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Henry M. Robert

“I am afraid of expensive gifts...”

“I am afraid of expensive gifts...”
11 April, 2018 - 15:47
REUTERS photo

April 12 is the 85th birthday of “Senora Soprano.” The prima donna is going to celebrate it in Kyiv. There will be not only a soiree in honor of her and her daughter Montserrat Marti, but also a gala concert for all opera buffs. Caballe and Marti, as well as Ukrainian stars Zlata Ognevich and Oleksandr Ponomariov, will sing on the stage of Ukraina Palace on April 14. Ponomariov says he has been dreaming of a duet with the legendary diva for 30 years.

On the eve of her birthday, Senora Caballe answered The Day’s questions.

You haven’t been to Kyiv for as many as seven years…

“Yes, but I remember well the last concert, as if it had taken place yesterday. I cried on the stage. There was such a long line of devotees to approach me after the performance! Each wanted not only to present me flowers, but also to say something good. Although I don’t know the Ukrainian language, I could see that people were speaking sincerely from the bottom of their hearts. This impressed and touched me very much.”

Word has it that opera singers are cold. All they care about is to sing right…

“Nothing of the sort! I have never been as imperturbable as a statue. Whenever I am told that I am such a strong woman, I answer: ‘The only force I can’t overcome is my emotions.’ For me, the stage is like a temple. Do you think it’s just exalted words? It may be so, but I feel uneasy every time, although I’ve appeared on stage innumerable times. And those were the best-known opera housed of the world!”

Does the level of uneasiness depend on the level of the opera house?

“Absolutely not. Audiences are exigent everywhere. If you are an artiste, you must not disappoint them.”

Could you share the secret of preserving your voice?

“Do you know a joke? ‘The secret of beauty is simple, but a secret is always secret.’ (Smiles.) I just avoided doing what opera singers should not do.”

Drinking cold beverages…

“And being overloaded and overtired. I’ve never made long pauses in work. The career of an opera singer means continuous work on yourself, a constant improvement of what nature gave you. Naturally, you should train, as it were in sport, and I begin each of my mornings with breathing exercises which I learned back in school. Then I warm up.”

At home?

“Yes. My neighbors are patient (laughs).”

They must be pleased with living next door to you. Is it true that you are a vegetarian?

“Yes, for a long time. It is not a diet but a persuasion and a way of life. I don’t eat meat and have a healthy lifestyle. For example, singing and touring do not mix with smoking. So either nasty habits or stage!”

Many musicians tried to mix these things.

“And what was the result? It’s better not to discuss this. We have a positive subject of the conversation (smiles).”

Is it true that you are preparing a surprise and will try to sing in Ukrainian?

“I am getting ready for this. One of your singers will help me. We have not yet sung together, but, who knows, this may result in a nice duet, quite unexpectedly for both of us. After all, all of my best duets were an improvisation of sorts – with Frank Sinatra, with Marilyn Horne whom I replaced in 1965 in New York and became what the press calls a star.”

After all, with Freddie Mercury…

“No, we planned that cooperation. I needed something new not to stick in the opera. Freddie and I met in Barcelona at his hotel room. He said at once that he was my admirer and had attended one of my recitals as a spectator. Now I can understand: it is acclaim! But at that moment it seemed to me: OK, good. I took it for granted. I even showed him my operatic snobbishness.

“Freddie sat down to play some of his compositions on the piano, and I was so much surprised! ‘You know how to play?!’ He looked at me reprovingly and began to play Chopin without a score. Of course, he knew!

“Then it turned out that he could have found his place in classics, too, for he had a nice baritone. I couldn’t hold my tongue again: ‘And why don’t you sing in this voice?’ ‘Because my aficionados will not then come to me,’ he answered. It is a pity that this superb musician passed away so early.”

Will you sing your joint hit, “Barcelona,” at the Kyiv concert?

“I like ‘Barcelona’ very much. After all, it is an extraordinary honor to perform the anthem of your city. But whether I will sing it now and who with… Come and you will know! Incidentally, is there a song like this about Kyiv?”

There is one. It’s called “I Can’t Help but Love you, my Kyiv.”

“If I don’t forget, I will ask your artistes to sing it to me at least a little. It’s interesting to me. I think it is a nice song.”

What are you usually presented with on your birthday?

“My kin present their presence and, maybe, something simple and handy. At their own discretion. For me, the best gift is when the family gets together.”

I wonder what your aficionados present you with.

“Usually flowers, sometimes ornamentations. I am afraid of expensive gifts and have never hunted after luxury. I grew up in a poor family and see no reason why I should spend a fortune on diamonds. Costume jewelry looks no less effective from stage.”

What do you wish yourself?

“First I will thank fate and the Lord. I am living such a life that it would be a sin not to thank for it. Then I will ask the patron saints of my family, whose little images I always wear on a chain, to protect the ones I love. And only then I will say: ‘And for me – health, if possible, so that can I see everybody successful and happy and be a friend and a solace, rather than a burden.”

Your example inspires many!

“They say it is a story about a Cinderella from a poor Barcelona family, who always wears the same dress and works at a handkerchief-making factory… You know, but for faith and efforts, nothing would have come out. I will tell you one thing: believe in yourself and work. I am saying this not only to you personally, but also to all of your country. Work and never lose faith. See you soon!”

The Day’s REFERENCE

Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepcion Caballe i Folch, better known as Montserrat Caballe, born on April 12, 1933, in Bracelona, is a Spanish and Catalan opera singer (soprano). At age 31, Caballe married her colleague, operatic baritone Bernabe Marti. Her husband and she sang on the same stage. The couple still remains married. They have two children: a son and a daughter. The latter has followed in her parents’ footsteps.

Caballe has received international acclaim, first of all, owing to her bel canto technique and singing in the operas of Italian composers Puccini, Bellini, and Donizetti. She has an enormous repertory of 88 roles and about 800 chamber pieces. Throughout her career, she has been performing various parts – from Pamina to Isolde, from Donna Elvira to Turandot.

She is known to rock music buffs for the album “Barcelona” (1988) she recorded with Freddie Mercury, the front man of the band Queen. The lead song dedicated to Barcelona, Caballe’s native city, became one of the two official songs of the 1992 summer Olympic Games in the capital of Catalonia. In 1997 she recorded the rock ballad “One Life One Soul” with the Swiss hard rock band Gotthard. The singer also experiments with electronic music – she has recorded several pieces with a Greek composer, Vangelis, one of the authors of new-age music.

By Anna SHESTAK
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