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We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

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Montserrat Caballé: Französische Opernarien
21 Jan 2007

Montserrat Caballé: Französische Opernarien

There is a (no doubt apocryphal) story that if one listens carefully to Caballé’s recordings there is a slight sshhh-sound in the background; the sound of the knife she uses to cut open her scores while recording.

Montserrat Caballé: Französische Opernarien
Faust, Mireille, Roméo et Juliette, Les Huguenots, Louise, Carmen, Thaïs, Manon Lescaut (with Domingo).

Montserrat Caballé, soprano, New Philharmonic Orchestra London conducted by Reynald Giovaninnetti

DG 477 619-1 [CD]

$11.99  Click to buy

What is meant that Caballé indeed often came unprepared to a recording session but as she is such a marvellous sight-reader one scarcely notices is. But it is true that during her great years between 1965 and 1980 she often relied on the sheer beauty of the voice, without taking the trouble to get under the skin of the score. This French operatic recital from 1970 is an example. Only Faust was in her theatre repertoire, as even by the more relaxed standards of the time nobody would have thought of asking her to sing Mireille, Thaïs or Juliette. So there is a supreme but rather generic beauty in her interpretations on this recording. No soprano nowadays comes near her in luscious sound, excellent trills and floated pianissimi but there is nothing of the anguish of Mireille or the exultant jubilation of Thaïs or Louise one often find with lesser talented singers. It is no surprise she is at her best and most moving in Faust. As DG gives us a Manon Lescaut bonus from the Bing Farewell Gala (though you will look in vain for that information on the sleeve), it is clear Italian opera is nearer to her heart. So don’t look for insights but enjoy the spotless vocalism. There is one restraint and it is not the diva’s fault. I heard her several times in the flesh if I may say so and she always impressed me with a voice, not overly large at first hearing, but extremely well projected and the moment she opened up the voice could shake the rafters. There was no hint of shrillness which is now and then audible on this and other recordings. Placido Domingo once told me how unhappy he was during the LP stereo age because the engineers never seemed to get it right the moment he went into full throttle. Franco Corelli too often sounded duller on records than in life and I fear the same problems with a beautiful big voice apply to Caballé.

Jan Neckers

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