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Semiha Berksoy

Semiha Berksoy

First Muslim woman to sing opera professionally in Turkey.
"Greetings to the Cosmos"

Date of Birth: 24/05/1910 1910

Place of Birth: Çengelköy, Istanbul

Date of Death: 15/08/2004 2004

Place of Death: Istanbul

Burial Site: Çengelköy Cemetery, Istanbul



Semiha Berksoy Semiha Berksoy

Field of Activity

Beginning even in the primary school years, I wrote stories and then illustrated what I had written. I read poems and sang songs to myself. Studying visual arts at the Namik Ismail Atelier of the Fine Arts Academy, Istanbul, I began to paint and draw more seriously. After studying theater at the Darülbedayi Drama School, I auditioned for Ms. Nimet Vahit, the first honors-level instructor for sopranos at the conservatory, that is, as it was then called, the Dar'ül Elhan. In Nimet Vahit's singing class, I entered upon my studies with love for that art, my heart on fire and my spirit borne on its breezes.
On 19 June 1934, I sang the role of Aysim in the first Turkish opera, Adnan Saygun's "Özsoy." My teacher, the soprano Ms. Nimet Vahit, sang the role of Ulu Anne; and the baritone Nurullah Şevket Taşkıran sang the role of Feridun. Ms. Selma Selim Sırrı and Ms. Azade Selim Sırrı took charge of dance and choreography. Mr. Halil Bedii Yönetken conducted.
I was sent to the Opera Section of the Music Academy of Berlin with a state scholarship. During my studies, I appeared as Ariadne in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in the Festival for Richard Strauss's 75th Birthday on 22 June 1939 with the Berlin Academy's Old Apollo Opera.
In April 1941, I appeared in Tosca, the first professional opera production in Ankara, under the direction of Karl Ebert.
When I appeared at Lincoln Center in New York City in 1999, under the direction of Robert Wilson, singing Isolde's aria „Death of Love" from the opera Tristan and Isolde in Umberto Eco's work „The Days Before. Death, Destruction and Detroit III", I was 89 years old.
I have a very lively spirit. The love of art is a vital part of me. I am always creating something. When I was 18 years old, in response to a letter written by my father advising me to leave the conservatory, I wrote emphatically that I would never abandon singing, and that "I have found something to light me on fire and make my spirit soar, that is the love of art; if I were to die, even the cypress trees would sing at my tomb."
And, in fact, I have reached this age and still have not abandoned art. Art has no age; it can be pursued at 90 or at 9. This spirit of art is an enigma. And this love, this wonder keeps me young and energetic. Because it makes me rejoice. And to be in love makes one rejoice.
(Semiha Berksoy)

Semiha Berksoy as Director

Semiha Berksoy joined with Carl Ebert in the founding of the Ankara State Opera in 1946 and took on the duties of directorial assistant to Ebert.

Semiha Berksoy as Visual Artist
My paintings reflect my life. Whatever I feel, I paint. Among some, I am like a child; among some, an angel; among some, a devil ... My angelic nature comes from my loving without any expectation. I become like an angel; loving, I attain the innocence of a child. ... And my satanic nature can be seen in my ability to leave even those I love . For art, I can leave everybody. For me, the love of art produces devilishness.

(Zeynep Oral, "Nice Yıllara Semiha Berksoy...", 2. 11. 2001,
Exhibitions of Semiha Berksoy
(A Selection)
  • 16.09.2011
    Hayal ve Hakikat, İstanbul Modern, İstanbul
  • 2011Exhibition for 101. birthday of Semiha Berksoy, Çırağan Palace Kempinski Art Gallery, İstanbul /li>
  • 12.02.2010
    Exhibition for 100. birthday of Semiha Berksoy, Kazım Taşkent Sanat Galerisi, Sermet Çifter Salonu, İstanbul
  • 12.11.2009
    İstanbul Next Wave, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany
  • 12.11.2009
    Istanbul Next Wave. Gleichzeitigkeit – Parallelen – Gegensätze, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany
  • 13.09.2007
    Gender Battle, CGAC Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • 18.10.2006
    Venice-İstanbul, İstanbul Modern
  • 12.06.2005
    Always a Little Futher, 51. International Art Exhibition, Vennice 2005, Italy
  • 16.05.2003
    Blut / Honig – Zukunft ist am Balkan, Sammlung Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Germany
  • 05.07.2010
    Zeitwenden – Rückblick und Ausblick Kunstmuseum Vien, Austria
  • 1999Zeitwenden – Rückblick und Ausblick, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig 20er Haus, Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Künstlerhaus, Bonn Germany
  • 1998 Manifesta 2 – European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Luxembourg Biennale
  • 04.10.1997
  • 5th İstanbul Biennial, Istanbul
  • 1995 New York
  • 1974 Ankara State Gallery of Painting, personal exhibition, Ankara
  • 1972 Turkish Tourism Office, personal exhibition, Paris
  • 1969 Lützowhaus, Berlin, Germany
Semiha Berksoy as Theater Actress
(A Selection)
  • 1930 Acting in Darülbedayi Drama School Kafatası (Nazım Hikmet)
  • 1932Yalova Türküsü (Music: Ferit Alnar)
  • 1933Hile ve Sevgi (Cabals and Love, Friedrich Schiller)
  • 1934 Member of Şehir Tiyatrosu, Istanbul (Municipality Theater)
    Lüküs Hayat (Ekrem & Cemal Reşit Rey)
    The Bat (Johann Strauss)

