Maria Spacagna. Photo by Carnegie Mellon

She is among Rhode Island’s most celebrated performers, a soprano who made Madame Butterfly her signature role, acclaimed by the La Scala Encyclopedia of the Opera “as one of the great singers of her generation.”  

Maria Spacagna, born in Providence, and a guest artist at the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, has carved out a career that has certainly distinguished herself among Rhode Island’s most accomplished women.

During Women’s History Month, WUN is honoring many women who have played significant roles in our area, from the sports field to politics, the stage and government, from the court room to the board room. They are focused, tenacious, smart, and courageous. The women who have been represented here over the past few weeks are only a small sampling of women who have had a significant impact on not only women, but on all of Rhode Island’s society.

Before moving to Pittsburgh a few years ago, where she is an associate professor of voice at Carnegie Mellon University, Maria lived for years in the Cowesett section of Warwick. She was devoted to her family, her profession, and to Rhode Island.

Maria Spacagna. Photo via Carnegie Mellon

Perhaps an event several years ago that defined her love and dedication to this state, was the importance Maria placed on being honored by Rhode Island’s Business Volunteers for the Arts. Maria was the performance recipient in a night that honored several within the arts community. But shortly before the event, she was called to the famed opera house at La Scala in Milan, Italy, where they had become disenchanted with a Russian soprano in its production of Madame Butterfly. They called upon Maria to fill the role, which she did, but she made sure to fly back to Rhode Island to accept her award, honoring her state before returning to the stage at La Scala.

It was at La Scala years before that Maria became the first American-born opera singer to play the title role in Madame Butterfly.

She was trained at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned Bachelor of Music in Voice and a Master of Music in Voice with Distinction.

During her career she has played more than 40 roles at opera houses from Germany and Japan to Dallas and New Orleans. In concert, she’s performed with symphony orchestras, including the Rhode Island Philharmonic and orchestras and concerts around the nation and around the globe.

At the invitation of Placido Domingo, she performed at a State Dinner honoring the Prime Minister of Italy given by President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House.

She’s recorded often, including the 1995 Vox Records first commercial recording of the 1904 La Scala world premier version Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. According to her biography, included in Carnegie Mellon literature, the “Spacagna Butterfly was selected by FANFARE, the recording industry quarterly, as one of the three opera ‘recordings of the year” for 1997.’  Fanfare, places her recording of the role along with those of Tebaldi, Scotto and Toti dal Monte.”

She also earned critical acclaim for recordings of the title role of Mascagni’s Lodoletta for Hungaroton and Vivetta in Cilea’sL’Arlesiana for Harmonia Mundi, according to Carnegie Mellon.

Maria has been recognized throughout her career. Here are a few: She was Alumni of the Year Award in 2004 from the New England Conservatory; a member of the Juilliard Opera Center at the Julliard School of Music; winning second prize at the Busseto Verdi Competition in Italy, and the Paris International Voice Competition.

 She has received two George London grants, the Metropolitan Opera National Council, Rockefeller Foundation and the Minna Kaufmann Rudd Distinguished Performance Award.  Maria received the Rhode Island Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, and in March 2012 she received an award from the Italian Consulate General in Boston for Outstanding Achievement in Art, Culture and Entertainment.  And she received the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra’s first Distinguished Artist Award.  

This story was originally published on March 24, 2021.