American soprano Julia Migenes (b. New York City, March 13, 1949) is much admired for her acting ability, as well as for the flexibility and power of her voice in musical theatre, in opera, on recordings, and on film.
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to a complex family of Greek, Irish, and Puerto Rican extraction, Julia Migenes first appeared on the operatic stage as the child (a non-singing role) in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. She attended the New York School for Performing Arts, and was chosen as a soloist by Leonard Bernstein for a television broadcast of his Young People’s Concerts. She began her Broadway career as a teenager, replacing Anna Maria Alberghetti in Carnival!, soon thereafter played Maria in a City Center revival of West Side Story, and followed that with a portrayal of Hodel in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof (1964) – the longest-running musical on Broadway at the time – with Zero Mostel.
Migenes then went to Vienna, sang in German in the chorus at the Theater an der Wien, and took the role of Maria in the German version of West Side Story at the Volksoper in 1968. Since then, she has spent much of her time in Europe. She moved to Munich in the 1970s and became a star of operetta, film, and television, winning many awards. She married Jervis Johnson and had a child, and for many years was billed as Julia Migenes-Johnson.
For the season of 1980, the Metropolitan Opera of New York gave Migenes-Johnson a contract as a “cover” – the singer who waits to be called in case the scheduled performer should be indisposed. As it happened, she made an unexpected Met debut in the title role of Alban Berg’s Lulu and became an overnight sensation. Her performance was broadcast “Live from the Metropolitan Opera” and opened doors for her all around the world. She then sang Salome at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva, where she came to the attention of film director Francesco Rosi. He cast her with Plácido Domingo in his 1984 film of Carmen, which won a Grammy® and has become an enormously popular classic.
Migenes has recorded more than twenty albums, ranging from musicals (Fiddler on the Roof 1964, Show Boat 1988, Kismet 1991, Man of La Mancha 1996) to operetta to Christmas concerts to concert albums (Live at the Olympia 1989) to Weill theatre pieces (The Seven Deadly Sins 1989, Mack the Knife 1990) to compilations (100 ans de Cinema 1995, Le Meilleur de Julia 2004) to opera (Carmen 1984, Lulu 1998, Catarina Cornaro 2000). Her filmography is similarly eclectic, as it includes non-musical television (The Twilight Zone 1986, Magnum, P.I. 1987), fantasy film (L’Unique, in French, 1986), and a complete one-woman opera, Poulenc’s La voix humaine (1991), directed by her third husband Peter Medak. A new DVD features Julia Migenes in the opera version of Angels in America (2004) which premiered at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Also available is a recording of her icon-smashing solo show, Diva on the Verge (2000).