In 1980 Renata Tebaldi was asked by Lanfranco Rasponi what she thought of the state of singing. Her answer was unequivocal: there is just one prima donna left Montserrat Caballé. And in the same year Magda Olivero, the last of the hell-for-leather verismo sopranos and no mean diva herself, opined that ‘we singers should get down on our knees and thank God for a voice like Caballé’s’. These words prefigure a leitmotif that runs throughout Rasponi’s book (The Last Prima Donnas; Alfred A Knopf: 1975) in which he interviews many of the great divas of the recording era: no matter how lamentable these monstres sacres believe the state of singing has become since they themselves retired from the stage, Caballé is usually cited as an exception to the general decline. So just how special is she?
To start with, her versatility: no diva in memory has sung such an all-encompassing amount of the soprano repertory, progressing through virtually the entire range of Italian light lyric, lirico-spinto and dramatic roles, including all the pinnacles of the bel canto, Verdi and verismo repertories, whilst simultaneously being a remarkable interpreter of Salome, Sieglinde and Isolde.
…. In 1970 she became well acquainted with Maria Callas, who was by then living in semi-seclusion in Paris. Although they were temperamentally poles apart, at a musical level the two women connected. Certainly Callas seems to have thought so: just days before her death in 1977 she gave her last interview to Philippe Caloni and, when asked if she considered she had any successors, stated ‘Only Caballé’. One wonders what the Greek diva specifically had in mind. By that time she had seen Caballé triumph in the role of Norma and had even gone so far as to send the Spanish soprano the earrings she had been given by Visconti on the occasion of her first La Scala Normas in the 1950s. Evidently she believed the torch was being passed on.
[excerpted from “Reputations: Montserrat Caballe” by Robert Pullen and Stephen J Taylor at Gramophone]
Operas Featured on SiriusXM This Week
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR Cilea 2/11/1978
López-Cobos; Caballé, Carreras, Cossotto, Quilico
ARIADNE AUF NAXOS Strauss 3/20/1976
Levine; Caballé, Remedios, Welting, Troyanos, Dooley, Titus
I VESPRI SICILIANI Verdi 3/9/1974
Levine; Caballé, Gedda, Milnes, Díaz
LUISA MILLER Verdi 2/17/1968
Schippers; Caballé, Tucker, Milnes, Tozzi, Flagello, Pearl
NORMA Bellini 2/17/1973
Cillario; Caballé, Cossotto, Cossutta, Tozzi
OTELLO Verdi 3/11/1967
Mehta; Caballé, McCracken, Gobbi, Lorenzi