Montserrat Caballé

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Montserrat Caballé
Montserrat Caballe 1971b.jpg
Caballé in Milan, 1971
María de Montserrat Viviana Concepción Caballé i Folch

(1933-04-12)12 April 1933
Died6 October 2018(2018-10-06) (aged 85)
Barcelona, Spain
Other namesLa Superba
Education Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu
OccupationOperatic soprano
Years active1956–2018
Bernabé Martí (m. 1964)
Children Montserrat Martí
Bernabé Martí Jr.

María de Montserrat Viviana Concepción Caballé i Folch (Catalan:  [munsəˈrat kəβəˈʎe i ˈfoɫk] ; 12 April 1933 – 6 October 2018) was a Spanish operatic soprano. She sang a wide variety of roles, but is best known as an exponent of the works of Verdi and of the bel canto repertoire, notably the works of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. She was noticed internationally when she stepped in for a performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in 1965, and then appeared at leading opera houses. Her voice was described as pure but powerful, with superb control of vocal shadings and exquisite pianissimo.

Spaniards, or the Spanish people, are an ethnic group native to Spain. Within Spain, there are a number of nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history and diverse culture. Although the official language of Spain is commonly known as "Spanish", it is only one of the national languages of Spain, and is less ambiguously known as Castilian, a standard language based on the medieval romance speech of the Kingdom of Castile in north and central Spain. Historically, the Spanish people's heritage includes the pre-Celts and Celts.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

Bel canto —with several similar constructions —is a term with several meanings that relate to Italian singing.


Caballé became popular to non-classical music audiences in 1987, when she recorded, at the request of the IOC, "Barcelona", a duet with Freddie Mercury, which became an official theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games. She received several international awards and also Grammy Awards for a number of her recordings.

International Olympic Committee Non-governmental ruling body of the Olympic Movement

The International Olympic Committee is a non-governmental sports organisation based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Created by Pierre de Coubertin and Demetrios Vikelas in 1894, it is the authority responsible for organising the modern Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Barcelona (Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé song) song by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé

"Barcelona" is a single released by Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury and operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé. A part of their collaborative album Barcelona, it also appeared on Queen's Greatest Hits III.

Freddie Mercury British singer, songwriter and record producer

Freddie Mercury was a British singer, songwriter, record producer and lead vocalist of the rock band Queen. Regarded as one of the greatest lead singers in the history of rock music, he was known for his flamboyant stage persona and four-octave vocal range.

Early life and career

Caballé was born in Barcelona on 12 April 1933. [1] Her family was of humble financial circumstances due to the Civil War. [1] She studied music at the Liceu Conservatory, and singing technique with Napoleone Annovazzi, Eugenia Kemény and Conchita Badía. She graduated with a gold medal in 1954. She subsequently moved to Basel, Switzerland, where she made her professional debut in 1956 as Mimì in Puccini's La bohème . She became part of the Basel Opera company between 1957 and 1959, singing a repertoire that included Mozart (Erste Dame in Die Zauberflöte ) and Strauss ( Salome ) in German, unusual for Spanish singers, but which proved useful for her next engagement at the Bremen Opera (1959–1962). In 1961, she starred as Iphigénie in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride at the National Theatre of S. Carlos in Lisbon, alongside Raymond Wolansky  [ de ], Jean Cox, Paul Schöffler and others. [2]

Spanish Civil War War between the Republicans and the Nationalists in Spain from 1936 to 1939

The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1939. Republicans loyal to the elected, left-leaning Second Spanish Republic, in alliance with the Anarchists and Communists, fought against a revolt by the Nationalists, an alliance of Falangists, Monarchists, Carlists, conservatives and Catholics, led by a military clique among whom General Francisco Franco soon achieved a preponderant role. Due to the international political climate at the time, the war had many facets, and different views saw it as class struggle, a war of religion, a struggle between dictatorship and republican democracy, between revolution and counterrevolution, between fascism and communism. It has been frequently called the "dress rehearsal" for World War II.

Conchita Badía singer

Concepció Badia Millàs was a Spanish soprano and pianist. Admired for her spontaneity, expressiveness, and clear diction, she was considered one of the greatest interpreters of 20th century Catalan, Spanish and Latin American art song. She premiered many works in that genre, including those by Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Frederic Mompou, Alberto Ginastera, and Enric Morera, several of which had been specially written for her voice. The main part of the collection of Badia's sound recordings, scores, letters and pictures is preserved in the Biblioteca de Catalunya. In one of the letters, Pablo Casals wrote: "Everything I've written for a soprano voice has been thinking about you. Therefore, every one is yours."

Basel Place in Basel-Stadt, Switzerland

Basel is a city in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. Basel is Switzerland's third-most-populous city with about 180,000 inhabitants.

In 1962, Caballé returned to Barcelona and debuted at the Liceu, singing the title role in Strauss's Arabella . From the fall of 1962 through the spring of 1963 she toured Mexico, at one point singing the title role in Massenet's Manon at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This was followed by several more successful appearances at the Liceu in 1963. [3]

Liceu opera house in Barcelona, Spain

The Gran Teatre del Liceu, or simply Liceu in Catalan, is an opera house on La Rambla in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. The Liceu opened on 4 April 1847. The adjacent Liceu metro station is named for the theatre.

<i>Arabella</i> lyric comedy/opera by Richard Strauss

Arabella, Op. 79, is a lyric comedy, or opera, in three acts by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, their sixth and last operatic collaboration.

<i>Manon</i> opera by Jules Massenet

Manon is an opéra comique in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 19 January 1884, with sets designed by Eugène Carpezat, Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon, and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre.


Caballe in 1969 Montserrat Caballe 1969cr.jpg
Caballé in 1969

Caballé's international breakthrough came in 1965 when she replaced an indisposed Marilyn Horne in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at New York's Carnegie Hall, which earned her a 25-minute standing ovation. While this was her first engagement in a bel canto opera and she had to learn the role in less than one month, her performance made her famous throughout the opera world. Later that year, Caballé made her debut at the Glyndebourne Festival singing her first Marschallin in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and portraying the role of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro . [3]

Marilyn Horne American mezzo-soprano opera singer

Marilyn Horne is an American mezzo-soprano opera singer. She specialized in roles requiring beauty of tone, excellent breath support, and the ability to execute difficult coloratura passages. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts (1992) and the Kennedy Center Honors (1995). She has won four Grammy Awards.

<i>Lucrezia Borgia</i> (opera) Opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Lucrezia Borgia is a melodramatic opera in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after the play Lucrezia Borgia by Victor Hugo, in its turn after the legend of Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia Borgia was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan.

Carnegie Hall concert hall in New York City

Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States, located at 881 Seventh Avenue, occupying the east side of Seventh Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.

In December 1965, she returned to Carnegie Hall for her second bel canto opera, singing the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti's recently rediscovered Roberto Devereux . Caballé closed out the year with her Metropolitan Opera debut on 22 December 1965, appearing as Marguerite in Gounod's Faust alongside John Alexander in the title role, Justino Díaz as Méphistophélès, and Sherrill Milnes as Valentin in his debut at the Met. [4]

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

<i>Roberto Devereux</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Roberto Devereux is a tragedia lirica, or tragic opera, by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto after François Ancelot's tragedy Elisabeth d'Angleterre (1829), and based as well on the Historie secrete des amours d'Elisabeth et du comte d'Essex (1787) by Jacques Lescéne des Maisons, although Devereux was the subject of at least two other French plays: Le Comte d'Essex by Thomas Corneille and Le Comte d'Essex by Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède.

Metropolitan Opera Opera company in Manhattan, New York City

The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager. As of 2018, the company's current music director is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

In 1966, Caballé made her first appearance with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company as Maddalena di Coigny in Giordano's Andrea Chénier [5] and her Italian debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino as Leonora in Verdi's Il trovatore , followed by Bellini's Il pirata in 1967. She returned to Philadelphia in 1967 to sing the title roles in Puccini's Tosca and Madama Butterfly , [5] and to the Met to sing three Verdi heroines: Leonora alongside Richard Tucker as Manrico, Desdemona in Otello with James McCracken in the title role, and Violetta in La traviata , with Tucker and George Shirley alternating as Alfredo. [4] The last role in particular garnered her further acclaim among American critics and audiences. [3] She returned to the Met the following year in the title role in Verdi's Luisa Miller , and in 1969 for the role of Liù in Puccini's Turandot , with Birgit Nilsson in the title role and James King as Calàf. [4] She also returned to Philadelphia as Imogene in Bellini's Il pirata (1968) and Lucrezia Borgia (1969). [5]

In 1969, Caballé appeared at the Arena di Verona in a Jean Vilar production of Verdi's Don Carlo . She was Elisabetta of Valois in an all-star cast including Plácido Domingo and Piero Cappuccilli. Her high B on the final "ciel" at the end of the opera lasted more than 20 bars up to the final chord from the orchestra. In these performances she had to act on crutches because of an accident earlier that year in New York City. In the same period she also appeared in recital at the Teatro Corallo in Verona. In 1970, Caballé made her official debut at La Scala in the title role of Lucrezia Borgia. She appeared as Leonora in Philadelphia, [5] and returned to the Met as Amelia in a critically acclaimed production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera with Domingo as Riccardo, and Reri Grist as Oscar. [4]

In 1972, she made her first appearances at Covent Garden and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, both in the role of Violetta. [3] That same year she returned to the Met as Elisabetta in Don Carlo with Franco Corelli in the title role, and sang the title role of Bellini's Norma in Philadelphia. [5] In 1973 she returned to Chicago to perform the title role in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda with Viorica Cortez, appeared as Violetta in Philadelphia. [5] She performed at the Met as Bellini's Norma, opposite Carlo Cossutta in his Met debut as Pollione and Fiorenza Cossotto as Adalgisa. [4]

Caballe in 1975 Montserrat Caballe 1975.jpg
Caballé in 1975

In 1974, Caballé appeared in the title role of Verdi's Aida at the Liceu in January, in Verdi's I vespri siciliani at the Met in March, [4] and in Parisina d'Este at Carnegie Hall, also in March. She appeared as Norma at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and in Adriana Lecouvreur at La Scala in April. She was filmed as Norma in Orange in July by Pierre Jourdain. She recorded Aida with Riccardo Muti in July and made a recording of duets with Giuseppe Di Stefano in August. In September 1974, she underwent major surgery to remove a large benign mass from her abdomen. She recovered and was performing again on stage by early 1975. In 1976 Caballé appeared at the Met once again as Norma and sang her first Aida in that house, alongside Robert Nagy as Radamès and Marilyn Horne as Amneris. She appeared in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss and sang Mimì in Puccini's La bohème with Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo. [4]

In 1977 Caballé made her debut with the San Francisco Opera in the title role of Puccini's Turandot. She returned to that house ten more times over the next decade in such roles as Elvira in Verdi's Ernani and the title roles in Ponchielli's La Gioconda , Rossini's Semiramide , and Puccini's Tosca, among others. [6]

Having lost some of her earlier brilliance and purity of voice, Caballé offered more dramatic expressive singing in roles that demanded it. In 1978, she was Tosca in San Francisco with Pavarotti, Norma in Madrid, and Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met opposite José Carreras. She continued to appear often at the Met during the 1980s, in roles such as Tosca (1980, 1985) and Elisabetta (1985), and also sang concerts in 1981 and 1983. Her final performance at the Met was on 10 October 1985 in Tosca with Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Cornell MacNeil as Scarpia. [4]

Her voice was noted for its purity, precise control, and power. She was admired less for her dramatic instincts and acting skills than for her superb technique, vocal shadings, and exquisite pianissimos, which were inspired by Miguel Fleta. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Later years

In Bellini's Norma, Caballé recorded both the title role (for RCA Red Seal in 1972, with Domingo as Pollione) and later the role of Adalgisa, to Joan Sutherland's Norma in a 1984 Decca recording conducted by Richard Bonynge. Although Bellini conceived the role of Adalgisa originally for a soprano, it is usually now sung by a mezzo-soprano. Caballé was one of few sopranos to have recorded the role, although she was over 50 years old at the time of the recording in 1984. [12] In 1986 she also took a role in the biographic film Romanza final , directed by José María Forqué.

As Rossini's Semiramide at the 1980 Aix-en-Provence Festival Montserrat Caballe.jpg
As Rossini's Semiramide at the 1980 Aix-en-Provence Festival

In 1987, Caballé made a rare excursion into the world of pop music when she released a duet with Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen, which was titled "Barcelona". [13] The song was inspired by Caballé's home city and later used as one of the two official theme songs for the 1992 Olympic Games. [13] Mercury was a great admirer of Caballé, considering her voice to be "the best in the world". [14] The single was followed by an album of the same name which was released the following year and featured further collaborations between the two performers. The title track later became the anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympics which was hosted by Caballé's native city, and appeared again in the pop music charts throughout Europe. Caballé also performed the song live, accompanied by a recording by Mercury, who had died in 1991, before the 1999 UEFA Champions League football final in Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium. [15] [16]

