World-renowned Russian opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya, 86, who with her husband defied the Soviet regime to give shelter to writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and suffered exile from her homeland, died Tuesday in Moscow.

Moscow's Opera Center, which Ms. Vishnevskaya created, did not give a cause of death.

Ms. Vishnevskaya and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich married in 1955, frequently performed together, and used their star status in the Soviet Union to help friends in trouble. In the most notable example of their defiance of Communist authorities, they sheltered Solzhenitsyn at their country home for several years as he faced official reprisals.

After Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the country, the couple left the Soviet Union with their two daughters in 1974. They lived in Paris and then Washington, and were stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1978.

They returned to Russia after the Soviet collapse and became involved in public activities and charitable work. Rostropovich, Ms. Vishnevskaya's third husband, died in 2007.

Ms. Vishnevskaya was born in Leningrad in 1926. She remained in the city during the Nazi siege and served as a volunteer helping defend the city from bombings.

She joined Moscow's Bolshoi Theater in 1952. She remained its prima for more than two decades.

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Aida in 1961. - AP