If you’re a fan of classical music, you’ve probably heard about Zinka Kunc Milanov. A Croatian-born opera singer that’s considered one of the greatest sopranos in history, Milanov had a remarkable career spanning 40 years: she performed in 1049 plays and held more than 300 concerts. To mark the 111th anniversary of her birth, the Mimara Museum in Zagreb is honouring the legendary soprano with a premiere screening of the documentary film “The Last Prima donna”.
Milanov started her career in Lubljana in 1927, went on to become a singer at the Opera in Zagreb and the New German Theatre in Prague, then moved to New York in 1937 to join the ensemble at the Metropolitan opera, where she remained the main star until 1966. After she retired from professional singing, she continued to work as a vocal coach and teacher.
Even though she was born as Zinka Kunc, she adopted the stage name of her second husband because, according to her own words, the last name Kunc wasn’t glamorous enough for the Met. She performed 34 roles in operas composed by giants such as Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, and Strauss. Milanov was known for her grandiose style, obtaining a status of the biggest prima donna in history of the Metropolitan. Her extraordinary voice used to captivate the critics and the audience who adored her, her fame being so long-lasting that the records of her rehearsals are still coveted on the market worldwide.
“The Last Prima donna” is the end result of long-term archival research including numerous newspapers and musical collections all over the world, and is an attempt to visually recreate some of the focal moments of Milanov’s outstanding career. It features interviews with the Croatian soprano Ivanka Boljkovac and the music critics Marija Barbieri and Jagoda Martinčević. The film is produced by art historian Stanislav Živkov and cinematographer Ivan Tomić.
If you’re not yet acquainted with the story of our greatest soprano, that’s all the more reason to go and see the movie. The screening takes place at the Mimara Museum and starts at 7 PM today, May 15th.
Here’s a recording of Milanov’s farewell performance in the Met on April 13th 1966: