Freestone’s wonderfully vivid account of their ‘Unlikely Friendship’, in the July 2010 opera, pp. 791-4, supplies moving testimony.) The feelings of contentment that a Caballé song recital could stimulate, well into those later years, cannot go unmentioned. Nor can the impish sense of humour that she displayed in lighter vocal items, the sparkle of wit, the ‘huge charisma … in front of an audience’ so warmly evoked by Joan Matabosch above. Christopher Webber’s contribution, below, illuminates Caballé’s relationship to Spanish music, not excluding zarzuela; as an example of that sparkle, brio and charisma in full flight I cannot resist singling out one of her most delightful zarzuela aria recordings, Angelita’s ‘No sé que siento aquí’ from Manuel Fernández Caballero’s 1888 Chateau Margaux. (Hear it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsMQlhTkd_4)
And unlike the mythical operatic diva of past caricature, she absorbed into her repertory a quite remarkable number and range of new operatic roles, not just the Romantic bel canto to which Matabosch refers, and continued to do so throughout her career. Some of the later acquisitions—Isolde, for instance, or Silvana in Respighi’s La fiamma, both Liceu undertakings of the later 1980s—may have proved unwise. To me the spirit that underlay them remains extremely attractive.
By any standards hers was an altogether extraordinary career. Its first decade started dishearteningly, and made subsequently somewhat slow progress. Extraordinary, then, the almost-movie-musical moment of ‘instant stardom’ in New York that spectacularly altered its course 11 years after her graduation from Barcelona’s venerable Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu. Extraordinary, no less, the total number of years she performed on the operatic stage—48, stretching from 1954, and La serva padrona in Reus, a small town near Barcelona, to 2002, and her farewell to staged opera as
■ As Madame Cortese in ‘Il viaggio a Reims’, her farewell to Covent Garden in 1992
Opera, December 2018