Born in Valencia, Spain, Lucrezia Borja y Gonzalez de Riancho rose to fame as the beloved grand dame of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in the early 1900s. She adopted “Bori” as her stage name.She made her first singing performance at the age of six, when she appeared in a benefit concert in her hometown. At the age of six¬ teen, she traveled to Milan, Italy, to receive voice training.
Recognized quickly as a talented performer, Bori was hired by the Italian opera house La Scala a year after she moved to Italy. She eventually joined the touring New York Metropolitan Opera in Paris, and in 1910, she performed her first role when she replaced a sick colleague.
Bori portrayed the role of Manon, in Puccini’s famous opera, Manon Lescaut, per¬ forming opposite the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. The performance sold out, she was an immediate sensation, and two more performances were quickly scheduled.In 1911, her singing caught the attention of German composer Richard Strauss, who insisted that she perform the role of Octavian in the local premiere of his opera Der Rosenkavalier.
In 1912, at the age of twenty-four,Bori performed her Manon role at the opening night for the Met in New York City, her first appearance in the United States. She continued to star for the Met until 1915, when she underwent throat surgery. Bori spent five years of lonely convalescence recovering from her surgery. She could not sing, or even speak, for months. Finally, in 1921, she returned to the Met, where she starred for another fifteen years.
Throughout her career, Bori wowed audiences with her clear voice and pas¬ sion. She exuded charm and vulnerabil¬ity. She starred in a number of memorable roles, including Mimi in La Boheme, Norina in Don Pasquale, Juliette in Romeo et Juliette, and Violetta in La Traviata.
In all, during nineteen seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, she starred in twenty-nine roles and gave more than six hundred performances.In 1936, Bori gave her final performance. She was still at the peak of her talent, and the audience gave her a twenty-minute standing ovation.Although she retired from singing, Bori did not leave the Met.
The country was in the midst of the Great Depression, but she drew on her tremendous popularity and star quali¬ ty to help raise funds for the opera. Her efforts earned her the nickname “the Opera’s Joan of Arc.” Building on her success as a fundraiser, Bori became the first active artist, and the first woman, elected to the Met’s board of directors. She was elected president of the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 1942.