Catalan soprano Montserrat Caballé died yesterday in Barcelona’s Sant Pau hospital, where she had been since September, due to a long-term illness. Her funeral will be tomorrow in the Corts funeral parlour.
Considered one of the great operatic voices of the 20th century, with Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf or Renata Tebaldi, Montserrat Caballé i Folch was born on April 12 in 1933, in Barcelona’s Gràcia neighbourhood. Although middle class, the Civil War and its aftermath took its toll on the family’s fortunes. Initially taught music by her mother, her talent saw her go to study on a scholarship in the conservatory of Barcelona’s Liceu opera house when she was 11. Yet, her father’s health declined and she was forced to balance her studies with work, and in 1950 turned to wealthy patron, Joan Antoni Bertran, for help.
Caballé made the most of the support and graduated in 1954. A year later, she made her operatic debut as Serpina in Pergolesi’s The Servant Turned Mistress.
After her debut, Caballé spent some years performing in European cities before making her Liceu debut in 1962, and then a performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall put her on the operatic map. In 1964 she married tenor Bernabé Martí, with whom she had two children.
Her public profile was later marred when she was found to have avoided paying half a million in taxes in 2010. A deal with the tax office saw her receive a suspended sentence and a fine. In her last years she largely withdrew from public life but was an outspoken critic of independence and a supporter of the Spanish language.
However, she maintained her humility until the end. A few years ago she answered a question from the press: “Me a diva? The last diva? Not at all! When I sing I am Montse and nothing more.”