The Kennedy Center Honors will showcase legendary talent this week and among the group of honorees this year an opera superstar from Puerto Rico.
Alison Starling spoke with his daughter, a local actress, who got to perform on the big stage to honor her trailblazing dad. Justino Diaz and his soaring bass-baritone is an opera world treasure and he’s a household name in his native Puerto Rico. Diaz is also one of this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees, the first opera singer to earn the distinction in 12 years.
“I knew all my life that my father was a great contributor to opera. it’s an incredible honor and well, well, so richly deserved,” said daughter Natascia Diaz. “I always wanted him to shut up! he was so loud. I’d be like, papa, stop singing so loud!”
His most celebrated performance was in the movie Otello in 1986. Diaz remembers her dad’s villainous roles well.
“I was always in the wings. When I was little he would be the bad guy in all the operas and I would cry, he’s really not that bad, he’s not a bad guy! But he relished it, it was his trademark!” she said.
Justino Diaz was honored this year alongside Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, Berry Gordy and Lorne Michaels. Diaz is no stranger to the Kennedy Center, in fact, he was chosen as the opening performance here 50 years ago!
“The first time I ever was here was to inaugurate this building thank you very much. In 1971 I opened this theatre, this opera house,” said Justino Diaz.
At the Library of Congress when he received his rainbow ribbon. The 82-year-old sang a few notes and during the star-studded awards show this week, Natascia Diaz and her sister, Katya, perform for their father.
“Singing for our dad, a Puerto Rican bolero, and watching him cover his face, bursting into tears, that was pretty beautiful,” she said.
Natascia herself has performed on Broadway and in dozens of live performances in DC, including her acclaimed role as Anita in West Side Story. She said when she sang for her dad’s moment of honor, she remembered advice from a friend.
“He said when you sing, this is not a moment to fall apart this is a moment to lift up everything, I’m going to cry now, everything that you are that you have become from him from your father and lift it up like a queen,” she said.
Diaz said she is so proud of her father and not just for the Kennedy Center Honor. She said he is a survivor in every sense of the word, having endured heart bypass surgery, lung and colon cancer.