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A Salute to Divas

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This word, ‘diva’ has gained usage in popular culture as applied to female singers.  Well, yes.  Female singers are divas, but there was a time when one was called a diva, it was a compliment, indicating a level not easily achieved.  Opera singers were called divas because of what they had accomplished, carrying the weight of drama and heartache to unreachable heights.

Leontyne Price as Cleopatra in Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra”
Photograph shows soprano Maria Callas embracing Sir David Webster (left) backstage at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, after her performance in “Tosca.” On the right is tenor Renato Cioni.

When I consider recent sopranos of the past and make my personal list of who is a Diva (with a capital D), a few names come to mind: Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, and Jessye Norman.  Fortunately, the Library of Congress will have a special event tonight; a ‘Conversation with Jessye Norman’ will take place in Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson building.

Ms. Norman has had a career filled with performances in roles such as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro to Wagner leads Isolde in Tristan und Isolde and Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. Toss in a few Salome productions, Sieglindes from Der Ring des Nibelungen and a Stravinsky Oedipus Rex, and you understand why she has earned her title as Diva. She has also garnered praise for her recordings and as a recitalist.  Another exciting event was when she sang the “Marseillaise” on Bastille Day in 1989, celebrating 200 years of liberty in France. She was draped in the tri-color as she stately descended the stairs. (Marchons, citizens!)

For all the aspiring divas we serve at the NLS Music Section, here are some selections you can borrow or download from BARD to help you on your journey to the title of Diva (with a capital ‘D’.)


Role                            Call number   Title

Aida                           BRM 24013    Operatic Anthology

Alceste                       BRM 24013    Operatic Anthology

Antonia                      BRM 24013    Operatic Anthology

Carmen                      BRM 25583    Habañera

Countess Almaviva    BRM 03887    Porgi Amor

Dido                            BRM 36436    Dido and Aeneas (full score)

                                    BRM 23613     When I am Laid

Elisabeth                    BRM 24751    Tannhäuser (Libretto and principal arias)

Jocasta                       BRM 27938    Oedipus rex (volume 2)

Leonore                      BRM 35891    Arias for Sopranos


In addition to braille music scores, there are some audio titles from the talking book collection.

Aida, as told by Leontyne Price. DB 33189. Leontyne Price retells the story of Aida.

Maria Callas, the Woman Behind the Legend, DB 15841.

Montserrat Caballé: Casta Diva. DB 41235.

Toi toi toi!  (Luck to our future divas!)

For more information or to contact the Music Section, send us an email ([email protected]), or call us at 1-800-424-8567, then press option 2 for the Music Section.

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