vezišce, Croatia; died on May 18, 1941, in Zagreb, Croatia.

Debuted in Zagreb, Croatia (1882); performed throughout Europe (1882–1906); performed in the United States (1896–1904); mastered a range of major roles, including Aïda, Tosca, Donna Anna, Kundry, Leonore, Isolde, Brünnhilde, and Elsa; retired from performing and began teaching (1906).

Born in 1863 in a small town outside of Zagreb, Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the soprano Milka Ternina was celebrated across Europe and the United States for her powerful voice and dramatic ability. Little is known of her family background. She studied voice first in the Croatian city of Zagreb under Ida Winterberg , then moved to Vienna to study with Joseph Gänsbacher at the Vienna Conservatory. Ternina debuted to strong acclaim at age 19 in Zagreb in the role of Amelia in Ballo in Maschera. She then enjoyed long contracts with opera companies in the German cities of Leipzig (1883–84), Graz (1884–86), and Bremen (1886–90).

From 1890 to 1906, Ternina performed regularly at the Munich Opera. In 1896, she traveled to the United States to make her American debut on the Boston stage with the Damrosch opera company. Her London debut followed in 1898 at Covent Garden, where she sang the role of Tosca in the first London performance of Puccini's opera; she would return to London in 1900 and 1906. Between 1899 and 1904, Ternina frequently made the long ocean journey between Germany and New York to maintain her engagements at the Munich Opera as well as at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In those five years, she sang the title role in the first presentation of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera on February 4, 1901, and performed 15 roles in 74 other productions; she also made sang on some of the earliest opera recordings.

In 1906, Ternina was struck with partial facial paralysis; unable to perform publicly, she retired to become an instructor. For several years, she taught American students at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, then Ternina returned to her native Zagreb as her health failed. The most renowned of her pupils was the soprano Zinka Milanov .


Hamilton, David. The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Warrack, John, and Ewan West. The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California