July 25, 2021

Montserrat Caballé: My musical mother

Montserrat Caballé: My musical mother

I wrote it verbatim yesterday in my weekly Saturday article, "En Solfa": "This column is centered today, go ahead, in one of the three lyrical figures -Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo and Teresa Berganza- to which I owe a special thanks for having made me love the opera and for which I feel a very special affection ». Today disappears what I can well qualify as my musical mother. These lines, written with tears on the keyboard, can not separate my relationship with Montserrat from the objective account of who he was, who he is and will always be, and for that reason I will not try. By Montserrat Caballé I feel a special affection. Possibly today I would continue to listen only to Mina, Vanoni or Zanicchi if it had not been because one day, still a minor, I read of a Spanish soprano who was going where I was going and, with curiosity, I bought an LP that contained Bellini and Donizetti arias. If "Casta diva" dazzled me, the final scene of "Il Pirata" touched me. So, suddenly, one fine day I went from Mina to Caballé, from Italian light music to opera. Montserrat was also the protagonist of my first opera, "Roberto Devereaux", in the Zarzuela and, since then, not only has it provided me, like many others, a good part of the greatest musical satisfactions, but we have also managed to establish a friendship that is materialized in many small details, such as "posting" wherever we go. That RCA album opened a new world for me. That voice completely natural, equal to his speech, that captivated by its sweetness and simultaneously its strength. The rowys, the pianos, those unforgettable "mezza di voce" like the duo between two queens of "Maria Estuarda" by Donizetti … Two queens: Verret and Caballé, whom I had the good fortune to hear at the Lyceum " Don Carlo »in the Pamias period. Montserrat debuted at the Lyceum in 1963 with "Arabella" by Strauss. He confessed once: "I have always compared Strauss to an ocean with all its problems of tides, storms and calm. It is immense in this sense, a sea that surrounds you and makes you yours. You must not and can not be a soloist in Strauss. It drags you like the sea and you swim at will of the music ». That's how he sang it.

The beginnings were not easy. Even a singing teacher, whom he went to audition, said: "Marry, have children and dedicate yourself to housework, because you have no future in singing." His family could not afford to pay for all the studies and a music-loving family did. He studied at the Conservatorio del Liceo and, although he made his debut in 1954 in Valencia with "La serva padrona", his first important professional steps took place in Mexico in 1962, to replace Victoria de los Ángeles in Granada in 1963. "Victoria was for me the perfection and has continued to be so because there are things about Victoria that nobody has been able to overcome. It was the purity in the interpretation, because she looked for it, she studied it, but at the moment of interpreting, she also went through the hills of Úbeda and then it was sensational. The "Manon" of Victoria and her "Carmen" are insurmountable for me, for the interpretation, the filigree, the musicality, the intention, the diction … I do not think there has ever been a Carmen better than Victoria, ever. I've always felt very much having seen her once on stage, "Pelleas and Melisande", in Madrid, but I've eaten her records, I've broken them all by listening to them », she also confessed. In that same 1963 he met Bernabé Martí singing "Butterfly", later marrying and giving birth to two children.

In the early sixties he belonged to the Basel Theater Company, where he learned several of the roles that would make her famous and took tables. Its international launching came at the Carnegie Hall in April 1965 replacing Marilyn Horne in a historic "Lucrezia Borgia". The New York critic compared her to Callas and Tebaldi. He wanted to sing in the old Met before his demolition and succeeded in debuting in December 1965 in "Faust" and reaping unbeatable reviews. This was the "New York Times": "As Miss Caballé had created a sensation here at the opera concerts, there was considerable expectation about how she would look in a complete production and how her voice would sound in a house the size of the Met. There was also speculation that the soprano, who had achieved success here in Donizetti's dark operas, could be a disaster like Marguerite. It turned out that even if it was not an ideal role for her, she sang it so superlatively that there was no doubt that she was a singer for the Met. Caballé beautifully projected in the audience all the pure beauty of his voice: the exquisite pianisimos, the delicate colorations of the phrases, the high and shining tones were a delight for the ear. There is something more in the singing of the soprano than magnificent sounds. She is a musical singer and, at least instinctively, a sincere and tasteful actress, and combined these qualities into an attractive portrait of Marguerite. She is a plump woman, and did not help her appearance an unflattering blonde wig, but moved through her role with increasing simplicity and an honest expression of the emotional awareness of the character she played. " Already famous, having debuted at La Scala, the Met, Vienna, London, etc. He took great care of the public of his city, reserving Christmas to debut at the Liceo many of his great papers without charging anything. Pamias, the businessman who risked his own money to maintain the theater, gave him a gift. Years later, when the coliseum caught fire in 1994, it was strongly involved in its reconstruction.

