Paul Plishka

Paul Plishka


• Born 1941


Paul Plishka is a notable American bass singer, known for a wide range of major and supporting roles. Both his parents were American-born children of Ukrainian immigrants. As a boy, he was interested in farming and football, but also took guitar lessons. His teacher insisted that he learn to sing while playing, so he would sing popular songs such as Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. When his father moved to a new job in Paterson, New Jersey, Paul, joined the school chorus. Soon, he was offered the part of Judd Fry in the school production of Oklahoma! He was spotted by Armen Boyajian, who was starting a local opera workshop. Plishka joined Boyajian's Paterson Lyric Opera Theatre.

Paul sang major roles -- Raimondo in Ludia di Lamermoor, Guardiano in La Forza del Destino, and King Philip in Don Carlos -- when he was only 21. Meanwhile, Boyajian taught him singing. Plishka was his first student, and Boyajian was Plishka's only teacher.

Plishka attended Montclair State College in New Jersey, where he met his future wife, Judy. At the age of 23, he won the Baltimore Opera Auditions, and then won a prize in the Metropolitan Opera Regional Auditions. This earned him a contract with the national touring company of the Met during what turned out to be its final year. After that, they offered him a contract to be a cover (understudy) singer in buffo parts. Plishka accepted the offer, becoming a member of the company in 1966 and debuting on-stage as the Monk in La Gioconda in 1967, followed by "all these real ham, basso-buffo roles" (Plishka's description), parts such as the Sacristan in Tosca and Benoit in La Bohème.

As a member of the Met company, he earned a reputation as a "house singer," a term which, when the house is of the caliber of the Met, is respectable, but which also carries an implication that the singer somehow lacks some ingredient required for stardom. He was reliable; he did 118 performances in his second season, with Boyajian listening carefully to all of them and making needed corrections at any sign of strain from this heavy schedule. The roles were generally small ones, but each season Plishka got opportunities the next season to sing roles of increasing importance and depth, so he remained attached to the Met. The roles he was singing included King Marke in Tristan, Oroveso in Norma, and both Pimen and Varlaam in Boris Godunov. Eventually, he got to sing more important parts, like Leporello in Don Giovanni and King Philip.

After several years, he began appearing widely in other houses, taking major parts. He debuted as Mephistofeles in Berlioz's Damnation de Faust in Strasbourg in 1974, and began getting the more important bass parts. The Met, in turn, graduated him from Pimen and Varlaam to the part of Tsar Boris in 1983. His singing and physical acting (including a daring fall) electrified the audience.

He has sung in almost all the major bass parts in several leading opera theaters. In his 25th season with the Met, the house honored him by casting him in many of the major Verdi bass parts, including his first appearance as Falstaff.

Plishka is also a renowned concert singer, and has sung with many leading symphony orchestras and conductors. He remains with the Met, where he has sung over 1,000 performances, and frequently appears in other leading houses in the United States and Europe. He has been inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great American Opera Singers.