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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Obituary: Montserrat Caballé, 1933-2018

The soprano and recording artist was La Superba to her fans.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I've got a secret: the great Montserrat Caballé could sing anything.
One would argue that in opera singers of a vanished age, it was the voice and only the voice that mattered. These words would be fitting as a eulogy for Montserrat Caballé. The soprano, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85, possessed one of the largest and most flexible instruments of her age, succeeding in everything from Rossini to dramatic operas by Puccini and Strauss. The cause of death was listed as a gall bladder infection.
Ms. Caballé enjoyed an international career as one of the most beloved soprano voices of the second half of the 20th century. She was a powerhouse singer, comfortable in a wide variety of roles, singing Tosca, Salome, Norma and multiple Verdi heroines in a career that girdled the globe and continued on the concert stage even after she stopped appearing in operas.

Trained at the Liceu Conservatory in her native city of Barcelona, Ms. Caballé made her mark as Strauss' Salome in 1959. She succeeded admirably in a part widely considered to be impossible to cast, soaring through this difficult music and capturing the princess' depravity as well. (She solved the problem of the Dance of the Seven Veils by having a ballerina do that part of the role.) She also delved deep into Rossini and Donizetti.

In 1967, she stunned New York as one of the stars of the Metropolitan Opera as it transitioned to Lincoln Center. She sang Violetta, Desdemona and Leonora in Il Trovatore. It was a springboard to American success as she filled a void, having a perfect middleweight soprano voice, capable of singing with the agility demanded in bel canto and yet continuing to do punishing pieces like Salome. Two years later, she sang Elisabetta in Don Carlos and held a high B at the end of the opera, despite being on crutches for the entire performance.

Ms. Caballé made a number of major recordings, the most famous and enduring of which being a Covent Garden Don Carlos with Mr. Domingo. In 1977, she tackled the icy heights of Puccini's Turandot, later recording the opera opposite José Carreras. Later still, she sang the title roles in Tosca, Norma and Cilea's Adriana Lecouvereur. And although over 50, she was Adalgisa on Joan Sutherland's late recording of Norma, a set that also featured Luciano Pavarotti at his height.

In 1987, Ms. Caballé made a foray outside the world of opera when she collaborated with Freddie Mercury on "Barcelona", the lead track for an album of the same name. The single, with opera diva and rock star dueling over a surging orchestra, became an international hit in 1992, and the anthem for that year's Olympics in Barcelona. She continued to perform in concerts well into this decade, but retired following a stroke in 2012. She is survived by her husband, the opera tenor Bernabé Martí and their two children. Her daughter, Montserrat Martí is also a professional opera singer.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats