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The Sound of Montserrat Caballé - Her Great Opera Roles
see end of review for track listing
Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
various soloists incl. Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Bernabé Marti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Sherrill Milnes and Piero Cappuccilli, various orchestras conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Riccardo Muti, Lamberto Gardelli, Sir Charles Mackerras, James Levine, Anton Guadagno, Carlo Maria Giulini, Julius Rudel, Bruno Bartoletti and Alain Lombard
rec. 1970 - 1979
EMI CLASSICS 721296 2 [5 CDs: 71:38 + 77:50 + 71:59 + 77:24 + 77:19]

On 12 April this year (2013) Montserrat Caballé celebrated her 80th birthday. She could then look back on a career covering almost six decades. Even though she officially quit singing in the early 21st century she is still giving master-classes, thus carrying her art of singing over to the next generation. Whether there is a new Montserrat Caballé among these hopeful candidates is uncertain. One could put it more bluntly: “The Sound of Montserrat Caballé” was unique, and just as there will never be a new Flagstad, Nilsson, Callas or Leontyne Price there will never be a new Caballé. This well-filled box presents “The Sound of Montserrat Caballé” admirably in recordings from the 1970s when she was at the height of her powers. Anyone investing in it can bask in the most beautiful soprano sounds ever recorded for innumerable hours. This is a box to dip into for this or that favourite aria or to play straight through (more than six hours!) at one sitting and still feel that one can’t get enough of this incomparable sound. End of review! Go out and buy!
 
No, my editor wouldn’t let me finish here and I feel myself that I need to expound on my subject. So you are welcome to accompany me through this delectable programme. We start in the company of Bellini, the epitome of bel canto melody. We don’t get Caballé’s Norma, which she recorded for RCA, but the much earlier Il pirata from 1827, his third opera and his first great success. The recording is from 1970, though the booklet says 1979, and here she is not only in her vocal prime but also expressive in a somewhat recessed way. The heart-on-the-sleeve emotions à la Callas was never her cup of tea, but she reveals a certain vulnerability paired with regal spinto tones. Her pianissimos, effortless and ethereal, and her pin-point high notes were always her hallmarks and these can be admired over and over again in these excerpts. Take Col sorriso d’innocenza CD 1 tr. 4) - one of Bellini’s most memorable arias: It is so innocently sung and she floats the melodious phrases in masterly fashion. Listen also to the elegant embellishments in the following cabaletta, tossed off as in passing, and be impressed by her meaty chest notes as well. In I puritani from 1979 she is just as marvellous - and this is certainly the most testing opera in the bel canto repertoire. Son vergin vezzosa (CD 1 tr. 6) is like a dream and Qui la voce (tr. 9) has not been more beautifully sung - not even by Sutherland on “The Art of the Prima Donna” album. Is there a mite more effort in Vien diletto (tr. 10)? The complete recording will be reviewed before long.
 
On CD 2 we get some excerpts from Guillaume Tell - until quite recently the only complete recording in the original French. Mathilde’s Sombre forêt (Selva opaca in Italian) (CD 2 tr. 2) is so noble and ravishing that one gets the feeling that Rossini wrote the aria with Montserrat Caballé in mind. Her timbre blends perfectly with the orchestral sonorities. In the two excerpts from act III she is partnered by an heroic Nicolai Gedda as Arnold. Again this music has never been better sung. Freni and Studer are never less than very good, but Caballé is divine and the other two sing the role in Italian.
 
In the Poliuto scene she sings opposite her husband Bernabé Marti, a well schooled but rather anonymous tenor. He shows signs of strain in places where his wife sails effortlessly up in the air. Marti seems more inspired in the Huguenots scene and he hits the high notes cleanly in Tu l’as dit (tr. 8) - a stumbling block for any tenor.
 
Some time ago I reviewed a mediocre complete Giovanna d’Arco with Polish singers on Dux. I then referred to this EMI recording as the natural first choice. These snippets are proof indeed that I was correct in my verdict. With Domingo and Milnes as partners and James Levine in what was probably his first recording wringing all the drama from this admittedly uneven score we get a lesson in how to sing early Verdi. Some of the best moments in the work are on this disc. Try tr. 13, sung and played at white heat, unsubtle but thrilling, and try tr. 14 for the emotional apex of the work and Verdi at his most inspired with delicate singing by Caballé.
 
More Verdi follows on CD 3. It is regrettable that she never recorded La forza del destino complete, but at least EMI were clever to record the two arias on a recital disc in 1971. She is in angelic voice here - and what a magnificent end to Pace, pace!
 
