Puerto Rican Opera Singer Graciela Rivera

Graciela Rivera achieved much in her music career, with one of the special highlights for the talented opera singer being the fact that, in December 1951, she became the first Puerto Rican to sing a lead role at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She received international acclaim for her performance in the role of Lucia in the production of Lucia di Lammermoor and in 1953 was proclaimed by the City of New York to be the ‘Citizen of the Year’. In 1954 Rivera received special recognition by the Puerto Rican government, and in the following years traveled between the island and New York teaching and performing. Today there is a monument of Graciela Rivera at the plaza named in her honor in Barrio Primero, Ponce, and her name is featured at the Park for the Illustrious Ponce Citizens.

Born in the city of Ponce on April 17, 1921, Graciela Rivera Zumchak showed a talent for singing at a young age. Along with her mother, Graciela would sing church hymns accompanied on the piano by her father who was a preacher. The family later moved first to Catano and then to Santurce, San Juan, where she attended the Santurce Central High School. It was there that she performed in school productions of well-known operas Il Trovatore; Rigoletto; The Magic Flute, Lucia di Lammermoor and Aida.

After graduating from high school, Graciela Rivera moved to New York where she enrolled at the renowned Juilliard School for piano lessons, music theory, voice lessons and harmony and composition. She graduated in 1943, and during World War II travelled overseas with the Red Cross where she sang for the American troops. Performing the role of Adele in the Broadway musical Rosalinda, in 1945 Rivera traveled with the production to Germany and France. Later that year, she performed as Rosina in The Barber of Seville at the New Orleans Opera.

Following her history-making performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1951, Rivera featured as a guest singer in the television game show Name That Tune, and performed in various productions, both in New York and Puerto Rico. Having taught Italian, Spanish and Puerto Rican music at the Hostos Community College for 15 years, Rivera retired in 1987. She passed away on July 17, 2011, at her home in Hamilton, New Jersey, but her legacy of music lives on.