In 1994, writing for The Independent , Fiammetta Rocco said: "Caballe is one of the last of the true divas. Callas is dead, Kiri Te Kanawa is busy making commercials for Sainsbury's, and Mirella Freni has never really risen out of the narrow confines of being an opera lover's opera-singer. Caballe, on the other hand, has always had an enormous following, and it's still with her today." [17]

In 1995 she worked with Vangelis for his album El Greco , dedicated to the Greek painter. In 1997, Mike Moran produced the album Friends For Life , which includes duets with Caballé and such singers as Bruce Dickinson, Johnny Hallyday, Johnny Logan, Gino Vannelli, and Helmut Lotti. [18]

Caballé dedicated herself to various charities. She was a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and established a foundation for needy children in Barcelona. In 2003, she starred in her own documentary film Caballé: Beyond Music, which featured many well-known opera singers, including Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras, and Renée Fleming. [19]

In 2002, she appeared as Catherine of Aragon in Henri VIII by Saint-Saëns, and in 2004 in the title role of Massenet's Cléopâtre , both at the Liceu. She appeared as The Duchess of Crakenthorp in Donizetti's La fille du régiment at the Vienna State Opera in April 2007. [20]

In 2003, Patrick O'Connor wrote in Gramophone that

no diva in memory has sung such an all-encompassing amount of the soprano repertory, progressing through virtually the entire range of Italian light lyric, lirico-spinto and dramatic roles, including all the pinnacles of the bel canto, Verdi and verismo repertories, whilst simultaneously being a remarkable interpreter of Salome, Sieglinde and Isolde. [21]

On 6 June 2013, Caballé was declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan after visiting, despite official warnings issued by the Azerbaijani embassy in Spain, the de facto independent state Nagorno-Karabakh and meeting with local leaders. [22]

Tax evasion

In 2015 Caballé was under prosecution over allegations of tax evasion or fraud. [23] She admitted that despite living in Spain in 2010, she had registered in Andorra in order to avoid paying tax in Spain. In December 2015 the Spanish court found her guilty of fraud and gave her a six-month suspended jail sentence, ordering her to pay a fine of €254,231 ($280,000). She was also banned from receiving any public subsidies for a period of 18 months. [24]


Caballe with husband and son, at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, 1971 Montserrat Caballe, Bernabe Marti and son 1971c.jpg
Caballé with husband and son, at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, 1971

Caballé married Spanish tenor Bernabé Martí in 1964. [25] They had two children; their daughter Montserrat Martí is also an operatic soprano. [26]

Health problems and death

On 20 October 2012, during her tour in Russia, Caballé suffered a stroke in Yekaterinburg and was quickly transferred to the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona. [27] In September 2018, she was admitted to the same hospital for a gallbladder problem. [13] [28] She died there on 6 October 2018 at the age of 85. The cause of death was not given. [29] [30] Felipe VI of Spain described Caballé as "the best of the best", and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez called her the great ambassador of Spain. [30]


Caballé recorded extensively throughout her long career and made many notable recordings of complete operas as well as recital albums. After a number of recordings early in her career for RCA Victor Red Seal, Caballé also recorded for EMI, Decca, and Philips among other labels. [31] She left a "vast discography" of her major roles, including Aida, conducted by Riccardo Muti, Elisabetta in Don Carlo conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, Fiordiligi in Mozart's Così fan tutte with Colin Davis, [21] Liù in Turandot alongside Joan Sutherland and Pavarotti, conducted by Zubin Mehta, [32] and Salome with Erich Leinsdorf. She recorded many bel canto and Rossini roles. Recital recordings include a Puccini collection with Charles Mackerras, a Strauss collection with Leonard Bernstein, and duets with Shirley Verrett. She performed the soprano solo in Verdi's Requiem with John Barbirolli. [21]

Honours and awards

Plaque at her birthplace in Barcelona Caballe home.jpg
Plaque at her birthplace in Barcelona
A conservatorio in Arganda del Rey is named after her. M. caballe.JPG
A conservatorio in Arganda del Rey is named after her.

Of Caballé's recordings, several won a Grammy Award: Rossini Rarities in 1966, Puccini's La bohème in 1968, and Mozart's Così fan tutte in 1974; other recordings were nominated for the award. [33]

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