In my long relationship of friendship with the three artists mentioned at the beginning I lived the personal relationships between them and, very especially, between Montserrat and Plácido. Someday I will tell you in detail-Plácido's reason for leaving Carlos Caballé's agency, the events in "Sicilian Vespers" at the Liceo in 1974, the ins and outs of the Lyric Gala on the anniversary of the Teatro de la Maestranza, those at the Olympics of Barcelona in 1992, etc. – but I do want to leave a note here: the generosity of Montserrat with Plácido in Paris. According to her she told me, the opera wanted to sue the tenor for some cancellation not fully justified. She intervened to make the opera reason: "Think what you do because, if you sue him, you can not count on him again". They did not.

Montserrat also explained to me: "I have had great versatility due to the extension of my voice and the technical ease and this has allowed me to approach certain characters throughout a career that without them would not have been possible" and that, among the more Eighty papers in repertoire, he had "a full of characters": "Norma", "Semiramide", "Salomé", "Traviata" and "Tristán". Unsurpassable the "Semiramide" of Aix or Paris with Lopez Cobos, Horne, Ramey and Araiza. From "Salome" he told me: "Bernstein was the real storm on the podium. Working with him was like going to the ring. You were KO at the end. That's how the Salome was with him. On the other hand, when we recorded the Kaddish symphony, one of his works par excellence, it was like being in a synagogue, because of its mysticism, its spiritual explosion. Bernstein was this and that, pure contrast. " Nobody who was or has seen the video of the "Norma" by Bellini in Orange in 1974 will be able to forget that ethereal "Casta diva" with the wind unfolding his tunic. He spoke of the paper with María Callas: "If you can with the triplet, you can with her," and that's how it was. Of her opined that "she was always very affectionate with me. Many times he repeated to me the luck I had for having found a "partner" who understood the profession and at the same time understood the woman and this, he said, was the greatest success that could be achieved: "You have obtained in life the pleasure of being a mother and of being a beloved woman, "he told me. With me it was wonderful. I did not know the singer, I met the woman, and I came to understand many of the exaggerations that have been said about her. I came to understand that I did not have the patience to listen to stupid things, I had to do serious work, I did not go to a social meeting on stage, I went to work, and when someone goes to work, it is not for nonsense. I guess a lot of the things that were said about her were because her patience was not to entertain people but to do her job. "

Love what you have in your hands

Caballé shared performances and recordings with all the great directors: Muti, Barbirolli, Mehta, Abbado, Karajan, Bernstein, Kleiber, Giulini … Regarding the vision of Verdi's "Requiem" that some of those with whom he sang it had, He told me: "Abbado looked like Verdi himself. Zubín Mehta also followed the indications of the score a lot, perhaps with more fire. Karajan was more cheerful, more solemn, but it was the solemnity that he understood. Barbirolli was very fine and made it very nice, but to me Barbirolli seems to me a very academic Verdi, very well done, very polished, but Verdi never pretended to be a school teacher ", and added his opinion about other directors:« Giulini and also Kleiber forgot that they were orchestra conductors and they were musicians who loved music. It was another conception. A singer, to do something authentic on a stage, he has to forget that he has studied an opera and who he is, he has only to love what he has in hand and then it will be authentic, because nothing will confuse him, nothing will distract him. In orchestra conducting, Giulini had that and Kleiber too. " She also had a very good relationship with Muti, which did not stop until she was her "Aida" in the already historic recording. Instead, he collided with Solti in "Bohème." He arrived saying: «They are going to record it from scratch, forget how they have sung it until now». He repeated it and repeated it until Montserrat snapped at him: "Master, what you want is simply that we loose." And so was Montserrat, very precise when he spoke. He did it slowly, repeating the same thing in different ways and doing it with the same half voice with which he enchanted audiences around the world. There were no "fortes" in his score but with the same record, surprisingly smooth, was able to flatter or recriminate. She knew how to make herself out of a very humble family, who knew she was endowed with a place of privilege and made him see through the authority and firmness with which she expressed her opinions. There was, however, in her a background of shyness, of fear of others, of surprises, which was nothing but the dregs of childhood. His ideas were clear and his opinions too, and when he wanted to, he had no language: "When you sing – this will sound very pedantic – as I have sung, you do not need interviews. You give them to friends from time to time, but you do not have an advertising agent or all these things that are used today. You can allow yourself to be fat, because the voice that you emit in the scene captivates, captivates and makes the audience cry and you serve the composer the best you know. A singer today who had exceptional qualities, if he wanted, could not do interviews ».

