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Opera Arias – Montserrat Caballé
Montserrat Caballe (soprano)
rec. 1971-79. ADD
full listing at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 2 64845 2 [4 CDs: 76.06 + 76.55 + 73.54 + 77.58]
Experience Classicsonline


In 1962 Montserrat Caballé made her first stage appearance at the Liceu in her native Barcelona in Richard Strauss’s Arabella and in 1965 her UK debut was at Glyndebourne as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and the Countess in Le Nozze de Figaro. One of her most performed roles remains Richard Strauss’s Salome.

Caballé’s Mozart/Strauss axis, unusual in a Spanish soprano, came about partly because she spent six years (1956 to 1962) in Swiss and German opera houses where she sang Mozart and Strauss with some Verdi and Puccini. This perhaps is how her career might have developed. But on 21 April 1965 there was a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, which was to have been sung by Marilyn Horne. When Horne had to pull out at the last minute, the organiser hit upon Caballé to replace her. The rest, as they say, is history.

Caballé’s galley years in the Swiss and German opera houses left her with a distaste for exclusive contracts, so that her recordings are spread around a variety of record companies. She also declined to record a role more than once so that you do rather have to pick your way through her repertoire.

As a recording artist Caballé was temperamental in the widest sense; there were no guarantees that she would be on form and would not necessarily deliver consistently. Her recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs is a prime example of this where moments of great beauty are followed by moments of seeming laziness.

This 4 CD compilation comes from EMI and concentrates on Caballé’s recordings of Italian repertoire - with a brief foray into Meyerbeer, Turina and Montsalvatge. Whilst some of this reflects the recordings available to EMI, frankly the set makes a reasonably digestible sampler. A complete Caballé survey would inevitably turn into a mammoth undertaking as she had a repertoire of around ninety roles.

Disc 1 opens with Sombre foret from the complete recording of Guillaume Tell under Lamberto Gardelli made in 1972. This Tell remains one of my favourite accounts of the opera and Caballé’s performance makes me regret that Rossini had to cut Mathilde’s final aria. Here, in her opening aria Caballé displays all the wonderful virtues of line for which she was justly famous. The voice is unmistakable with the delicious husky edge to it which Caballé used to such expressive purpose.

Caballé is closer to Tebaldi than Callas in the fact that her performances inflect phrases rather than individual notes. Caballé rarely colours single notes in a vivid way, it is more the paragraph which is important to her. That said, one of the beauties of her best roles is the way that each note of a coloratura passage is made to tell. Like the best singers in this repertoire she was able to use coloratura for expressive purposes rather than just sing notes beautifully.

Caballé recorded Bellini’s Il Pirata in 1970 with her husband Bernabé Marti. The recording aptly illustrates the pros and cons of the Caballé approach. The work is sung with a superb sense of line and control, the coloratura is sung with due weight showing that the notes mean something, but there are passages which have hints of what might be laziness or untidiness. This is not canary fancier singing, with every single note perfect and in place, pinpoint accuracy can be followed by a smudged passage.  But Caballé sings with a vividness and intensity which carries you away.  The excerpts display not only Caballé’s feeling for drama but also allow her to float some of the magical high pianissimo notes for which she was famous. She is well supported by Marti who sings the tenor part with a robust elegance.

Caballé’s recording of Bellini’s I Puritani was made in 1979 with Alfredo Kraus in the tenor role. Caballé’s Elvira is wonderfully womanly, rather than the skittishly girlish character we often get. But Caballé still conveys Elvira’s fragile state of mind. As in Il Pirata Caballé’s approach is fundamentally dramatic, but she can spin finely detailed notes where necessary.

The first disc concludes with a strongly dramatic pair of excerpts from Donizetti’s Poliuto. These come from a duet album which Caballé recorded with Marti in 1970, with Charles Mackerras conducting, the remainder of which are scattered around the rest of this set.

On Disc 2 we move to Verdi by way of Meyerbeer. The Meyerbeer excerpts from Les Huguenots come from the 1970 duet album with Marti. For me the success of a good excerpt is that it should make you want to hear the singer perform more of the role. Caballé and Marti do just that, making you regret that Caballé never participated in a complete recording of the opera. Here Caballé contributes a remarkably vividly dramatic performance, aided and abetted by Marti’s elegantly robust Raoul.

