SopranoMontserrat Concepcion Bibiana Caballe i Folch (Barcelona, 12 April 1933) is a Spanish Catalan operatic soprano. One of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century, the possesser of a voice of great beauty and considerable range and power, considered one of the best modern exponents of the bel canto repertoire and renowned for her interpretations of the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.
Caballй was born in Barcelona and studied music at the Liceu Conservatory and singing technique under Napoleone Annovazzi, Eugenia Kemeny and Conchita Badia. She graduated with the gold medal in 1954. Her first steps were rather modest, until she moved to Basel, Switzerland, where she made her professional debut in 1956, as Mimм in La bohиme and became part of the Basel Opera de:Theater Basel company between 1957 and 1959, covering a repertoire that included Mozart (Erste Dame in The Magic Flute) and Strauss (Salome), unusual for Spanish divas, and all sung in German, but which was very useful for her next professional step in the Bremen Opera (1959-1962). In 1962, Caballй returned to Barcelona and made her first performance at the Liceu, singing the title-role in Richard Strauss' Arabella. From the Fall of 1962 through the Spring of 1963 she toured Mexico, notably portraying the title role in Jules Massenet's Manon at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This was followed by several more successful appearances at the Liceu in 1963.
Caballe'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 she had to learn the role in less than one month, and considering this was her first engagement in a bel canto score, her performance created a sensation and made her famous throughout the opera world. Later that year, Caballe 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 Le nozze di Figaro. In December 1965 she returned to Carnegie Hall for her second bel canto opera, singing the tremendous part of Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti's recently rediscovered Roberto Devereux. Caballй closed out the year making her Metropolitan Opera debut on December 22, 1965; portraying Marguerite in Gounod's Faust opposite John Alexander in the title role and Justino Dнaz as Mйphistophйlиs. That performance also marked Sherrill Milnes's debut performance at the Met in the role of Valentin.
In 1966 Caballe made her first appearance with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company as Maddalena di Coigny in Andrea Chenier and her Italian debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Trovatore (and Pirata in 1967). She returned to Philadelphia in 1967 to sing the title roles in Tosca and Madama Butterfly and to the Met to portray three different 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 latter role in particular garnered her further acclaim among American critics and audiences. She returned to the Met again the following year to portray the title role in Verdi's Luisa Miller and in 1969 to sing the role of Liu in Giacomo Puccini's Turandot with Birgit Nilsson in the title role and James King as Calaf. She also returned to Philadelphia again to sing Imogene in Il Pirata (1968) and Lucrezia Borgia (1969).
In 1969 Caballй produced an astonishing performance as Elisabetta of Valois in an all-star cast (including Domingo and Cappuccilli) of Don Carlo at the Arena di Verona in a famous Jean Vilar production. Her high B (Si) on the final "ciel" at the very end of the opera became famous, lasting for more than 20 bars up to the final chord from the orchestra (a duration of approximately 14 seconds), driving mad an audience of more than 20,000. 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 one of the most remarkable recitals of her career at the Teatro Corallo, also in Verona.
In 1970, Caballй made her "official" debut at La Scala in Milan as 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 Plбcido 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, 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.
The year 1974 was probably when Caballй reached her peak, with a number of astonishing performances: Aida at Liceu in January, I Vespri Siciliani at the Met in March, Parisina d'Este at Carnegie Hall in March, three Normas in one week at the Bolshoi 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 Muti in July, and the Duets recording with Giuseppe di Stefano in August.
In September 1974 she underwent major surgery to remove a huge but benign tumoral mass from her abdomen. She recovered quite well and was again on stage in early 1975.
In 1976 Caballй appeared at the Met once again as Norma, sang her first Aida in that house opposite Robert Nagy as Radamиs and Marilyn Horne as Amneris, portrayed the title role in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and sang Mimм in Puccini's La Bohиme opposite Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo.In 1977 Caballй 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 La Gioconda, Semiramide, and Tosca among others.
Having lost some of her earlier brilliance and purity of voice, Caballй made up for it finding a more dramatic utterance and expressive singing in roles that demanded it. Thus, in 1978, another great year in her career, she sang a magnificent Tosca in San Francisco, with Pavarotti, in Madrid a sublime Norma, and a powerful Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met opposite Josй 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 99th and final performance at the Met was on January 22, 1988 as Mimм in Puccini's La Boheme with Pavarotti as Rodolfo, Barbara Daniels as Musetta, and Jonathan Summers as Marcello
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