Montserrat Caballé Born 1933 Soprano
Lovingly known as ‘La Superba’ by her large legion of fans, Montserrat Caballé was one of the most revered singers of her generation – a leading figure in the resurgence of the bel canto style and a soprano whose immaculate technique and captivating stage presence was enjoyed by audiences across the globe. In 1992 she became familiar to millions of people when her previously recorded performance of the song ‘Barcelona’ with Freddie Mercury was used as the signature tune for the Catalan city’s Olympic Games.
Caballé was herself from Barcelona, where she studied at the Conservatori Liceu. Beginning her career with a series of small roles, her breakthrough came when she played Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Vienna State Opera in 1960. It was, though, a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at the American Opera Society, taking over the title role from an ailing Marilyn Horne, that set her on the path to operatic superstardom – regular appearances La Scala, the Royal Opera House and the New York Met would follow. Bel canto roles often provided her with her greatest success both on stage and in the studio – not least her recordings of Bellini and Verdi arias in the 1970s – though she also ventured into the likes of Richard Strauss and Wagner. A formidable presence who came to prominence in an age dominated by conductors, Caballé always denied her reputation as a fierce prima donna, insisting: ‘I am not now nor have I ever been a diva… I am only Montserrat!’.
Helen Clare Born 1916 Singer and presenter
A favourite on television and radio during the Second World War, Helen Clare was the singing star of programmes such as Workers’ Playtime, Calling Gibraltar and, above all, It’s All Yours, which she herself presented. Though born in Bradford, England, she moved with her family at a young age to Australia, where she became a child star – one of her earliest performances saw her singing Gounod’s ‘The Jewel Song’ alongside Dame Nellie Melba. Her return to the UK after the Great Depression saw her continue and develop her career on stage and on air. She continued to broadcast until the 1960s and work as a teacher into her nineties. John Tyrrell (born 1942) was the pre-eminent expert of his era on the life and music of Janá ek. His books on the composer included his authoritative biography, The Lonely Blackbird, published in 2006.
The Greek baritone Vasilis Giannoulakos (born 1934) was a favourite of Vienna State Opera audiences in the 1970s, but also a familiar figure on US opera stages, especially in Wagner, Richard Strauss and Puccini.
Catalan heroine: Montserrat Caballé performing in 1974