Montserrat Caballe New York Debut

Montserrat Caballe New York Debut

Presenting Montserrat Caballé –
singing that has the quality of greatness

On one of the first Caballe LPs in the US, the liner notes had this to say:

“Genius struck not once, not twice, but three times in New York the week of April 19, 1965. What is more, it struck on three consecutive nights.”

To be precise about it, on Monday, April 19, Sviatoslav Richter gave one of his miraculous piano recitals at Carnegie Hall. The following evening, in the some hall, a totally unheralded soprano from Barcelona, Montserrat Caballé appeared. It was the Caballe New York debut in the American Opera Society concert performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia. Nureyev and Fonteyn danced Romeo and Juliet the next evening on the Metropolitan Opera stage. That, as the saying goes, was the week that was.

Genius from Richter, Nureyev, and Fonteyn was to be expected. But no one was prepared to come face to face with it in a singer few had ever heard of.

The fact of the matter was that no amount of advance publicity - and there was jolly little of it for a Caballe New York debut from the American Opera Society - could have foretold the extraordinary impact this stately, Goya-esque woman would have on an audience already used to, if not spoiled by, the likes of Callas and Sutherland.

Montserrat Caballe New York debut

When Montserrat Caballe [the ring of that name is as magical as the Catalonian landscape itself] sang her first aria, "Come bello Quale incanto" there was a perceptible change in atmosphere.

It seemed for a moment that everyone had stopped breathing. What registered, of course, was an acute awareness that here was singing of a most unusual sort.

It had, to put it simply, the quality of greatness. The five minute ovation which followed that single aria was proof positive that Montserrat Caballe not only had ignited the imagination of the public, but also had joined the lofty realm of the true operatic diva.

What emanates from Caballe's throat could best be described as total purity - purity in the sense of majestic power and natural expressiveness.

Hers is an instrument able to encompass and illuminate moods and feelings, be they charged with passion or pathos, tenderness or violence.

While this may appear an obvious adjunct to any singer's interpretative vocabulary, in Caballe's case it is raised to an art and practiced with an instinct bordering on the awesome.

One can only conjecture that such singing must be the result of closest communication with the inner workings of the music itself, and that the artist singing it is in equally close touch with the mysterious elements of her inner life.

Hearing Caballe one feels these elements singularly at work. One feels, for example, that one is hearing an artist who is also a Woman.

The capital "W" is important here, because there is indeed a very womanly quality that reaches the listener, and this quality colors and enhances each of the performances on her recordings. An amazingly liquid, suspended sense of phrasing attends each aria, and a beautifully conceived aura of feminine strength, foiblesse or vulnerability can, at every turn, be detected in Caballe's interpretations of a Norma, a Borgia, or a Maria di Rohan.

Montserrat Caballe New York debut

Where, one might well ask, has Montserrat Caballe been keeping herself? Although many may have thought so on that April evening, she did not, like Athena, spring full grown from the head of Zeus.

Sensational Results of the Montserrat Caballe New York debut

She is now Spain's leading soprano, but Spain is by no means her sole domain. La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Paris Opera, Glyndenbourne, Mexico City and the Metropolitan Opera to mention but a few have tapped Caballe's repertory of more than forty roles. And whether she is singing Richard Strauss, Mozart, Falla or Luigi Nona, she has communicated the fact that style and technique lie easily within her artistic and creative province.

Which finally brings us to the present album. Any discussion of arias by Bellini and Donizetti must, perforce, include bel canto as a style of singing.

Vocal pyrotechnics, florid embellishments, long sustained phrases, and fortes and pianissimos are part and parcel of this style, and we have had opportunity, as much through recordings as elsewhere, to get a pretty accurate idea of what bel canto is all about.

The words mean simply and deceptively "beautiful singing," and it at best requires a vocal technique that is nothing short of phenomenal.

Whatever one's individual opinion might be regarding Caballé's voice, no one hearing these arias would for a moment dispute the soprano's extravagant technical prowess. She glides with breathtaking ease from register to register, missing neither psychological nuance nor coloristic shading along the way.

It is, in short, a phenomenal technique over which she has total command.

The test of any great singer lies in his or her ability to move the listener to a point where technique serves merely as a liberating implement for musical expression.

The present recording makes clear the singularity with which this test has been passed.

From the liner notes to the album "Presenting Montserrat Caballé" (AGL1-7145) by JOHN GRUEN

More about Caballé:

Caballe New York Debut

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