Distinguished Artist Recipient, 2015 Governor’s Arts Awards
As the beloved Princess Aurora, Mary Costa brought both her voice and personality to the 1959 Disney classic Sleeping Beauty and emerged as an international artist who has graced the stages of opera, concert, theatre, television and movies. In a stellar career that included performances in 38 operatic roles, she premiered roles for many of the greatest composers of the era, including Tytania in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ninette in the world premiere of Norman Dello Joio’s Blood Moon. She earned the Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989 and was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the National Council on the Arts from 2003-2007.
She has performed in all of the world’s top opera houses, including The Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, The Bolshoi Theatre and The San Francisco Opera. She created the role of Anne Trulove at the San Francisco Opera’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s opera, The Rake’s Progress and her Metropolitan Opera debut received one of the season’s greatest ovations, engendering enthusiastic praise from critics. She is credited with triumphantly meeting the challenge of some of the most demanding leading roles in opera including those in Manon, La Traviata, La Bohème, Vanessa and Faust.
Costa’s beautiful voice and winning personality gained her fame beyond the international opera scene, as she performed with TV stars and radio personalities such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Don Knotts and Jack Benny. She was also asked by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to sing at President John F. Kennedy’s Memorial Service. Years later, at the request of Leonard Bernstein, Costa sang the lead in a revival of Candide, which opened the opera house at the new Kennedy Center in Washington.
Despite her international fame, Costa’s roots have always been in Tennessee. A member of the state’s Film, Entertainment and Music Commission Advisory Council, Costa has served Tennessee as an ambassador and advisor. She was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane and Musical Letters from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She also helped found the Knoxville Opera in 1979, which has grown into one of Tennessee’s major cultural institutions. Knoxville Opera has touched the lives of nearly two million children and adults through education programs, performances and festivals, creating nearly $25 million in commerce for East Tennessee.
Costa continues to be a positive example and leader through her mentorship of the next generation of great singers at the University of Tennessee and other schools. She works to inspire these young people to achieve their goals by emphasizing the importance of dedication and discipline. Additionally, Costa has helped raise funds on behalf of various charities, including Childhelp USA, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Read Across America and Signal Centers of Chattanooga, all of which benefit children in need.
In the same way that she signs her name “Princess Aurora” when sending letters to sick children in need of a smile, Costa has used her talent and dedication to make a difference in the lives of all those she has touched, and continues to shine a beautiful light on Knoxville and the state of Tennessee.