Montserrat Caballé

“Powerful and vibrant opera singer who found popular fame performing the dramatic anthem Barcelona with Freddie Mercury”

“Powerful and vibrant opera singer who found popular fame performing the dramatic anthem Barcelona with Freddie Mercury”

Jadalys Pichardo, Staff Writer

During the last four decades of the 20th century, Montserrat Caballé impacted thousands worldwide, leaving her mark on the world so no one can forget her. 


She made opera singers the focal point of the performance, apart from the directors and musicians. She was confident that she was unsurpassed in vocal refulgence and bel canto technique, which is an 18th century Italian vocal technique that emphasizes on beauty of sound and brilliance of performance rather than dramatic expression or romantic emotion. She expressed emotion through her soft-grained, lyrical singing and her expressive face. Offstage, she was always charming and self-deprecatory. Caballé also enjoyed life to the fullest, despite the many vicissitudes that affected her, such as accidents and illnesses. Along the way, she even gave enormous pleasure to others. 


Behind every face is a story, and hers begins in the Spanish Civil war. She had reserves of strength and determination that came out of adversity in the war. She, her brother, and her parents were bombed out of their home when she was four. Fortunately, a wealthy family paid for her to have seven years of training at the Liceo, the city’s opera house. It was there that she won the gold medal in 1954. She owed the longevity of her career to the teachers that taught her breathing exercises and how to become a soprano, and to the unflagging support of her brother, Carlos. 


After she went to the Basel opera in 1956, she started small roles in the The Magic Flute, Cosí Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, and Elektra. 


When she moved to Bremen in 1959, she played in La Traviata and Yevgeny Onegin. Her breakthrough Donna Elvira at the Vienna State opera house in 1960 was followed by Arabella back in Barcelona at the Liceo, where she sang for the next three decades in a wide variety of roles. In 1965, she replaced Marylin Horne in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, in a concert performance for the American opera society in New York. This is when her career really took flight. 


She basically became an international star overnight. The beauty and innate style of her singing won all hearts. She married the Spanish tenor Bernabé Marti, whom she had met in a production of Madama Butterfly, when he stood in at late notice for a singer who was indisposed. She began the 1965 season at Glyndenbourne as both Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Fígaro and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, and then made her debut at the Metropolitan in New York, as Marguerite in Faust. 


In Covent Garden, London 1972, she played as Violetta, a memorable occasion for the London audiences. She eventually became a rival to Joan Sutherland and Rossini. At the same time, she was committing to disc many of her best roles in I Puritani, Il Pirata, and La Traviata. Her recital recordings of rare Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi were much admired because they perfectly displayed her gifts. She never neglected heavier roles, even if they took a toll on her. 


Towards the end of her career, she undertook the title roles in Cherubini’s Media, Spontini’s Agnes con Hohenstaufen, Pacini’s Sacco, Rossini’s Ermione, Il Viaggo a Reims, which she sang memorably at the Vienna State opera and in her final appearance at Covent Gardens in 1988. 


As her farewell appearance, she played Catherine d’Aragon in Saint-Saëns’ Henry VIII in 2002. Her repertory of song stretched from classical examples to modern Spanish music. Caballé found it difficult to leave her public, therefore, she continued to present new concert material, with varying degrees of success, into the new century. She lived out the rest of her days on her husband’s farm. She was always down to earth at hearts. She has influenced the many lives of her husband, children, peers, allies, and her audience as well, and will never be forgotten, even after her death in 2018.