made her debut at the Basle Opera in Switzerland in 1956 as
Mimi, Montserrat Caballé went on to sing at several other opera
houses including the Vienna State Opera and La Scala. However
it was not until 1965 that her great breakthrough came in New
York, where she sang Lucrezia Borgia with the American
Opera Society. It was “a smashing success”. After that she conquered
the operatic world. Recordings, both complete operas and recitals,
were released in a never-ceasing stream. The current anthology
appeared on LP in 1970 when she was at the height of her powers.
The booklet and the jewel-case give 1987 as the publication
year, which refers to its first release on CD. This was quite
early in the Compact Disc era and there is a metallic edginess
to the sound that afflicts both the voice and the orchestra
– typical of early transfers to the new digital medium. This
can be tamed and once the appropriate settings have been found
one is in for practically unalloyed listening pleasure.
trademarks included her ravishing pianissimo, her velvety tone
in the mid-register and a ringing top that was powerful enough
to allow her to sing even dramatic roles. Among her early parts
in Vienna was Salome. She was a great Aida and Norma and even
sang Turandot. On this disc she sticks to the lirico and lirico-spinto
roles that suited her best of all in this all-Puccini programme.
The parsimonious playing-time is evidence of the early provenance
of the recording but during these 45 minutes we are treated
to soprano singing of a kind that few - past, contemporaneous
or latter-day – have been able to muster. Some singers, notably
Callas, have penetrated deeper into the individual characters,
but even though Caballé’s Tosca, Mimi and Butterfly could be
musically identical triplets, there is dramatic truth and insight
in her readings. Several of these roles she recorded complete
within a few years – Liu, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Mimi and also
Madama Butterfly – with ravishing results and possibly even
deeper identification. However for the sheer pleasure of enjoying
one of the most beautiful soprano voices ever, this disc is
hard to beat.
this general panegyric I can identify some features that will
prove my point better than any deep analysis:-
final pianissimo in Signore ascolta! – like a long,
thin silver thread that disappears into the distance
exquisite shadings in Un bel di vedremo, heartfelt
and no playing to the gallery
deep involvement in the two Lescaut arias
caressing of every phrase in O mio babbino caro and
the final note again ethereal
inwardness of her conversation with the Lord in Tosca’s prayer
innocence of Mi chiamano Mimi, and
weightless floating of the pianissimo in the lovely aria from
may not be the best operatic recital on disc but it definitely
enters the finals.
booklet has a short biography and a longer essay on the music,
the latter by Gramophone’s legendary W.A. Chislett. If
I remember correctly they were each culled from the original
LP sleeve. The sung texts for each aria are preceded by a short
description of the dramatic situation in the opera. Splendid.
For the last aria, Doretta’s Song from La rondine the
text could not be reprinted owing to copyright difficulties.