Knoxville Opera singer, voice of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Mary Costa honored at White House

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WASHINGTON (WATE) — Knoxville’s own princess was honored at the White House this week for gifting her many contributions and talent to the operatic arts.

Knoxville Opera inaugural performer, singer and actress Mary Costa was among several individuals and organizations awarded the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal on Wednesday, Jan. 13, by President Donald Trump. The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.

According to the release from the White House, Mary Costa was honored “for her extraordinary talent, inspiration, and contribution to the operatic arts. Her stellar career includes performances in 38 operatic roles.”

“To receive the National Medal of Arts is the ultimate honor of my career, and I am humbled that my joy of singing has been awarded in this special way,” Costa said in a statement to WATE 6 On Your Side.

Costa is the voice of Princess Aurora in the 1959 Disney animated classic “Sleeping Beauty.” She was later named a Disney Legend in 1999.

Born in Knoxville, Costa enjoyed an accomplished career in opera, television, recordings, and movies. The city of Knoxville has also celebrated the artist with the dedication of the Mary Costa Plaza outside the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, one of the three performances spaces of the Knoxville Opera.

Costa performed in the first two inaugural performances of the Knoxville Opera back in 1978 (Verdi’s “La Traviata”) and 1979 (“The Merry Widow”), when it was then known as Knoxville Civic Opera Company.

“This is a great, great artist of great depth and breath who has served us not only here in Knoxville as being from here and starting our opera company back in 1978 but she has gone to contribute all over the world,” Brian Salesky, former executive and artistic director at Knoxville Opera (2005-2020), said.

Following her early work in radio, television, and the movies, Costa garnered acclaim for the operatic roles she performed on stages throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Bolshoi in Moscow.

Since Mary Costa as retired, we’re told she has devoted her time to speaking about the importance of the arts with schoolchildren.

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