A brief anonymous note announced on January 5, 1962 "an important premiere, that of Richard Strauss's opera Arabella, absolute novelty in Spain. " And his third paragraph started like this: "With the premiere of Arabella will be presented a soprano from Barcelona of international fame: Montserrat Caballé, "added the information of The vanguard. Tanned in the German and Italian repertoires at the Basel Municipal Theater and at the Bremen Opera, Caballé finally made 28 years on January 7, 1962, which would be his triumphant debut in Barcelona, his hometown, where died yesterday at 85 years after several episodes chained by an increasingly fragile health that confined her in the Sant Pau hospital in recent weeks.
The Gran Teatre del Liceu, which hosted that debut, would become her second home for decades and immediately adopted her as one of her favorite daughters. Now that the soprano has just left us, it seems more pertinent than ever to remember generously some of the phrases about that historic day – the first interpretation of a new role or the presentation in an important theater of the really great singers are inscribed forever as endless milestones in the history of the opera– written in a prophetic tone by the composer and critic Xavier Montsalvatge in his chronicle of the premiere: "It is admirable that Montserrat Caballé, artistically trained in the Conservatory of the Lyceum, has chosen for his first demonstration before our audience a work so tremendously difficult that forced him to to use his best faculties to the full, without having to compensate for the applause that could have been Bohéme, a Tosca or any Italian opera, with which he has repeatedly dazzled the enthusiasm of many audiences. " And he added: "His voice is clear, clean, with a timbre that, without being penetrating, can easily pass through this kind of 'sound barrier' that is the Strauss orchestra, which stands between the singers and the audience. It must be because of the confidence that the artist has in the volume of her voice that she sometimes uses it with circumspection, indulging in pianos, in subtly phrasing, which, while allowing her to achieve expressive inflections of extraordinary beauty, brings her closer too much to the orchestral timbres, with which it gets confused (as Strauss might have wished). Montserrat Caballé is a great performer, not only because of the kind of her voice, but also because she has overcome everything that an opera singer needs to master. His diction is of an exquisite musicality. He moves in the scene with aplomb, sobriety and calm, but never expressionless. The viewer has the feeling that he sees and listens to an artist trained in the best singing school, with a considerable experience of the tables. How nice to see that this has been achieved by an artist of ours in her youth! "
From then on, the milestones happened quickly: the substitution in extremis by Marilyn Horne in a concert version of Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1965; the debut at the Metropolitan Opera that same year as Marguerite in Faust of Gounod along with a debutant Sherrill Milnes; the Rule at the Teatro alla Scala and the Paris Opera in 1972 and, above all, the one he sang, daringly challenging the elements, at the Orange Festival two years later, with a legendary status; or its Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met with José Carreras and Fiorenza Cossotto and directed by Jesús López Cobos on his own New York debut.
Over the years, Caballé proved to be able to sing practically everything
And, besides the scenarios, she also began, surrounded by the best colleagues, a long rosary of recordings that soon became inescapable references. Four sample buttons: Turandot with Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Zubin Mehta; The bohème next to Plácido Domingo and Georg Solti; Don Carlo, also with Plácido Domingo, Shirley Verrett and Carlo Maria Giulini; Roberto Devereux with his friend José Carreras and Julius Rudel.
Over the years, Caballé proved to be able to sing practically everything, from the belcantist repertoire that he explored with infinite avidity and curiosity, and that is perhaps the one that best suited his vocal conditions, even the most important Verdi papers, the great veristic titles and some Straussian operas, which she imbued with an excessive lyricism. In the first part of her career, thanks to an exceptional voice, technique and expressiveness, she was an unparalleled interpreter of what Rodolfo Celletti called "the example of an angelic voice soprano of the pre-Romantic repertoire". Caballé incarnated then, in many ways, the archetype of singer (and person) that was easy to contrast Maria Callas. Expressive (and vital) defiance against the technique considered as inter pair bonus (and a life without frights), scenic nerve versus statism, meat versus spirit, in Caballé the song considered as an own entity, pure, abstract, almost a high Platonic ideal that she was obstinate in turning into a tangible (and audible) reality.
Requested by the best theaters of the whole world, archipremiada, overturned with boldness as a priestess in the religion of her art, Caballé made punctual incursions into non-classical territories
Family, very attached to their city ("the greatest gift that the Liceo has given me, and do not laugh, has always been hiring me for Christmas", he told this newspaper in 2012, when the theater of Las Ramblas remembered with an exhibition the half century since that juvenile Arabella) and incessantly required by the best theaters of the whole world, archipremiada, boldly turned upside down as a priestess in the religion of his art, Caballé made punctual incursions into non-classical territories, the most famous of which was his surprising and empathetic collaboration with Freddie Mercury, with whom he made the most effective apology that can be imagined of Barcelona as an open and international city. A few months before the 1992 Olympic Games, Caballé received with several of his colleagues (Victoria de los Angeles, Teresa Berganza, José Carreras, Pilar Lorengar, Alfredo Kraus and Plácido Domingo) the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, which recognized a golden generation of Spanish lyric art that yesterday has remained a little more orphan.
The Catalan soprano also passed boundaries that she would have done better not to cross, facing roles that were not compatible with her vocal qualities and artistic personality, such as that Isolde that sang in Barcelona and Madrid in 1989. But her artistic voracity knew no end, although not even a supergifted voice like his could be immune to the wear of time and physical decline, hence his last years in active, often wrapped by his daughter Montserrat Martí, also soprano, showed an inevitable decline. She, however, inclined to an easy and sonorous laugh, the daughter of a never imposed affection, happily trapped in the only type of life that she loved and knew, she wanted to continue offering her art until the end. Although he was in his own way (what great soprano is not?), He declared in 1994 that "I do not feel like a diva. I feel like a person who has dedicated his whole life to the music I love. Trying to serve music as best I could and give the audience the voice I was born with. "
A miraculous and all-embracing voice, pure sterling silver, that now, although it's hard to believe, has just intoned its last filato, that expressive resource in which the voice becomes progressively thinner until it becomes an almost disembodied thread, of which she was an indisputable teacher and which she liked to lavish in her interpretations. The thread of Montserrat, which guided us through so many beautiful labyrinths, has been broken forever.