Semiha Berksoy, Turkey’s first female opera singer, was remembered Wednesday on the 15th anniversary of her death.
Berksoy was one of the leading figures in the cultural scene during the early years of the Turkish Republic and one of the first internationally recognized Turkish artists.
She was born in 1910 in Istanbul’s Cengelkoy district. Her mother, Fatma Saime Hanım, was a painter, and her father, Ziya Cenap Berksoy, a poet.
At the age of 20, she was accepted to Darulbedayi Drama School, founded by Turkish actor and director Muhsin Ertugrul.
Berksoy started her acting career in the first Turkish film with sound, Istanbul Sokaklarında, directed by Ertugrul in 1931.
Her talent brought more opportunities, and she was cast in operettas at Istanbul theaters early in her career.
In 1934, she starred in the first Turkish opera, Ozsoy, and attracted the attention of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Berksoy was honored as the First Turkish Opera Singer and won a scholarship to the Berlin Music Academy.
In 1939, she sang the leading role of Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos for the 75th birthday of German composer Richard Strauss in Berlin and became the first Turkish prima donna to perform on stage in Europe.
She performed in the Tosca and Madama Butterfly operas under the direction of Carl Ebert when she returned to Turkey in 1941.
She also worked with Ebert to create the Turkish State Opera and Ballet.
Berksoy performed in various operas both in Turkey and abroad throughout her career. She retired in 1972 but remained active mostly as a theater artist.
In 1999, five years prior to her death and at the age of 90, she performed in Robert Wilson's opera “The Days Before: Death, Destruction and Detroit III” at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
- Life as an artist
Berksoy took her first painting lessons from her mother. She studied at the Namık Ismail Atelier of the Fine Arts Academy, Istanbul, in 1929 with a scholarship because of her talent.
Regarding painting as important as food throughout her life, she created modern works in an avant-garde style.
Her paintings were exhibited in many cities including Berlin, Paris, Istanbul and New York.
She was decorated with the "Ataturk Opera Award" at the 50th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the introduction of women's right to vote and to be elected and received the title of "State Artist" in Turkey in 1998.
She died in Istanbul at the age of 94 due to complications related to heart surgery and was buried in Cengelkoy district.
*Writing by Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak