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MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ: Grandes héroïnes lyriques
CD 1
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Otello: Mia madre aveva (Canzone del salice [not "Canzone Del Salince" as in the booklet]/Ave Maria) (1), Un ballo in maschera: Ecco l’orrido (2)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Anna Bolena: Piangete voi? … Al dolce guidami (3)
Gustave [not Marc-Antoine as in the booklet] CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Louise: Depuis le jour (4)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca: Vissi d’arte (5)

Macbeth: Nel dì della vittoria – Ambizioso spirto – Vieni! T’affretta – Or tutti sorgete (6), Il Trovatore: Che più t’arresti? – Tacea la notte placida – Di tale amor (7)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana: Voi lo sapete (8)

Turandot: In questa reggia (9)
CD 2
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)

La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontana (10)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda: Suicidio (11)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Andrea Chénier: La mamma morta (12)

Il Trovatore: D’amor sull’ali rosee (13)

Suor Angelica: Senza mamma (14)

I vespri siciliani: Arrigo! Ah parli a un core (15), Un ballo in maschera: Morto ma prima in grazia (16), I vespri siciliani: Mercè, dilette amiche (17), Rigoletto: Caro nome (18)
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)

Adriana Lecouvreur: Io sono l’umile ancella (19)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

La Somnambula: Ah! Se una volta sola… Ah! non credea mirarti … Ah! Non giunge (20)
Montserrat Caballé (soprano), Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona/Carlo [not "Caro" as in the booklet] Felice Cillario (1-5), Armando Gatto (6), Anton Guadagno [not "Guadano" as in the booklet] (7-12), Gianfranco Masini (13-20)
Recorded December 1964 (1-5), July 1976 (6-12), June 1974 (13-20) in Barcelona
Originally issued on Vergara (1-5) and Columbia (6-20)
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 511892 [2 CDs: 71:37, 63:37]

This is one of a series of four 2-CD sets which the RCA Red Seal label is dedicating to Montserrat Caballé. I shall be reviewing the others in due course. The recordings of this artist have been a part of our lives for a good while now, yet dedicated collectors’ mouths will be watering, for this is not just a reassembling of well-known RCA material – highlights from complete opera recordings and so on – it is made up from the LPs she made in Spain for Vergara at the outset of her career and for Columbia about a decade later. Though her many fans will no doubt have sought all these out, it is marvellous to have it all gathered together on CD, for it represents the great Spanish diva at her absolute prime.

But I have a severe criticism to make, and since it regards all four volumes I shall say it once to avoid repeating myself every time. The presentation is disgracefully shoddy. It’s not just the old story that we get a potted biography of the singer that is the same in each volume and brief notes on the programme of each particular album that are richer in hyperbole than in content – we’re used to this by now (though why should we be?). It’s not even a question of there being no texts or translations, though that’s bad enough (you can pull down texts of the arias on this set from the Internet, but you’d be lucky to find texts or translations there of the rarer Spanish material contained in some of the other albums). The thing that really makes me see red is that the enterprise has evidently fallen into the hands of somebody for whom the singer is everything, so who cares if titles and conductors’ and pianists’ and even composers’ names are spelt wrong, not just here and there but systematically all through. So we get "L’Elesir d’amore" (instead of "Elisir"), the last of the Falla 7 Canciones is called "Tolo" not "Polo", then we have "Caro" (instead of Carlo) Felice Cillario, Anton "Guadano" (instead of Guadagno), "Mano" (instead of Manno) Wolf Ferrari and even Frederico "Monpou" (instead of Mompou; this is correct on the front cover but consistently wrong elsewhere). Most incredibly of all, the romantic verismo opera "Louise" is attributed to the baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier! And, if you’re going to capitalise surnames, then it’s Giuseppe DI STEFANO not "Giuseppe di STEFANO". In Italian a "Di" or a "De", unlike the German "von", is an integral part of the surname, it has a capital letter and you look him up in the encyclopedia under D not S. The timings of the discs are not given. "Reissue concept and executive production: Olivier Cochet", it says, and I hope he’s proud of it. When I think of the labours of love with which some shoe-string companies present reissued material, all this from a major like BMG is pretty depressing, and surprising considering that they provided full documentation for their "Horowitz Rediscovered" and "Richter Rediscovered" albums, so what has gone wrong here? They’ll say they can’t afford to do any better because classical music doesn’t sell. I say that nothing sells if you don’t invest in it properly.

Well, now I’ve got that off my chest I can get down to the truly remarkable singing that is to be heard here. In some ways the earliest records are the most beautiful of all, the voice already showing that steadiness and control which was to keep it in trim for so many years to follow but with a sense of freshness, as if the singer herself is marvelling in its beauty. She was also already a notable stylist, distinguishing carefully between the classically spun lines of Donizetti, the rougher-hewn Verdi (but she is breathtakingly tender in the Otello extract) and finding toughness as well as sweetness in Puccini. The most original interpretation is that of "Depuis le jour". Alas, she makes no apparent attempt to pronounce French properly, even changing the meaning of the opening phrase – "Des puis, les jours ... – but she is surprisingly and convincingly robust with the music, reminding us that this was the French equivalent of "verismo".

By 1976 there is just a hint that the freshness has been lost, to be replaced by all-purpose operatic blasting, albeit of a very superior kind. Perhaps the effect is due to the fact that her chosen programme consists wholly of pieces that require maximum heft all through, and she certainly rides the war-horses magnificently. More of her famed "dolcezza" is to be heard in the 1974 sessions. Does she sometimes swoon too much? The test case would be "Arrigo! Ah parli a un core", and I would say that criticism is disarmed by the sheer control of it all. The high B and the following cadenza are the stuff of which legends are made, and I should add that we get more of the words from Caballé than we did from Sutherland in her swooning moments. All things considered, Caballé remains one of the more unmannered and musicianly of the easily recognised singers.

Golden Agers will have it that the art of singing died long ago. I submit that any one of these performances, if transferred to scratchy 78s, would be heard with wonder, and the Golden Age of Singing, if there was one, is proved to have lasted at least as close to our own days as the prime years of Montserrat Caballé.

Christopher Howell


MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ: Grandes héroïnes lyriques

Montserrat CABALLÉ en récital: Recital "Los Encores"

Montserrat CABALLÉ EN DUO - Duos de Amor

Montserrat CABALLÉ: Récital espagnol





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