Caballé’s 1972 recording of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco, conducted by the young James Levine, remains one of her finest recordings. Here we are treated to a 6 minute excerpt from the Prologue, one that leaves you curiously unsatisfied, wishing for more. But Caballé’s vivid performance is spot-on, with hardly a note out of place.

This is followed the sleepwalking scene from Macbeth from another recital record, conducted by Anton Guadagno, recorded in 1971. Here is another role that makes you wish she’d recorded it complete. Caballé sings the aria with a gloriously dark tone, a good sense of line and a beautifully floated high pianissimo ending.

The remaining Verdi items on this disc all show Caballé on the peak of form with vivid performances. She and Marti complement each other in the Un ballo in maschera excerpts. These are followed by a pair of arias from La forza del Destino where Caballé’s performance is simply beautiful.

Finally the disc finishes with three items from the 1971 Don Carlo recording with Placido Domingo in the title role and Giulini conducting. For me this is virtually perfect, its only drawback that it was recorded in Italian not French. Caballé’s Elisabeth brings together all of her virtues and she had the young Placido Domingo as an ardent foil. For the final Tu che le vanita Caballé finds the element of steel in her voice which presages her singing of bigger roles.

On disc 3 we move from Verdi, through Boito to Puccini. The disc opens with four excerpts from the 1974 complete Aida with Domingo conducted by Muti. Aida is perhaps not one of Caballé’s obvious roles yet under Muti’s careful eye she, Domingo and Fiorenza Cossotto produced one of the classic recordings of the opera. Caballé’s Aida manages to combine power, vocal subtleties and beauty. There are one or two moments where her voice responds to pressure with some wobble. But this must be balanced against the musicality and control of the performance, along with a stupendous pianissimo high B at the end of ‘O patria mia’.

The Willow Song and Ave Maria from Otello come from the Guadagno recital disc and are simply beautiful, shaped with intelligence. Not only is there hardly a note out of place, but the passage-work is delicately done. And the same can be said of the short extract from Mefistofele under Rudel.

With Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Caballé gives us passion, urgency and vibrant colour, though there are moments when I wondered whether the voice was not entirely happy. ‘Sola perduta’ combines passion with dark vocal tone.

The end of disc 3 and the beginning of disc 4 contain the Puccini excerpts from the Mackerras disc; arias from La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly  and Turandot. Caballé’s Mimi is beautiful, but not actually what I want from the character. I was too conscious of the artfulness which went into the performance and the slimming down of the voice. The other Puccini arias from this set similarly beautiful and artful, with her Cio Cio San displaying a remarkable amount of power. As arias on their own they are things of wonder. But I would advise anyone to investigate Caballé’s complete Tosca (under Sir Colin Davis) and her Liu from the complete Turandot with Sutherland in the title role.

Caballé’s own Turandot appears on the next track, ably supported by Jose Carreras’s Calaf. She opens the aria with a voice as icy and firm as one could wish, but in the middle softens far more than most dramatic sopranos could manage. The final two Puccini excerpts come from the Mackerras disc; a poignant but mature sounding O mio babbino caro and a charming Sogno di Doretta.

The Cavalleria Rusticana excerpts again come from Caballe’s complete recording of 1979 under Muti. Here she is dramatic and vivid, and here the warm, womanly tones of her voice are entirely appropriate. We also get glimpses of Astrid Varnay’s Mama Lucia, Julia Hamari’s Lola and Jose Carreras’s Turiddu.

The final operatic excerpt is, aptly, a duet with her husband, the closing duet from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. I must confess that I have doubts about the complete opera, but this concluding excerpt is glorious.

Caballé was also a dedicated recitalist and I have fond memories of her recitals at Covent Garden in the 1980s; not only her singing but her witty comments between the items. I heard her sing Turina’s complete Canto a Sevilla in 1982 and here we have just one movement to savour. The set concludes with five songs by her fellow Catalan Montsalvatge; they introduce a Spanish flavour without ever becoming trite. Caballé conveys the detail in these attractive songs making you realise what a communicative recitalist she was.

