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April 12, 2010

A birthday shout-out to Montserrat Caballe

After a private recital given by Montserrat Caballé in a Miami mansion years ago, I was introduced to the luminous Spanish soprano and promptly babbled away idiotically. I said something about how, whenever I feel disappointed that I never heard Callas live, I took great pleasure in knowing that I was around to hear the great Caballé. There was a compliment in there somewhere, but it must have sounded awfully stupid.

I thought of that encounter today when I noticed that April 12 is Caballé's 77th birthday. And that's reason enough to revel in her glorious voice again. I know well the standard criticisms about the soprano -- all tone and technique, no temperament; too limited an actress in opera; etc. But I still think that she produced some of the most viscerally beautiful, supremely stylish singing of the past century. For that, I'll always be grateful. So feliz cumpleaños, Montserrat Caballé.

To mark the occasion, here are two performances that reflect her taste, talent and range -- a bel canto gem, the finale of Bellini's "Il pirata," and the sublime Richard Strauss song, "Morgen":

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:32 PM | | Comments (4)


The "standard criticisms" are what make her voice so special and so enjoyable for me. I wish more of today's singers embraced her delectable style, although she always has been a wonder unto herself. Her singing is positively _glorious_ (and, as you say, _beautiful_, in a most natural yet luxurious way). You would never see her singing "Lulu" (and if she did, then the role might be less of a headache %^), but she obviously loved the music for the roles and songs she chose -- that love was quite contagious!!!

The Goddess, Caballe, is all about the beauty of the voice. With her voice and technique, what more do you need? Well, yes, some expression. I believe that she has all the expressive values in spades. Everything she sings, from Strauss to Serrat, from the most esoteric classical to the most explicitly sexy popular, from the deeply sacred to profane, rings with truth. There is no greater singer. Thank you for your post.

And thanks for the comments. TIM

I think some people forget what a well-rounded artist Caballe was. I have a recital from Teatro Colon, near the beginning of her career, where she sings a recital expertly serving up glorious Richard Strauss, idiomatic Schubert, beautiful Debussy and, of course, some wonderful spanish songs. It's really too bad she didn't do more recital work - she had the gift. But she sang darn near everything - from Handel's Cleopatra and Mozart's Countess to Salome and Isolde, in addition to such diverse roles as Marschallin, Leonora (Forza), Mimi, Butterfly, Donizetti's Roberto Devereau, Norma (a magnificent Vienna performance with Cossotto and Cosutta under Muti was recorded), Lucrezia, Elisabetta (Don Carlo) (who can forget that high note she held forever at the end of the last matinee broadcast under Bing), Tosca and Amaelia (Ballo). There was a joke that she was such a good sight-reader, you could hear her seperating the pages of the score for the first time on some of her recordings. Listen to her Vespri or Trovatore against a current Verdi soprano - no contest.

Thinking of Sra. Caballe these days, as well.
Beyond the glorious voice there is so much dramatic presence in, for instance, the recordings of Norma of '74, not to mention the intensity of 'Giura! Giura!' and the whole rest of the opera in Norma '78.
This sublime voice is a lifeline to heavenly beauty. Couldn't be more grateful for her!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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