Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe dies at 85

Spanish media said she entered a Barcelona hospital in September because of a gall bladder problem.

Montserrat Caballe, a Spanish opera singer renowned for her bel canto technique and her interpretations of the roles of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, has died at the age of 85.

Hospital Sant Pau spokesman Abraham del Moral confirmed her death early on Saturday.

Mr del Moral said Caballe’s family requested the cause of death not be released while saying she had been in the Barcelona hospital since September.

Spanish media said that Caballe entered the hospital in September because of a gall bladder problem.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said: “A great ambassador of our country has died. Her voice and tenderness will remain with us forever.”

Born into a working class family in Barcelona, Caballe unveiled her musical talents early, singing Bach cantatas at the age of seven.

In her almost unlimited repertoire, she starred in 90 opera roles with nearly 4,000 stage performances.

At the age of eight, Caballe entered Liceo’s Conservatory in Barcelona with Eugenia Kenny, Conchita Badea and Napoleone Annovazzi among her first teachers.

She won the school’s Gold Medal on graduating in 1954, and went on to study opera in Milan and in 1956 joined the Basel Opera and played her first major role that year in the city’s Staatstheater as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme.

Four years later, she was a principal singer with the Bremen Opera.

Montserrat Caballe
Montserrat Caballe (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone/AP)

In 1964, Caballe gave a highly praised performance of Jules Masenet’s Manon in Mexico City, but it was a year later in New York that a lucky break launched her on the road to international stardom.

On short notice, she stood in for indisposed American soprano Marilyn Horne in a concert performance in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at New York’s Carnegie Hall and achieved a thunderous success. It opened the doors to all the major opera venues around the world.

She produced a highly acclaimed performance as Elisabetta of Valois in an all-star cast of Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Arena di Verona in 1969. The concert became famous for her “la” on the final “ah” at the end of the opera, which lasted for more than 20 bars up, driving the audience wild with delight.

Caballe was also a noted recitalist, particularly of songs of her native Spain. She was particularly admired for her purity of voice, vocal shadings and exquisite pianissimos.

Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe perform Barcelona
Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe perform Barcelona (Tim Ockenden/PA)

In a brief excursion into pop music, Caballe’s duet Barcelona, with Freddie Mercury was a hit single in 1987, accompanied by an album of the same name.

The title track later became the anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympics in the city.

Caballe performed the song live, accompanied by a recording of the late Mercury, at the 1999 Champions League football final in Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium.

In 1997, she sang on two tracks on an album by New Age composer Vangelis.

In 2015, Caballe was convicted of tax fraud and given a suspended sentence of six months in prison. She had failed to pay the Spanish treasury more than 500,000 euros in taxes on her earnings.

Caballe, who was born Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepcion Caballe i Folch, dedicated herself to various charities and was a Unesco Goodwill Ambassador. She also established a foundation for needy children in Barcelona.

In 1964, she married Spanish tenor Bernabe Marti. They had two children, Bernabe Marti Jr and Montserrat Marti, herself a successful soprano.

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