Opera superstar Montserrat Caballé, the Spanish-Catalan soprano called La Superba – the superb one – in tribute to her voice, has died from a kidney and gallbladder infection 6 October at Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, where she was admitted in September.
Barcelona opera house Gran Teatre del Liceu has offered the soprano’s relatives to host the open casket in its building, but the family have opted for a “more intimate” farewell, according to Europa Press. The lobby of El Liceu, however, remains open for those who wish to deposit flowers, and a book of condolences is open in its central foyer.
The diva left many images for posterity, most of them at opera stages worldwide as one of the great lyric voices of the 20th century. Without a doubt she was one of the singers at the height of myths like Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland or Renata Tebaldi, had a tremendous humanitarian side and wore her heart on her sleeve. The tears of the Barcelona artist and woman when El Liceu, her second home, turned to ashes after a fire in 1994, will remain in the memory of many.
Montserrat Caballé i Folch was born on 12 April 1933 in the Gràcia quarter of Barcelona, the child of a working-class family. Her mother was her first musical trainer and helped her attain a scholarship at Gran Teatre del Liceu’s Superior Conservatory of Music at the age of 11. She studied with bel canto stars of the time Eugenia Kemeny, Conchita Badía and Napoleone Annovazzi, and graduated in 1954 in an eventful final test in which she almost ended up losing consciousness. After graduating she made his first operatic premiere in the role of Serpina in La serva padrona, by Giovanni Battista, at the Teatro Principal de Valencia on 27 June 1955 with the Barcelona Chamber Opera Company, directed by Annovazzi. Her debut at the Liceu was on 7 January 1962 with Arabella, by Richard Strauss.
Right after that Caballé started her journey to other opera houses of the world, above all since the 1965 overwhelming success with Donizetti’s Lucrecia Borgia when she had to replace Marilyn Horne’s sick leave at the Carnegie Hall, by which The New York Times said her voice was a combination of Callas and Tebaldi.
During her career spanning 50 years she only performed with the best orchestras and cast, and with a repertoire covering nearly 90 roles. Her voice has been enhanced by most prestigious conductors including Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, James Levine, Claudio Abbado, Seiji Ozawa and Riccardo Muti.
Her repertoire goes from La serva padrona (Pergolesi); Cossì fan tutte (Mozart); Bellini’s Norma or I puritani; La favorita by Donizetti; Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera and Aida (Verdi); through heroines Isolda and Sieglinde, by Wagner; the Puccini quartet (Tosca, La Bohème, Madame Butterfly and Turandot); to Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea or Salomé by Strauss.
The emblematic theater of Barcelona’s La Rambla has always considered the diva, who became in 2002 the first female member of the exclusive Cercle del Liceu and to whom it dedicated the same year a book compiling her greatest hits, Montserrat Caballé, 40 years at the Liceu. In January 2012, they also honored Caballé on her debut’s 50th anniversary with a gala attended by numerous colleagues and friends such as tenors Josep Carreras and Juan Diego Flórez and baritone Joan Pons.
Throughout her career, Caballé shared the stage with the greatest, but recognized she had a special chemistry with three of them: Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Carreras. “When I did Manon Lescaut with Domingo, who was wonderful, he told me he had discovered a new world singing with me and the same thing happened to me. With José Carreras I also had a very special relationship, we were enthralled listening to each other. And Pavarotti, he was like a father to me,” she recalled.
Caballé also made incursions into popular music and even pop, including her ‘Barcelona’ 1988 performance with Queen singer Freddie Mercury, intended to champion the 1992 Olympic Games in the Catalan capital. “For the world of opera that was a revolution, an authentic revolution,” the soprano recognized a few years later.
Her family has thanked the expressions of sympathy they have received, and announced that an open funeral ceremony in her memory is under plan at a local church.
The announcement was made at Les Corts funeral house, where a private wake was held. The family’s spokesperson, niece Montserrat, pointed out the family is “sad” and has thanked the public, “not only the famous but also the general public, the people who admired her as an artist and human being.”