The Don Carlo recording under Giulini is one of the great classics. On (tr. 3) a glowing Placido Domingo inspires Caballé to great things and the big aria from the last act (tr. 5) is for the reference shelf. I bought this set on LPs and I only intended to dip in for a taster but couldn’t interrupt my listening. Aida under Riccardo Muti is another classic and here my only regret is that we couldn’t get the encounter between Aida and Amneris as well, the latter sung by the greatest interpreter of the role this side WW2, Fiorenza Cossotto. Ritorna vincitor (tr. 6) is so sensitive, O patria mia glows of passion - and again her pianissimos are magical. From this third act we also hear Piero Cappuccilli as Amonasro, the outstanding Verdi baritone of his day. Domingo is an ideal Radamès in Pur ti riveggo in sappiest voice and Caballé is the weak, vulnerable princess who even makes Domingo scale down and sing pianissimo. Unfortunately the music is faded out before Amonasro appears from his hiding place, which means that we miss the concluding trio that eventually becomes a quintet when Amneris and Ramfis also join in. O terra addio is superior to most other recordings, Björling-Milanov and Bergonzi-Tebaldi possibly excepted.
 
On CD 4 we get two more scenes from the sessions where the Forza arias were recorded. The sleepwalking scene from Macbeth is a psychological masterpiece and Caballé depicts Lady Macbeth’s contrition in touching terms. Her Desdemona in the last act of Otello is no less moving. Lovely singing! Superb vocalism also in the aria from Mefistofele. 
 
Caballé was also ideally suited to the music of Puccini. I bought the complete Manon Lescaut when it was new in 1972 and recently reviewed its CD reissue (review). I see that I found her singing at the beginning of the opera a bit lethargic but the three excerpts chosen for this box are truly superb. Tracks 8 - 13 on this disc and tracks 5 - 8 on CD 5 are all from a Puccini recital committed in 1970 with Sir Charles Mackerras as conductor. I wrote a rave review when the recital appeared on CD some years ago and summarized my impressions thus: 

After this general panegyric I can identify some features that will prove my point better than any deep analysis:-
•   the final pianissimo in Signore ascolta! - like a long, thin silver thread that disappears into the distance •   the exquisite shadings in Un bel di vedremo, heartfelt and no playing to the gallery
•   the caressing of every phrase in O mio babbino caro and the final note again ethereal
•   the inwardness of her conversation with the Lord in Tosca’s prayer
•   the innocence of Mi chiamano Mimi, and
•   the weightless floating of the pianissimo in the lovely aria from La rondine
 
CD 5 opens with three scenes from Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Voi lo sapete (tr. 2) is full of pain and in the big duet with Turiddu both she and José Carreras are wholeheartedly involved and powerful. We also get a glimpse of Astrid Varnay as Mamma Lucia and Julia Hamari’s characterful Lola. The end is bloodcurdling.
 
The final duet from Andrea Chenier with Bernabé Marti as Chenier is also strong and powerful. In the 1980s she also recorded this opera complete for Decca with Pavarotti as Chenier. Finally we have some excerpts from Turandot. She took part in the famous Decca recording under Zubin Mehta from the early 1970s in the role of Liù opposite Sutherland’s Turandot and Pavarotti’s Calaf. A few years later she upgraded to the icy princess and duly recorded it in 1977 with Carreras as Calaf and Mirella Freni as Liù. I reviewed a highlights disc from that recording some years ago and found it rather small-scale, but rehearing some of it in this box I admired Caballé’s In questa reggia a lot. There is more warmth than ice in the heart of this princess and she sounds positively humane - and still has the required power and glory to execute the superhuman last part of the aria. As I pointed out in my review then she recorded the role before she had sung it on stage, and that may explain the somewhat laid-back approach. Another matter is the lacklustre conducting of Alain Lombard.
 
It is a pity that the last items on this set should be less than superb, but with so much else that is in the desert island category, this box should be in every true opera lover’s collection. Go out and buy. 