In Süreyya Opera Haus, Istanbul, Semiha Berksoy performed in following operettas:
(A Selection)

Csárdásfürstin, Emmerich Kálmán
La Mascotte, Edmond Audran
Leblebici Horhor Ağa, Dikran Cuhaciyan, Tekfor Nalyan

Semiha Berksoy as Sinema Actress
  • 1932İstanbul Sokaklarında (In the Istanbul Streets), Rejisör Muhsin Ertuğrul (first Turkish sound film)
  • 1933Söz Bir, Allah Bir, Regisseur: Muhsin Ertuğrul
  • 1956Büyük Sır (The Big Secret), Regisseur Cahide Sonku
  • 1991Ateş Üstünde Yürümek, Regisseur: Yavuz Özkan
  • 1993Karanlık Sular (The Serpent's Tale), Regisseur: Kutluğ Ataman
Semiha Berksoy as Author
  • 1935Mezardan Gelen Mektup, Istanbul
  • 2006Semiha Berksoy – Fikret Mualla, İki Aykırının Mektupları, Istanbul,
Collections exhibiting her paintings
(A Selection)

Resim Heykel Müzesi, İstanbul
İstanbul Modern, İstanbul


  • 1961Prize in the Ankara University Language, History and Geography Faculty's painting exhibition for her works „Fatih's (The Conqueror's) Birthplace in Bursa" (Bursa'da Fatih'in Doğduğu Ev) and „The Green Mosque" (Yeşil Camii)
  • 1963 In the 1963 opera season, Ministry of Culture congratulations to Semiha Berksoy on her 30th year jubilee as an artist
  • 1984 The Ataturk Opera Prize - By the Presidency of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in recognition of her being the first woman opera professional in the public sphere
  • 1998State Arts Laureate
  • 1998Award to a „Woman of 75 Successes in her 75th Year" by the women's magazine Mimoza
  • 2000 Celebrations by the Culture Ministry of the Turkish Republic on the occasion of Semiha Berksoy's 72nd year in Art.



  • Kadıköy Primary School, Istanbul
  • Istanbul Girl's High School (İstanbul Kız Lisesi), Istanbul
  • Darülbedayi Drama School
  • Istanbul Girl's High School (İstanbul Kız Lisesi), Istanbul
  • Dar'ül Elhan (the former Istanbul City Conservatory), Nimet Vahit's singing class
  • 1929 Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts (Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi)
    Atelier of Refik Epikman (painting) and Atelier Ismail Hakki Toygur (ceramics)
  • 1939 Berlin State Academy of Music, Opera Section, Berlin (graduating in the first rank)

Contributions to Society

AFamily and Friends

  • Mother:Fatma Saime (painter)
  • Father:Ziya Cenap Berksoy (finance clerk, poet)
  • Daughter: Zeliha Berksoy (theater actress, university professor)
  • Marriage:Ercüment Siyavuşoğlu
  • Friends:Cemal Resit Rey (composer, pianist), Nazim Hikmet (poet), Ruhi Su (tenor, interpreter of Turkish folk music, saz master), Rabia Erler (one of the first sopranos of the Ankara State Opera), Mesude Caglayan (one of the first sopranos of the Ankara State Opera),Turgut Zaim (painter), Fikret Mualla (painter), Celal Esad Arseven (painter, deputy in parliament), Eşref Üren (painter, writer), Mithat Fenmen (composer, pianist), Bedia Muvahhit (tiyatro ve sinema sanatçısı), Carl Ebert (theater and opera director), Wolfgang Wagner (director, director of the Bayreuth Festival), Emel Korutürk (painter), Türkan Saylan (research physician, founder of the International Leprosy Union and the Association for the Support of Contemporary Living, writer), Meltem Cumbul (theater and cinema actor), Mengü Ertel (graphic artist), Onat Kutlar (writer, poet, movie critic), Ferit Edgü (writer, poet, art critic), Bedri Baykam (painter), Dikmen Gürün (academic, writer, theater critic), Genco Erkal (actor), İlber Ortaylı (historian), Nejla Fertan (attorney), Yaşar Kemal (writer), Nejat Uygur (theater actress), Zeynep Oral (journalist, writer)

Commemorative Projects

Further Reading


Quoted Sources
Source for visual images

Translation Türkish - English: Margaret Fearey, Milton, Massachusetts, ABD

©2012 Meral Akkent

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