The opera singer Montserrat Caballé has died aged 85 after being admitted to hospital in Barcelona last month following a period of ill health. Montserrat Caballé must surely number among the most exciting sopranos to grace the opera stage in the second half of the 20th century.
Her career began, during the 1950s, with her performing small roles such as the First Lady (in The Magic Flute) whilst worked as a waitress to supplement her income. She soon graduated to Donna Elvira (in Don Giovanni), Fiordiligi (in Così Fan Tutte) and Pamina (in The Magic Flute). However, it was not until she replaced an ailing Marilyn Horne in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, in a concert performance in New York, that her career really took off. In that performance what impressed audiences and critics alike was her ability to express character and go beyond the mere bravura display of other divas.
Montserrat Caballé, a short but imposing figure, endeared herself to audiences around the world with her irrepressible personality. Her fans called her La Superba – the superb one. However Caballé became known to a far wider audience than most opera stars as a result of her duet with Freddie Mercury. The song Barcelona was first released in 1987 and later became an anthem for the city’s 1992 Olympic Games, the year after Freddie Mercury died. Caballé sang at the opening ceremony of the games with two of the ‘Three Tenors’ Placido Domingo and José Carreras.
If you are unfamiliar with La Superba then I fine way to become acquainted with her talents is to listen to her recording of arias from operas by Bellini and Verdi, recorded at the peak of her powers in the 1970s.