Göran Forsling

Track listing
CD 1 [71:38]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
Il pirata
1. Sorgete ... Lo sognai ferito ... [5:00]
2. Quando a un tratto ... Sventurata, anch’io deliro (Act I) [7:58]
3. Oh! s’io potessi ... [4:14]
4. Col sorriso d’innocenza ... [3:28]
5. Qual suono ... Oh Sole! ti vela (Act II) [4:04]
I puritani
6. Son vergin vezzosa (Act I) [5:22]
7. Dov’è Arturo? ... [4:14]
8. Ah, vieni al tempio (Act I) [8:23]
9. O rendetemi la speme ... Qui la voce ... [10:27]
10. Tornò il riso ... Vien diletto (Act II) [6:27]
11. Finì, me lassa! ... Ch’ei provò lontan da me? ... [6:45]
12. Vieni fra queste braccia (Act III) [4:55]
 
CD 2 [77:50]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Guillaume Tell
1. Ils s’éloignent enfin ... [3:24]
2. Sombre forêt (Act II) [4:54]
3. Arnold, d’où nait ce désespoir? ... Pour notre amour plus despérance (Act III) [6:07]
4. Quel bruit arrive à mon oreille? ... Sur la rive étrangère (Act III) [4:37]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848)
Poliuto
5. Donna! Malvagio! ... [5:28]
6. Ah fuggi da morte ... Il suon dell’arpe angeliche (Act III) [6:31]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864)
Les Huguenots
7. Oh ciel où courez-vous? [6:07]
8. Tu l’as dit ... [5:43]
9. Plus d’amour! plus d’ivresse! (Act IV) [5:27]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Giovanna d’Arco
10. Oh, ben saddice ... Sempre all’alba (Prologue) [6:15]
11. Qui! qui ... O fatidica foresta (Act I) [5:23]
12. I Franchi! ... Oh qual mi scuote ... Amai, ma un solo instante (Act III) [6:42]
13. Tu che all’eletto Sàulo ... Or dai padre benedetta (Act III) [3:23]
14. Che mai fu? ... S’apre il cielo (Act III) [7:20]
 
CD 3 [71:59]
La forza del destino
1. La Vergine degli’angeli (Act II) [3:30]
2. Pace, pace, mio Dio (Act IV) [5:38]
Don Carlo
3. Io vengo a domendar (Act II) [10:44]
4. Non pianger mia compagna (Act II) [4:24]
5. Tu che le vanità (Act V) [11:04]
Aïda
6. Ritorna vincitor! (Act I) [6:30]
7. Qui Radamès verrà ... O patria mia (Act III) [6:53]
8. Ciel! Mio padre! (Act III) [8:07]
9. Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida (Act III) [9:52]
10. O terra, addio (Act IV) [4:48]
 
CD 4 [77:24]
Macbeth
1. Vegliammo invan due notti ... Una macchia (Act IV) [7:54]
Otello
2. Era più calmo? ... Mia madre aveva una povera ancella (Act IV) [10:08]
3. Ave Maria (Act IV) [4:24]
Arrigo BOITO (1842 - 1918)
Mefistofele
4. L’altra notte in fondo al mare (Act III) [6:23]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Manon Lescaut
5.In quelle trine morbide (Act II) [2:23]
6. Oh, sarò la più bella! ... Tu, tu, amore? Tu? (Act II) [8:03]
7. Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Act IV) [11:53]
Le villi
8. Se come voi piccina io fossi (Act I) [5:17]
La bohème
9. Si. Mi chiamano Mimi (Act I) [5:15]
10. Donde lieta uscì (Act III) [3:24]
Tosca
11. Vissi d’arte (Act II) [3:36]
Madama Butterfly
12. Un bel di vedremo (Act II) [5:24]
13. Tu, tu, piccolo iddio (Act II) [2:37]
 
CD 5 [77:19]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
1. Regina Coeli ... Ineggiamo, il Signor non è morte [5:36]
2. Voi lo sapete, o mamma [5:47]
3. Tu qui, Santuzza? ... No, no, Turiddu [12:16]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 - 1948)
Andrea Chenier
4. Vicino a te (Act IV) [7:30]
Giacomo PUCCINI
Gianni Schicchi
5. O mio babbino caro [2:44]
La rondine
6. Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (Act I) [3:05]
Turandot (role of Liù)
7. Signore, ascolta! (Act I) [2:29]
8. Tu che di gel sei cinta (Act III) [2:28]
Turandot (role of Turandot)
9. In questa reggia (Act II) [7:11]
10. Straniero, ascolta! (Act II) [8:00]
11. Gloria, o vincitore ... Figlio del cielo (Act II) [4:14]
12. Principessa di morte! ... che è mai di me? Perduta! (Act III) [6:22]
13. Del primo pianto ... La mia gloria è il tuo amplesso! (Act III) [5:21]
14. Diecimila anni al nostro imperatore! (Act III) [3:40]

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