SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 32:
Montserrat Caballe Tribute
Montserrat Caballe in her prime
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"The Elixir of Love," by Donizetti.
Montserrat Caballe, Revered Spanish Prima Donna, Dies at 85
Montserrat Caballe was one of the most extraordinary
sopranos ever. Her voice was exquisite, a kind of perfection. It's easy to use
hyperbole when it comes to opera singers, as so many are so great for so many
reasons, but Caballe
was singular. You can talk about breath control, and sustaining lines, and
floating notes, and it all applies, but it added up to something greater. As
former Washington Post music critic Tim Page said in 1994:
“We attend Montserrat Caballé concerts for one reason — with the hope of being
transported. There are many more versatile artists, many more incisive
interpreters and — God knows — many more venturesome programmers. But when
Caballé is ‘on’ — as she was sporadically during her Tuesday night recital at
Carnegie Hall — there is no more beautiful voice in the world.”
Here she is with the first song she learned to sing at age eight, prompting her
mother to scrape together funds to enroll the girl in the Conservatori Superior
de Música del Liceu in Barcelona, first on the piano and then voice.. "Un bel di,"
from "Madame Butterfly," by Puccini.
Synopsis: Three years have passed since Butterfly's American husband left her.
Her servant Suzuki, tries to convince her that he isn't coming back, but
Butterfly is convinced that he will. She sings of the day that he will return.
She dreams of him sailing into the harbor and climbing up the hill to meet her.
“If I cannot sing,” the late Montserrat Caballe said, “I have the impression
that I no longer exist.” And many times she didn't sing, owing to a career
riddled with phlebitis, a heart attack, a benign brain tumor, and seven major
surgeries. She was notorious for cancelling engagements. Yet she always returned
to the stage, even singing this year(!) at a concert in Moscow (very poorly.)
Her rise was not smooth, either. She had to drop out of the conservatory in
Barcelona at age 16 to help take care of her ailing father. She worked for
nearly a year in a handkerchief factory before attracting the sponsorship of
wealthy Barcelona patrons, who agreed to support her and her family. (In
gratitude, she returned annually throughout her career to sing in Barcelona.) At
20, Ms. Caballé finally graduated from the conservatory with its gold medal for
voice, but her auditions for Italian opera companies were wrecked by nerves. An
agent suggested she give up entirely, but a break came when she stood in for an
ill soprano in Switzerland, in Puccini's "La Boheme." Here she sings the tender,
"Donde Lieta Lasci," (“When happy leaving”) from "Boheme," in which Mimi
explains the real reason for wishing to separate from Rodolfo. Caballe's purity
of voice and tone is astonishing.
Setting: The barrière d'Enfer, on the outskirts of Paris
Synopsis: Rodolfo and Mimi have had a fight, with Rodolfo saying that Mimi has
been flirting with other men. However, the real reason he wants to separate from
Mimi is because she is very sick and he cannot bear to watch her die. He reveals
this to Marcello, but Mimi overhears him and, after Marcello leaves, she comes
to him and asks him to return all of her possessions to her former room.
Here is the late Ms. Caballe with Placido Domingo in a 1973 recording. "O Soave
Fanciulla," from Puccini's "Boheme." "O beautiful girl in the moonlight." The
final words, "Amor. . .amor. . .amor. . ." are usually sung at the top of the
lungs, great big notes, but not here. Listen as Domingo and Caballe float them
ever so delicately, until the just melt away.
Synopsis: Rodolfo and Mimi have just met, and are quickly falling in love, there
in Rodolfo's ramshackle Paris garret on Christmas Eve.
Ms. Caballe's career did not take off until she substituted for an ailing
Marilyn Horne in "Lucretia Borgia," by Donizetti, in a 1965 Carnegie Hall
concert production. Here, from that very night, is her rendition of the aria, "Com'e
Bello." The audience reaction tells the story. She soon made her Metropolitan
Opera debut in Gounod's "Faust."
Setting: Venice, Italy, early 1500's
Synopsis: Lucretia Borgia crosses paths with her son, Gennaro, for the first
time since he was a child. Prior to her arrival, Gennaro and his friends were
sitting on a terrace near the river, but when he grew tired of their
conversation he fell asleep on a nearby bench. When his friends went to a party
and left him alone, Lucrezia finds him sleeping. She sings this aria as she
cherishingly studies his face, hoping not to wake him.
The late Ms. Caballe's favorite role, oddly, was the musical and otherwise
histrionic grotesquerie of Richard Strauss's explosive, dissonant, "Salome."
