Opera singer Montserrat Caballe dies in Barcelona

Spanish soprano (85) starred in 90 opera roles and duetted with Freddie Mercury on ‘Barcelona’ in 1987

 

Opera singer Montserrat Caballe has died at the age of 85 in Barcelona.

The Spanish artist was renowned for her bel canto technique and her interpretations of the roles of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. She also achieved pop success with Freddy Mercury on Barcelona in 1987.

Hospital Sant Pau spokesman Abraham del Moral confirmed her death early on Saturday.

Mr del Moral said Caballe’s family requested the cause of death not be released while saying she had been in the Barcelona hospital since September.

Spanish media said that Caballe entered the hospital in September because of a gall bladder problem.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said: “A great ambassador of our country has died. Her voice and tenderness will remain with us forever.”

Montserrat Caballe laughs during a concert at Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria June 22nd, 2011. Photograph: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
Montserrat Caballe laughs during a concert at Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria June 22nd, 2011. Photograph: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

Born into a working class family in Barcelona, Caballe unveiled her musical talents early, singing Bach cantatas at the age of seven.

In her almost unlimited repertoire, she starred in 90 opera roles with nearly 4,000 stage performances.

At the age of eight, Caballe entered Liceo’s Conservatory in Barcelona with Eugenia Kenny, Conchita Badea and Napoleone Annovazzi among her first teachers.

She won the school’s Gold Medal on graduating in 1954, and went on to study opera in Milan and in 1956 joined the Basel Opera and played her first major role that year in the city’s Staatstheater as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme.

Four years later, she was a principal singer with the Bremen Opera.

In 1964, Caballe gave a highly praised performance of Jules Masenet’s Manon in Mexico City, but it was a year later in New York that a lucky break launched her on the road to international stardom.

On short notice, she stood in for indisposed American soprano Marilyn Horne in a concert performance in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at New York’s Carnegie Hall and achieved a thunderous success. It opened the doors to all the major opera venues around the world.

She produced a highly acclaimed performance as Elisabetta of Valois in an all-star cast of Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Arena di Verona in 1969. The concert became famous for her “la” on the final “ah” at the end of the opera, which lasted for more than 20 bars up, driving the audience wild with delight.

Caballe was also a noted recitalist, particularly of songs of her native Spain. She was particularly admired for her purity of voice, vocal shadings and exquisite pianissimos.

In a brief excursion into pop music, Caballe’s duet Barcelona, with Freddie Mercury was a hit single in 1987, accompanied by an album of the same name.

The title track later became the anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympics in the city.

Caballe performed the song live, accompanied by a recording of the late Mercury, at the 1999 Champions League football final in Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium.

Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe (L) and Italian baritone Piero Capucilli perform in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” on stage of the Choregies festival, in Orange, southern France on July 13, 1985. Photograph: GERARD FOUET/AFP/Getty Images
Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe (L) and Italian baritone Piero Capucilli perform in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” on stage of the Choregies festival, in Orange, southern France on July 13, 1985. Photograph: GERARD FOUET/AFP/Getty Images

In 1997, she sang on two tracks on an album by New Age composer Vangelis.

In 2015, Caballe was convicted of tax fraud and given a suspended sentence of six months in prison. She had failed to pay the Spanish treasury more than €500,000 in taxes on her earnings.

Caballe, who was born Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepcion Caballe i Folch, dedicated herself to various charities and was a Unesco Goodwill Ambassador. She also established a foundation for needy children in Barcelona.

In 1964, she married Spanish tenor Bernabe Marti. They had two children, Bernabe Marti Jr and Montserrat Marti, herself a successful soprano. – PA