It would be difficult to digest Caballé’s career down to just 4 CDs but this disc does go a long way. You are aware of the gaps, often recordings made for other recording companies; the lack of Strauss and of Norma is grievous. But one of this disc’s strengths is that it makes extensive use of the glorious early recital discs that Caballé made. She might have recorded more dramatic versions of these arias, but never more beautiful ones. The other prime virtue is that it concentrates on Caballé’s recordings from the 1970s when her voice was at its most beautiful.

Like many Caballé followers I have lots of these recordings already, but I will come back to this set as it gives such a finely digested overview of the soprano’s art. And if you don’t have many - or any - Caballé recordings or are unfamiliar with Caballé’s art, then go out and buy these discs now.
Robert Hugill


Full Tracklisting

Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) – Sombre Foret (Guillaume Tell) [4.53] (1.1)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Lo sognai ferito (Il Pirata) [4.59] (1.2)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Sventurara, anch’io delirio (Il Pirata) [7.58] (1.3)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Oh s’io potessi (Il Pirata) [4.13] (1.4)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Col sorriso d’innocenza (Il Pirata) [3.28] (1.5)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Oh Sole! ti vela (Il Pirata) [4.04] (1.6)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Son vergin vezzosa (I Puritani) [5.22] (1.7)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Qui la voce (I Puritani) [10.26] (1.8)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Vien diletto (I Puritani) [6.27] (1.9)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) –  Ch’ei provo lonta da me (I Puritani) [6.44] (1.10)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) – Vini fra queste braccia (I Puritani) [4.53] (1.11)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848) – Donna! Malvagio (Poliuto) [5.25] (1.12)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848) – Il son dell’arpe angeliche (Poliuto) [6.35] (1.13)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864) – O ciel! ou courez-vous (Les Huguenots) [6.08] (2.1)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864) – Tu l’as dit (Les Huguenots) [5.43] (2.2)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864) – Plus d’amour (Les Huguenots) [5.26] (2.3)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Sempre all’alba (Giovanna d’arco) [6.39] (2.4)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Una macchia (Macbeth) [7.52] (2.5)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – M’ami! (Un ballo in maschera) [9.04] (2.6)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – La Vergine degli angeli (La forza del destino) [3.29] (2.7)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Pace, pace, mio Dio (La forza del destino) [5.37] (2.8)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Io vengo a demendar (Don Carlo) [10.43] (2.9)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Non pianger mia compagna (Don Carlo) [4.24] (2.10)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Tu che le vanita  (Don Carlo) [11.05] (2.11)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Ritorna vincitor (Aida) [6.30] (3.1)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – O patri mia (Aida) [6.53] (3.2)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida (Aida) [9.52] (3.3)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – O terra, addio (Aida) [4.46] (3.4)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Mia madre aveva una povera ancella (Otello) [10.08] (435)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901) – Ave Maria (Otello) [4.24] (3.6)