Perhaps it gave her more of a chance to indulge acting (she was not considered a
great operatic actress), and to take a break from the contoured melodic nuance
repertory for which she was cherished. (How the sizeable lady got around the
"dance of the seven veils," I can't imagine.) Here is a lengthy excerpt from a
filmed version in 1968, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. She's terrific, though
John the Baptist might have thought otherwise.
Final Scene summary and translation:
The exquisite, nuanced voice of Ms. Caballe was best exposed, perhaps, by the
exquisite, nuanced writing of baroque opera. Here is the beloved, "Lascia ch' io
pianga," from Handel's "Rinaldo." "Let me weep over my cruel fate. . ."
About the aria, translation:
The critics really had to exhaust the cliche supply to adequately describe
Montserrat Caballe's voice. They tripped over themselves to exhibit the pithiest
terms, all of which seem apt enough. Among them: "limpid," "shimmering,"
"quicksilver," "celestial," "voluptuous," etc., but the writer of the NYT Obit
has topped every one of them with the remarkable phrase, "riverine suppleness."
Really. "Riverine suppleness." No, I don't know what it means, and frankly, I'm
not going to bother looking it up. She sang good. Here is footage of her from
1971 with the once-upon-a-time revolutionarily legato lines of "Casta Diva,"
from Bellini's "Norma. (What? Did I say "revolutionarily legato?") You'll have
to turn this one up a bit to hear properly.
Setting: Night in the Druid's sacred forest, Gaul, around 50 B.C.
Synopsis: The Druids have come to meet with Norma, their high priestess. They
want to revolt against their Roman oppressors but Norma convinces them that
their time to rise up has not come yet. The Romans will be defeated by their own
failings. Norma then invokes the moon and prays for peace. While the chorus of
Druids sings their derison for the Romans, Norma sings her cabaletta, privately
worrying that that the hatred for the Romans must also translate to hatred for
Pollione, her secret Roman lover.
How and why this happened, I don't know, and don't think I want to know. But
happen it did, just as James Brown once sang with Pavarotti, Tom Cruise jumped
up and down on Oprah's couch, and the ice berg hit the Titanic. Ms. Caballe
performed with Freddie Mercury. She adored him, and vice-versa. They performed
together many times, bless them. And yes, opera met "A Night At The Opera."
Really. Montserrat joined Mercury for a rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody," I
swear to Beelzebub. Here we go, kiddies, hang on to your hats. It's part of her
And. . .
“The Golden Boy:”
When this lady fell ill in 1965, Ms. Caballe replaced her, and her career was
launched. They were friends, of course, and here is a fun bit of fluff: Marilyn
Horne and Ms. Caballe with "Belle Nuit," the Barcarolle, from "Tales of
Hoffmann," by Offenbach. "Beauteous Night, O Night of Love."
From the NYT obit on Montserrat Caballe:
“La Superba,” the world press called her, elevating her to membership in an
international soprano triumvirate that also included “La Divina” (Maria Callas)
and “La Stupenda” (Joan Sutherland).
"Ms. Caballé’s exalted status was won by virtue of the vast number of roles at
her command (more than 100, an almost unheard-of tally, from fleet, silvery
Mozart to weighty Richard Strauss and weightier Wagner); the length of her
performing life (she sang publicly until she was well into her 60s, more than a
decade after a singer’s usual retirement age); and the lather of adoration into
which her fans routinely whipped themselves.
"Her recitals were often interrupted mid-song — after she had tossed off an
especially intricate passage or scaled a particularly daring height — with wild
cheering, foot-stomping and cries of “Brava!” On one occasion, at Avery Fisher
Hall in New York in 1983, a fistfight nearly erupted in the audience, with
adulatory screamers on one side and pugilistic purists, demanding silence, on
She lived for art. Here is "Vissi d'arte," on stage in 1979 in Tokyo, from
Puccini"s "Tosca." With English subtitles. Despedida, Ms. Caballe.
Saturdee Opry Links ENCORE!
Montserrat Caballe sings Puccini's tender "Chi il Bel Sogno di Doretta" from "La
Saturdee Opry Links Second ENCORE!
(She deserves it!)
Wonderful footage of a wonderful rendition from the opera, "Anna Bolena," by
Donizetti, this is "Al Dolce Guidami." Montserrat Caballe.
Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born,
to the green plane trees,
to that brook that still
murmurs to our sighs...
there I forget past griefs;
give me back one day of my youth,
give me back one day of our love.
Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born;
give me back one day
of our love..
just one single day of our love.
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