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The Essential Montserrat Caballé
CD 1
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème - Si, mi chiamano Mimì, [4 .40]; Ehi! Rodolfo! [0.38]; O soave Fanciulla [3:55]
Placido Domingo (tenor), Ruggero Raimondi (bass), Vincente Sardinero (baritone), Sherrill Milnes (baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. Town Hall, Walthamstow, London, July 1973
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata - E strano!, Ah fors è lui [6.11]; Follie! Follie! Delirio vano, [1.07], Sempre libera [3.41]; Teneste la promessa [1.35]; Addio del passato [5.58]
Carlo Bergonzi (tenor)
RCA Italian Opera Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
rec. Town Hall, Walthamstow, London, June 1967
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia - Tranquillo ei posa [9.2]
RCA Italian Opera Orchestra/Carlo Felice Cillario
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, August 1965
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Semiramide - Serbami ognor...Alle più calde immagini [7.58]
with Shirley Verrett (mezzo)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Anton Guadagno
rec. July 1969, London
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Il pirata - Oh! s'io potessi dissipar le nubi…Col sorriso d’innocenza (mad scene) [15.9]
cond. Carlo Felice Cillario
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, August 1965
Norma: Casta diva [6.44]; Fino al rito [1.55]; Ah! bello a me Ritorna [4.32]
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ambrosian Chorus/Carlo Felice Cillario
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, September 1972
CD 2
Gaetano DONIZETTI ((1797-1848)
Gemma di Vergy - Eccomi sola alfine [8.42]
Opera Orchestra of New York/Eve Queler
14 March 1976, New York City 
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I due Foscari, Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente [5.34]; Che mi rechi? ... La clemenza! [2.51]
RCA Italian Opera Orchestra, RCA Italian Opera Chorus Conductor/Anton Guadagno
rec. RCA Italiana Studios, Rome, Italy, January 1967
Aroldo, Ciel, ch' io respir [5.01]
Opera Orchestra of New York/Eve Queler
rec. Carnegie Hall, New York City, April 1979
Rigoletto: Caro nome [6.21]
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Gianfranco Masini
rec. Barcelona, Spain, June 1974
Requiem Mass, Libera me, Domine [13.40]
Musica Sacra, New York Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta
rec. Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, October 1980 
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur, Io son l'umile ancella [4.0]
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Gianfranco Masini
rec. Barcelona, Spain, June 1974
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)
I Pagliacci, Qual fiamma avea nel guardo [4.56]
London Symphony Orchestra/Nello Santi
rec. Town Hall, Walthamstow, London, August 1971
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome, Op 54: Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen [11.19]; Sie ist ein Ungeheuer, Deine Tochter [1.02]; Ah! Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst, Jokanaan [4.33]
Richard Lewis (Tenor), Regina Resnik (mezzo)
London Symphony Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, June 1968
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde, Mild und leise ‘Liebestod’ (begins with No, mi lasciate) [7.00]
Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 88697214402 [73.46 + 75.30]


Experience Classicsonline

The Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé (b. 1933) served her operatic stage apprenticeship at the Basle and Bremen opera houses. There she sang a very varied repertoire that included the classic Mozart roles of Pamina, Donna Elvira and Fiordiligi, as well as the distinctly heavier parts of Aida, Salome, Tatyana and the Tannhäuser Elisabeth. The small well-run Basle ensemble house was ideal preparation for the extended career Caballé was to enjoy. She graduated to the Vienna State Opera in 1960, the Barcelona Liceu in 1962 and more widely elsewhere thereafter. However, it was her replacement of an ailing Marilyn Horne in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia in a Carnegie Hall, New York, concert performance on 20 April 1965 that caused audience furore and launched her extended international stage and recording career. RCA quickly bought out her recording contract and rushed her into the studio to set down her Lucrezia (with Alfredo Krauss and Shirley Verrett). Later there were ground-breaking RCA recordings of rarities by Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi. The three original LPs of these rarities are now available on a double CD (RCA 82876 62309 2 review). Various RCA complete opera recordings, including some represented in this collection, followed (CD 1 trs. 1-8, La Traviata and La Boheme and 12-14, Norma as well as CD 2 trs. 7 I Pagliacci and 9-11 Salome). In New York Caballé was seen as the bel canto successor to Callas and a rival to Joan Sutherland who by this period was an exclusive Decca artist. It was in this bel canto repertoire that Caballé remained faithful to the New York Opera Society performing in Roberto Devereux (December 1965) and making her Met debut in the same month as Marguerite in Faust; another debutant that night was Sherrill Milnes. Later New York Opera Society featured her in concert performances including Bellini’s Il Pirata, Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and Gemma di Vergy (CD 2 tr.1) as well as Verdi’s Aroldo (CD 2 tr 4).

Given that by the age of twenty-nine the singer was mistress of no fewer than sixty roles it is not surprising that she did not restrict herself to the one recording company or the bel-canto repertoire in her many visits to the studio. Her varied vocal strengths led to her recording for Decca, DG, Philips, the Spanish label Vergana, Sony, EMI as well as RCA. Her biographers (Robert Pullen and Stephen Taylor. Indigo, paperback, 1994) list a selection of her extended discography. I believe it exceeds any other singer in the post 78 rpm era. The various consolidations in the record industry allow recordings originally made for the Sony, RCA (review) and the Spanish Vergana label (review 1 and review 2) to be incorporated in this collection. Of the studio complete opera recordings it is some cause for thought, and even amazement, that Caballé recorded her Violetta and Salome a mere twelve months apart, the two roles being generally considered to be completely different fachs. The party scene from La Traviata (CD 1 trs 4-6) perfectly illustrates the singer’s capacity for vocal expression. She at first muses on her state whilst the succeeding, understated, but pinpoint coloratura and pianissimo capacity in Addio del passato are vocal skills of the highest order. She eschews the bravura coloratura so often used as a kind of soprano version of Nessun Dorma, but is nonetheless equally effective in realising Violetta’s state. In my review of the complete recording, I was critical of the turgid conducting of George Prêtre. Out of context that matters less, although it mars one of the best sung complete recordings of the work. But it is the comparison of Caballé’s ability to convey the character of both Violetta and Salome that intrigues me most. Salome’s composer, Richard Strauss, said of the eponymous role, in respect of the massive scale of his orchestration, that it needed a sixteen year old with the voice of Isolde. Caballé desperately wanted to record the part although RCA would have preferred Lohengrin, not wanting to go head to head with Solti’s Decca recording. Caballé played hardball and dug in her heels. It was a role she sang over sixty times on stage, starting in Basle in 1958. By 1967 her reputation was such that RCA caved in and her performance (CD 2 trs. 9-11) gives the lie to Strauss’s description, as the singer sounds appropriately girlish whilst finding no difficulty in riding the orchestra in its later climactic moments. Caballé recorded the final scene again for DG in 1978 under Bernstein (431 103-2).

Conveying the sound of a young girl is again the name of the game in Caro nome from Rigoletto, although the extract also illustrates Caballé’s limitations with her trill (CD 2 tr.5). There are no such problems with her Mimi recorded in the summer of 1973 under Solti. As I recount in my review of the complete recording, these sessions were not happy for the singers, with the conductor, on loan from Decca, being rather dictatorial in his approach. Caballe lightens her tone very effectively in Mi chiamano Mimi (CD 1 tr.1) whilst sounding thoroughly infatuated in the following O soave fanciulla with lovely portomento (CD 1 tr.3). But it is in the bel canto excerpts referred to, particularly those from Gemma di Vergy (CD 2 tr.1), Il Pirata (CD 1 tr.11) and Rossini’s Semiramide (CD 1 tr.10) that constitute the foundation of Caballé’s art and where her impact on the opera scene can be best heard and understood. 

Caballé’s even limpid tone, pianissimo floated notes to die for, immaculate technique across her wide vocal range as well as her capacity for vocal heft and colour constituted her great vocal strengths. Add to these virtues the singer’s innate musicality and diversity of repertoire and I suggest that together they made her artistry in the soprano repertory in the post Second World War period second to none and not excepting Callas and Sutherland.

Robert J Farr


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