Arrigo BOITO (1842 - 1918) – L’altra notte (Mefistofele) [6.23] (3.7)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – In quelle trine morbide (Manon Lescaut) [2.17] (3.8)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Tu, tu amore? (Manon Lescaut) [8.03] (3.9)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Manon Lescaut) [5.04] (3.10)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Si. Mi chiamano Mimi (La Boheme) [5.14] (3.11)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Donde lieta usci (La Boheme) [3.25] (3.12)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Vissi d’arte (Tosca) [3.37] (4.1)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Un bel di vedremo (Madama Butterfly) [5.24] (4.2)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Tu piccolo iddio (Madama Butterfly) [2.35] (4.3)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Signore ascolta (Turandot) [2.29] (4.4)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Tu che di gel sei cinta (Turandot) [2.28] (4.5)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – In questa reggia (Turandot) [7.05] (4.6)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – O mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi) [2.44] (4.7)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) – Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (La Rondine) [3.05] (4.8)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945) – Ineggiamo, il Signor non e morto (Cavalleria Rusticana) [5.35] (4.9)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945) – Voi lo sapete, o mamma (Cavalleria Rusticana) [5.47] (4.10)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945) – No, no Turiddu (Cavalleria Rusticana) [12.15] (4.11)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 - 1948) – Vicino a te (Andrea Chenier) [7.30] (4.12)
Joaquin TURINA (1882 - 1949) – Las Fuentecitas del Parque (Canto a Sevilla, Op.37) [3.55] (4.13)
Xavie MONTSALVATGE (1912 - 2002) – Cinco canciones negras [11.17] (4.14)
Montserrat Caballe (soprano)
Flora Rafanelli (soprano) (1.2-1.4, 1.6)
Astrid Varnay (soprano) (4.10)
Julia Hamari (mezzo-soprano) (1.7, 4.11)
Elizabeth Bainbridge (mezzo-soprano) (2.5, 3.5)
Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo-soprano) (3.4)
Bernabe Marti (tenor) (1.3, 1.12, 1.13, 2.1 - 2.3, 4.12)
Giuseppe Baratti (tenor) (1.2, 1.3)
Alfredo Kraus (tenor) (1.7, 1.10, 1.11)
Placido Domingo (tenor) (2.9, 3.3, 3.4, 3.9)
Jose Carrera (tenor) (4.6, 4.11)
Matteo Manuguerra (baritone) (1.8, 1.9)
Thomas Allen (baritone) (2.5)
Sherrill Milnes (baritone) (2.10)
Agostino Ferrin (bass) (1.7-1.9)
Ruggiero Raimondi (bass) (2.10)
Alexis Weissenberg (piano) (4.13, 4.14)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus (1.7-1.11, 2.7 – 2.11, 4.9 – 4.11)
Chorus of the Royal Opera House (3.1 – 3.4)
Choeurs de l’Opera du Rhin (4.6)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1.1, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8, 3.5, 3.6)
Coro e Orchestra dell RAI, Roma (1.2 – 1.6)
Philharmonia Orchestra (1.7 – 1.11, 4.9 – 4.11)
London Symphony Orchestra (1.12, 1.13, 2.1 – 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 3.7, 3.11, 3.12, 4.1 – 4.5, 4.7, 4.8, 4.12)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden (2.9 – 2.11)
New Philharmonia Orchestra (3.1 – 3.4, 3.8 – 3.10)
Orchestra Philharmonique de Strasbourg (4.6)
Lamberto Gardelli (conductor) (1.1)
Gianandrea Gavazzeni (conductor) (1.2 – 1.6)
Riccardo Muti (conductor) (1.7 – 1.11, 3.1 – 3.4, 4.9 – 4.11)
Charles Mackerras (1.12, 1.13, 2.1 – 2.3, 2.6, 3.11, 3.12, 4.1 – 4.5, 4.7, 4.8)
James Levine (2.4)
Anton Guadagno (2.5, 2.7, 2.8, 3.5, 3.6)
Carlo Maria Giulini (2.9 – 2.11)
Julius Rudel (3.7)
Bruno Bartoletti (3.8 – 3.10)
Alain Lombard (4.6)
Recorded: July/September 1972, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (1.1)
July 1979, RAI Studios, Rome (1.2 – 1.6)
June/July 1979, Kingsway Hall, London (1.7 – 1.11)
March-April 1970, Kingsway Hall, London (1.12, 1.13, 2.1 – 2.3, 2.6, 3.11, 3.12, 4.1 – 4.5, 4.7, 4.8, 4.12)
August/September 1972, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (2.4)
June 1971, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (2.5, 2.7, 2.8, 3.5, 3.6)
18-31 August 1971, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (2.9 – 2.11)
2 -9, 11 July 1934, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (3.1 – 3.4)
July 1973, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road & Kingsway Hall, London (3.7)
July, December 1971, Brent Town Hall & No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (3.8 – 3.10)
August 1971, Palais de la Musique, Strasbourg (4.6)
August 1979, Watford Town Hall, Herts (4.9 – 4.11)
May/June 1979, Salle Wagram, Paris (4.13, 4.14)
EMI CLASSICS 2 64845 2 [4 CDs: 76.06 + 76.55 + 73.54 + 77.58]


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