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Montserrat  Caballé as Norma, Salome and Salome. And herself

Norma

Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Norma” starring Montserrat Caballé, John Alexander, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Giorgio Tozzi in February 1973. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Caballé is a kind of cross between Callas and Sutherland: wonderful top notes, incredibly beautiful legato arches, perfect trills, and moreover a pianissimo that none of her colleagues could match. She was a much better actress than Sutherland, moreover she had great charisma. She never went to extremes like Callas or (later) Scotto, but her performances were always very convincing.


In 1973 she recorded the role for RCA and the result was very decent (GD 86502). Her Pollione, a very young Plácido Domingo, was vocally crystal clear and sounded like a bell. However, he lacked dominance, making him sound far too young for the role.

Fiorenza Cossotto in her role of Adalgisa looked more like Azucena than a young girl, but her singing as such was flawless. Unfortunately, the orchestra sounds uninspired and hurried, which must surely be blamed on the conductor, Carlo Felice Cillario.




In 1974 she sang Norma in the Roman amphitheatre in Orange (Provence). It was a very windy evening, and everything blew and moved: her hair, veils and dresses. A fantastic sensation, which added an extra dimension to the already great performance. It was filmed by French television (what luck!), and has now appeared on DVD (VAIV 4229).

Caballé sings ‘Casta Diva’:



Caballé was in superb voice, very lyrical in ‘Casta Diva’, dramatic in ‘Dormono etrambi’ and moving in ‘Deh! Non volerli vittime’. Together with Josephine Veasey, she sang perhaps the most convincing ‘Mira , o Norma’ – of all, at least in a complete recording of the opera. As two feminists avant la lettre, they renounce men and transform from rivals into bosom buddies.



John Vickers (Pollione) was never my cup of tea, but Veasey is a fantastic (also optically) Adalgisa and Patané conducts with passion. Of all the recordings on DVD (and there are not many), this is definitely the best.

Herodiade



This recording may only be obtained via a pirate (or You Tube), but then it is complete and moreover with (admittedly bad) images!


Dunja Vejzovic portrays a deliciously mean Hérodiade and Juan Pons is a somewhat youthful but otherwise fine Hérode. A few years later, he will become one of the best “Hérodes” and you can already hear and see that in this recording.

Montserrat Caballé is a fantastic Salomé, the voice alone makes you believe you are in heaven and José Carreras is very moving as a charismatic Jean.



None of the protagonists is really idiomatic, but what a pleasure it is to watch a real Diva (and Divo)! They really don’t make them like that anymore

The whole opera on you tube:

Salome



Montserrat Caballé as Salome? Really? Yes, really. Caballé sang her first Salome in Basel in 1957, she was only 23 at the time.

Salome was also the first role she sang in Vienna in 1958 and I want to (and can) assure you: she was one of the very best Salome’s ever. Especially on the recording she made in 1969 under the blistering direction of Erich Leinsdorf.

Her beautiful voice, with the whisper-soft pianissimi and a velvety high even then, sounded not only childlike but also very deliberately sexually charged, a true Lolita.

The Jochanaan, sung very charismatically by Sherrill Milnes, has an aura of a fanatical sect leader, and Richard Lewis (Herod) and Regina Resnik (Herodias) complete the excellent cast (Sony 88697579112).

Caballé as Salome in 1979:



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What’s the difference between a terrorist and a diva? ‘Caballé, beyond music’

“We all owe a great deal to music (…) It is a form of expression that originates not so much from thinking as from feeling”. These words come from one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century, Montserrat Caballé.

In his film Caballé Beyond Music, Antonio Farré portrays the diva*, her life and her career, talking to her, her family and her colleagues. The documentary also contains a lot of wonderful (archival) footage, starting with Caballé’s debut in Il Pirata in 1966 in Paris.

The film is interspersed with fun anecdotes such as how she smashed a door because she was not allowed to take time off (Caballé wanted to attend a performance of Norma with Maria Callas). How she had stopped a dress rehearsal in La Scala because she noticed that the orchestra was not tuned well. About her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the discovery of José Carreras (how beautiful he was!), her friendship with Freddy Mercury ….

About her Tosca in the ROH in London in the production that was made for Callas. She wasn’t happy with that, it didn’t feel good, but no one wanted to change it. Caballé called Callas, it was exactly eight days before her death, and complained about her fate. “But of course it doesn’t feel right”, said Callas. “I am tall and you are not, I am slim and you are not, I have long arms and you have not. Tell them to call me, I will convince them that you are not me”.

And so the production was adapted for Caballé. “Copies are never good,” Caballé says, and I agree with her. This is a fascinating portrait of a fascinating singer. Very, very worthwhile.

* London taxi driver: “What is the difference between a terrorist and a diva? You can negotiate with a terrorist”.

Caballé beyond music
With José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Cheryl Studer, Giuseppe di Stefano, Freddie Mercury, Claudio Abbado and others.
Directed by Antonio A. Farré, EuroArts 2053198