It’s an Honors of a lifetime for Justino Diaz.
The 81-year-old Puerto Rican operatic bass-baritone is among the recipients of the Kennedy Center’s Kennedy Center Honors this year, as the organization plans to return the ceremony to its traditional time and format in December.
In 1963, Díaz won an annual contest held at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, becoming the first Puerto Rican to obtain such an honor and as a consequence, made his Metropolitan debut in October 1963 in Verdi‘s Rigoletto as Monterone.
Diaz’s big roles throughout his career were in the operas of Mozart, taking on the title role of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro a total of 27 times in his Met career.
He was also a renowned Scarpia and Iago in his time. He was famously picked by Franco Zeffirelli to take on the villain in his film version of Verdi’s final tragic masterwork; Scarpia was the last role he sang on the Met stage.
In addition to Diaz, the recipients for the December 5 event will be singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, actress and singer Bette Midler, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, and Motown Record founder and producer Berry Gordy.
CBS will broadcast the 44th annual ceremony, and it will be live streamed on Paramount+ and available on demand.
The Kennedy Center Honors traditionally takes place in the first weekend of December, with events at the White House and the State Department preceding the ceremony at the Kennedy Center Opera House. But because of Covid-19, the most recent honors were postponed until May this year, with the ceremony spread out over several days with a mix of indoor and outdoor events, some in person and some pre-taped. Instead of a White House reception, President Joe Biden had a smaller gathering of the honorees.
In a statement, Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said, “After the challenges and heartbreak of the last many months, and as we celebrate 50 years of the Kennedy Center, I dare add that we are prepared to throw ‘the party to end all parties’ in D.C. on Dec. 5th, feting these extraordinary people and welcoming audiences back to our campus.”