Montserrat Caballé (Catalan: [munsəˈrat kəβəˈʎe]; born 12 April 1933) is a Spanish operatic soprano. She has sung a wide variety of roles, but is best known as an exponent of the bel canto repertoire, notably the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. She came to the attention of a much wider audience in 1987 when she sang "Barcelona", a duet with the lead singer of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, which was inspired by her home city and later used as a theme song for the 1992 Summer Olympics in that city.
Early life and career
María de Montserrat Bibiana Concepción Caballé i Folch was born in Barcelona and 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 The Magic Flute) and Richard Strauss (Salome) in German, unusual for Spanish singers, but which proved useful for her next engagement at the Bremen Opera (1959–1962).
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.
Caballé's international breakthrough came in 1965 when she substituted for 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 Glyndebourne singing her first Marschallin in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and portraying the role of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.
In December 1965 she returned to Carnegie Hall for her second bel canto opera, singing the part 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, portraying Marguerite in Gounod's Faust opposite John Alexander in the title role and Justino Díaz as Méphistophélès. That performance also marked Sherrill Milnes's debut at the Met in the role of Valentin.
In 1966, Caballé made her first appearance with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company as Maddalena di Coigny in Andrea Chénier and her Italian debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Verdi's Trovatore (and Bellini's Il pirata in 1967).
She returned to Philadelphia in 1967 to sing the title roles in Puccini's Tosca and Madama Butterfly and to the Met to sing three Verdi heroines: Leonora in Il trovatore opposite Richard Tucker as Manrico, Desdemona in Otello opposite James McCracken in the title role, and Violetta in La traviata with Tucker and George Shirley alternating as Alfredo. The last role in particular garnered her further acclaim among American critics and audiences. She returned to the Met the following year to portray the title role in Verdi's Luisa Miller and in 1969 to sing the role of Liù in Puccini's Turandot with Birgit Nilsson in the title role and James King as Calàf. She also returned to Philadelphia to sing Imogene in Il pirata (1968) and Lucrezia Borgia (1969).
In 1969, Caballé sang Elisabetta of Valois in an all-star cast (including Plácido Domingo and Piero Cappuccilli) of Don Carlo at the Arena di Verona in a Jean Vilar production. 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, also in Verona. In 1970, Caballé made her "official" debut at La Scala in the title role of Lucrezia Borgia, sang Leonora in Philadelphia, and returned to the Met as Amelia in a critically acclaimed production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera with Plácido Domingo as Riccardo, and Reri Grist as Oscar.
In 1972 she made her first appearances at Covent Garden and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, both in the role of Violetta. That same year she returned to the Met as Elizabeth of Valois in Verdi's Don Carlo with Franco Corelli in the title role and sang Norma in Philadelphia. In 1973 she returned to Chicago to perform the title role in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda opposite Viorica Cortez, sang Violetta in Philadelphia, and appeared at the Met as Bellini's Norma opposite Carlo Cossutta in his Met debut as Pollione and Fiorenza Cossotto as Adalgisa.
In 1974, Caballé sang in a number of performances: Aida at Liceu in January, I vespri siciliani at the Metropolitan Opera in March, Parisina d'Este at Carnegie Hall in March, three Normas in one week at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, with Adriana Lecouvreur at La Scala in April, Norma in Orange in July (her top single performance, filmed in video by Pierre Jourdain), the recording of Aida under Riccardo Muti in July, and the Duets recording 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, sang her first Aida in that house opposite Robert Nagy as Radamès and Marilyn Horne as Amneris, portrayed the title role in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and sang Mimì in Puccini's La bohème opposite Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo.
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 parts in Ponchielli's La Gioconda, Rossini's Semiramide, and Puccini's Tosca among others.
Having lost some of her earlier brilliance and purity of voice, Caballé made up for it finding a more dramatic utterance and expressive singing in roles that demanded it. Thus, in 1978, she sang 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, singing in such roles as Tosca (1980, 1985) and Elizabeth of Valois (1985) and in special concerts in 1981 and 1983. Her final performance at the Met was on 10 October 1985 as Tosca in Puccini's Tosca with Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Cornell MacNeil as Scarpia.
Caballé recorded both the title role in Bellini's opera Norma (for RCA Red Seal in 1972, opposite Plácido Domingo as Pollione) and later the role of Adalgisa (to Joan Sutherland's Norma) in the 1984 Decca recording conducted by Richard Bonynge. Although the role of Adalgisa was originally conceived by Bellini for a soprano, it is usually now sung by a mezzo-soprano. Caballé is one among very few sopranos to have recorded the role, making her one of the most youthful-sounding Adalgisas on disc, despite the fact that she was over 50 at the time. Another soprano, Eva Mei, also recorded Adalgisa, opposite Jane Eaglen's Norma.
One of her rare excursions into the world of pop music, Caballé's duet with rock singer Freddie Mercury of Queen, "Barcelona", became a hit single in 1987. Mercury was a great admirer of Caballé, considering her voice "the best in the world". 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.
In 1995, she worked with Vangelis for his album El Greco, dedicated to the Greek painter. It will be a regular collaboration on other titles. 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.
Caballé has dedicated herself to various charities. She is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and has 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 Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, and Renée Fleming.
In 2003, Caballé was awarded the Große Bundesverdienstkreuz (Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany). She was also named a Dame Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic.[when?]
Caballé has not completely retired from the stage. In 2002, she played Catherine of Aragon in Camille Saint-Saëns's Henri VIII; in 2004, the title role in Massenet's Cléopâtre, both at the Liceu. She appeared as The Duchess of Crakenthorp in La fille du régiment at the Vienna State Opera in April 2007.
On 2 July 2008, Caballé was awarded a Honoris Causa doctorate by the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo in Santander. Caballé has recorded extensively throughout her long career and has 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.
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 separatist Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh and meeting with local leaders.
- Biography of Montserrat Caballé at operissimo.com (in German)
- Metropolitan Opera archives site
- Free Library of Philadelphia: Box: Phila. Lyric Opera Company: 782.1 P5326p Bal Two [1968 – 1975]
- San Francisco Opera archives site
- Sullivan, Caroline (27 September 2012). "Freddie Mercury: the great enigma". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 9 April 2015.
- "Opernstar Montserrat Caballé bekommt Bundesverdienstkreuz". ShortNews. 10 October 2003. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- "Montserrat Caballé – Biography". Artists Stefan Schmerbeck Management website. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- Caballé is conferred Honoris Causa doctorate (in Spanish)
- Montserrat Caballe Declared Persona Non Grata In Azerbaijan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
- Trailer of "Caballé Beyond Music", 98 min docufilm on YouTube
- Montserrat Caballé fan site (Unofficial)
- Montserrat Caballé – in German
- Discography at SonyBMG Masterworks
- Caballé in the Fundación Príncipe de Asturias webpage
- Montserrat Caballé at the Internet Movie Database