He helped many interpreters. He practically discovered Juan Pons, who sang bass in the choir of the Lyceum, and brought to light his authentic baritone voice. He discovered José Carreras and protected him for years. Also to Eduardo Jiménez. He taught master classes in various cities. The National Auditorium was very special. They attended, among others, Isabel Rey and I still remember when, to teach her how to breathe, made her lie down and placed her hands on her diaphragm. No one has had a fiato like yours. In a "Don Carlo" he asked to give the sharp end of the unwritten opera and the orchestra conductor answered him very well as long as he could hold it until the last note. It was a nonviable challenge, but she did it and the feat is preserved on YouTube. This and the B flat of Callas in a Mexican "Aida" are the big hits of the type. He also taught Soiao Hernández, the soprano who will open La Scala this year in «Attila». In his search for new voices he promoted the singing contest that bears his name. The fiato of Montserrat exclaimed to Joan Sutherland during the recording of the death of Liù with her, Pavarotti and Mehta: "Strappale il segreto", because Caballé's breathing was unending in "Ah, as supreme offer of my love", employing the words of the libretto with double meaning.

Like Callas, he achieved much greater popularity than that which corresponds to an opera singer. His duets with Freddie Mercury and, especially, «Barcelona», chosen hymn of the 1992 Olympics, were heard around the world. He sang "Luna" by José María Cano and took our zarzuela in concerts all over the world. It was awarded with the most important international prizes and it would be impossible to have a complete relationship in these lines. Oddly enough, there are recordings without publication. «It is a pity that some have not yet come to light. So the three hymns of Strauss with orchestra, which I recorded and have not yet been published, and a series of songs by Corelli with orchestra. At the time there were priorities in other things and were being parked. There are also four arias from the series "Donizetti rarities". And also curiosities like three duets with Freddie Mercury, which were not released on the big album, a cd of sevillanas … Even Antonio Gala's love poems, for example, precious, with him reciting and I singing, with an accompaniment of old guitars and flutes that is wonderful. Mompou's was published, but later it disappeared. Maybe they'll take them out when I die. " Will it be like this?

His life became bitter after a fiscal incident, common to many other artists and athletes. Frankly, he did not deserve the criticism he got, some simple manifestations of the national evil par excellence: envy. "I am afraid of human irrationality, those who always want to be right and defend their ideas by hating those who do not think like them. It is very tremendous and it happens in immense foci of our planet. It is not one thing, nor a group, it is more general and that scares me because it is to the detriment of humanity. It is to the detriment of a better world, of a status of peace, of solidarity. To be supportive is to offer and is to understand, it does not mean to think the same, but it means to respect. They say that the union of peoples gives strength, the union of cultures produces understanding ».

An austere life

Montserrat was not known to the public. She herself recognized me: "People do not know me. I have not let them know me either, I have to admit it. You have to have a lot of dealings with people to get to know you. I have not stopped traveling and living in different places since I emigrated in 56. I lived six years in Central Europe, twenty three in New York … I have not made social life either. My career is a bit lonely … I have made a very austere life and I think that may have influenced ». Maybe he had to retire many years ago, in fullness, as did Garbo, but his artist's wood prevented him. I told him and in the presentation of his first album with the SGAE it occurred to me to include in the sound illustration of his career the final scene of "Anna Bolena" in La Scala, in which he was able, as a day Callas in that opera according to testimony of Leonye Rysanek, to change the public from the discrepancy after a failed acute to tame it until achieving its cheers in the final cabaleta. She did not like it and our relationship cooled for a few months until a hug and a kiss, she in a wheelchair, recomposed our long relationship of friendship, affection and admiration. Her family trusted in her recovery: "It has been so many times very serious and we thought that we lost her that this time we still had hopes in her capacity for recovery", they explained to me. But no, not this time, Montserrat has left us. He has left me. It was my musical mother. Without your voice today, maybe you would not enjoy the music and I'm sure you would not have read these sad lines. As I write I watch the video of the "Norma" that sang at the Teatro Real in 1971. There were two concerts. The first I saw in the stalls. The second, on his knees, on the side of an amphitheater. This afternoon I'll see "Aida" at a cinema in direct broadcast. I hope that the Metropolitan has the wisdom and generosity to, in this broadcast to the whole world, to offer its dedication. It is the least to who there sang almost one hundred performances. Rest in peace making happy with your unique voice to those who are with her, just as she did to all of us here who are literally crying her death. Hugs very strong and senses to his family.


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