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 Plishka sang major roles - Raimondo in Lucia 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. He 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, Paul Plishka 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, Paul Plishka began appearing widely in other houses, taking major parts. He appears regularly with major opera companies in North American cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Baltimore, Houston, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Diego, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In Europe, he has performed in Geneva, Munich, La Scala, Hamburg, Barcelona, Vienna, Berlin, Zürich, Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and Covent Garden, London. He debuted as Mephistofeles in Berlioz's Damnation de Faust in Strasbourg in 1974, and began getting the more important bass parts. He made his Milan's La Scala debut with the same role, also in 1974.
Paul Plishka has been admired in many important roles since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sung well over 1,000 performances. The Met graduated him from Pimen and Varlaam to the part of Tsar Boris in 1983. But his voice is most often associated with Italian opera, especially Don Carlo, Ernani, Simon Boccanegra, Nabucco, Aida, I Vespri Siciliani, Luisa Miller and La Forza del Destino. During the 1992-1993 season, to mark his 25th anniversary as a principal member of the company, he sang the title role of Falstaff there for the first time. He is also renowned for his appearances in the title role of Boris Godunov.
Among his many recent credits have been performances in San Francisco of War and Peace and I Capuletti e i Montecchi and appearances with the Metropolitan Opera in The Flying Dutchman, La Bohème, L'Elisir d'Amore, Parsifal, Khovanshchina, and Aida. His concert appearances have included engagements with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. He has travelled to Geneva for Benvenuto Cellini, to Montréal for Nabucco, to Barcelona for Simon Boccanegra and to Mexico City for the Verdi Requiem. He has sung Boris Godunov in Kiev and has toured with La Scala to Japan and Korea, singing in Nabucco, Turandot, I Capuletti e i Montecchi and the Verdi Requiem. He continues to perform, and in the 2008-2009 season, he is appearing in La bohème at the Met.
Paul Plishka has an extensive discography on Angel, ABC, Columbia, Erato, London, RCA and Vox Records. His recording of the Verdi Requiem with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Shaw won a Grammy award for the best classical album of 1988. He has also recently recorded Luisa Miller and the Marriage of Figaro, both with James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for Sony Classical, and L.v. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Andre Previn, for London/Decca.
Paul Plishka has sung in almost all the major bass parts in several leading opera theaters. He is also a renowned concert singer, and has sung with many leading symphony orchestras and conductors. His extraordinary voice and impeccable artistry combine to make him one of the world's foremost singers, praised by critics for his smooth, beautifully produced bass and polished dramatic skills. His singing and physical acting (including a daring fall) electrified the audience. This distinguished American artist has become one of the most widely acclaimed and sought-after singers of our time.
Paul Plishka's artistry was recognized in 1992 when he received the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and when, several years earlier, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great American Opera Singers in a celebration at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.