Catalan world-class soprano Montserrat Caballé dies at 85

Artist was active from the 1950s and performed in major opera houses around the world

Catalan soprano Montserrat Caballé at Konzerthaus in Vienna in 2011 (by Lisi Niesner/Reuters)
Catalan soprano Montserrat Caballé at Konzerthaus in Vienna in 2011 (by Lisi Niesner/Reuters) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 6, 2018 09:20 AM

The Catalan world-class soprano Montserrat Caballé died at the age of 85 on Friday night in Barcelona.

She passed away in Sant Pau hospital after being hospitalized for bladder problems since September.

Her funeral will take place on Monday at noon, while her chapel of rest will be open from Sunday also at noon.

Rise to fame

Montserrat Caballé took to the stage in the world's top opera houses as her career spanned six decades, having taken off in 1955 with a performance in Reus, Figueres, and Valencia of 'La Serva Padrona' where she interpreted Serpina. 

Caballé was born on April 12, 1933, and started her musical career early on at the Liceu Conservatory in Barcelona, which she then had to leave due to her father's poor health. 

Still, she continued her studies, and at the beginning of the '50s met influential sopranos who would influence her professional life, such as Eugenia Kemmeny, Conxita Badia and Napoleone Annovazzi.

Caballé's big break at Liceu came about in 1962 when she played Richard Strauss' 'Arabella.' This is also when she passed by the Vienna and Bremen with her rendition of Donna Elvira in 'Don Giovanni.'

Her rise to stardom was consolidated in 1965 when she was already internationally renowned at Carnegie Hall in New York, when she substituted Marilyn Horn in 'Lucrezia Borgia' of Gaetano Donizetti – a composer whose work Caballé would interpret a large span of, along with others by Giuseppe Verdi.

Also in the mid-'60s Caballé would debut at the Metropolitan Opera, while in the '70s she would cross the Atlantic for her first performance at La Scala in Milan and then at the Convent Garden in London.

Throughout her career, Caballé received many awards and distinctions, including the Golden Medal from the Liceu theater (1996), the Golden Medal from the Catalan government (1982), the Princess of Asturias Awards (1991). In the early 2000s, after some time away from the stage for health issues, she was also the recipient of Catalonia's National Music Prize.

Work with Freddy Mercury

What Caballé is perhaps most known for outside of the operatic world is her performance with Queen frontman Freddy Mercury for the song 'Barcelona,' which would then become the hymn for the city's 1992 Olympics.

The two, who had a close relationship and had even worked on an album together, were however unable to perform the song together at the athletic competition, due to Mercury's untimely death one year earlier succumbing to AIDS.

Tax issues

In her last years, Caballé was practically absent from public life but in the headlines for her problems with the Spanish treasury after prosecutors said she failed to pay 508,468 euros in 2010.

Ultimately, she struck a deal which avoided the need for trial or prison time – she accepted a six-month-sentence which would then be canceled with the payment of a fine.