Notes and Editorial Reviews
Montserrat Caballé was one of the most stimulating and refined singers in opera, concert and recital in the second half of the 20th century. Born in Barcelona on 23 April 1933, she studied at the Barcelona Liceo and made her concert debut there in 1954. After opera engagements at Basle and Bremen and guest appearances in Milan, Vienna and Lisbon, she became a major international star in 1965 when she substituted for an ailing Marilyn Horne in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia in New York. Her long and highly successful career has encompassed a wide range of repertoire, including roles in a number of demanding bel canto operas in which she followed Maria Callas, who had brought these works back into public favor.
This set is being released to mark the diva’s 80th birthday.
The first CD consists of extracts from two of the high points of the bel canto repertoire: Il pirata and I puritani, both by Bellini. These two operas feature extended mad scenes which give Caballé the opportunity to demonstrate her exquisitely beautiful voice and limpid tones, but also to make use of her outstanding technical ability to sing florid music, as well as bring it to life dramatically when the action requires it. She is partnered by her tenor husband Bernabé Marti in Il pirata and by another distinguished Spaniard, Alfredo Kraus, in I puritani.
CD 2 begins with the principal soprano aria: ‘Sombre forêt’, from Rossini’s last masterpiece Guillaume Tell and then a long duet in which Caballé, as the Austrian Princess Mathilde is joined by Arnold, the Swiss patriot in love with her and sung by Nicolai Gedda. These are followed by two further powerful duets, the first from Donizetti’s Roman tragedy Poliuto and the second from Meyerbeer’s archetypical French grand opera Les Huguenots; Caballe’s partner in both cases is Bernabé Marti. The disc ends with scenes from Verdi’s treatment of the story of Joan of Arc, which bears little resemblance to the historical facts but provides a feast of wonderful singing for Caballé and her two partners here: the tenor Plácido Domingo and the baritone Sherrill Milnes.
The next CD covers arias and duets from three of Verdi’s greatest operas: La forza del destino, Don Carlo and Aida. Caballé’s male partners in the duets are again the tenor Plácido Domingo and the baritone Sherrill Milnes, and the conductors are Anton Guadagno (La forza del destinio), Carlo Maria Giulini (Don Carlo) and Riccardo Muti (Aida).
Verdi was a great admirer of Shakespeare and CD 4 introduces us to his settings of two of the bard’s plays, with the eerie Sleepwalking Scene from Macbeth and the poignant Willow Song and Ave Maria from the final scene of Otello, where Caballé’s Desdemona is heartbreakingly moving. After the aria ‘L’altra notte in fondo al mare’ from Boito’s Mefistofele, we come to a group of arias by Puccini whose music suits Caballé to perfection. Her gallery of Puccini heroines includes Manon Lescaut, Mimì, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, all sung with her unmatched beauty of tone and superb characterisation.
The final CD comes to the era of verismo, with extracts from the highly dramatic one-act opera Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, and the triumphant love duet that closes Giordano’s Andrea Chénier as the two protagonists go together to death on the guillotine during the French revolution. The programme concludes with another group of well-loved Puccini characters including Loretta from Gianni Schicchi with her beautiful ‘O mio babbino caro’ and both the loyal slave girl Liù and the cruel, imperious Chinese Princess Turandot, from the opera of the same name. In all of these arias, Caballé shows a perfection of voice and performance that are unique to her and that have never been surpassed by any other soprano.
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