Montserrat Caballe, ‘Barcelona’ Spanish Soprano, Dies at 85

MADRID — Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, immortalized beyond the opera world by singing “Barcelona” with Freddie Mercury, died Saturday at the age of 85. She was admitted to Barcelona’s St. Pau Hospital in September with a gallbladder problem, having suffered a stroke in 2012.

Made in 1987 and intended to be sung at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games, a plan frustrated by Mercury’s death a year before, “Barcelona” was a rare incursion into pop music by Caballé, and a showcase for the extraordinary power and beauty of her voice. But it has obscured, at least for a broader public, a career which established her as one of the opera greats of the 20th century.

She was born on April 13, 1933, in the working-class district of Gràcia in Barcelona. Caballé’s early career was a triumph of large talent over difficult circumstance. Taught music by her mother, she won a scholarship at the age of 11 to the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceo. She fainted during her graduation exam, debuted at the Liceo in 1962 with Richard Strauss’ “Arabella,” and stepped in to substitute for Marilyn Horne in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucrecia Borgia” at Carnegie Hall in 1965. Her performance confirmed her virtually overnight as one of the world’s great sopranos, a combination of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, The New York Times announced.

Caballé’s achievement was not just to hit that pinnacle but stay at the top of the opera world for decades to come. She won special acclaim for her performances in Verdi and bel canto operas by playing such roles as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” or Elisabetta of Valois in his “Don Carlo.”

Those performances were both in the 1960s. The fact that by 1987, when she recorded “Barcelona,” she was no longer considered to be at the absolute height of her powers, gives an idea of the extraordinary talent she unleashed on the opera world.

Caballé is survived by a son and daughter. The latter, Montserrat Martí, also an operatic soprano, accompanied Caballé in her final public performance in 2014.

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • The Chainsmokers Production Company

    Chainsmokers’ Catalog Acquired by Fast-Growing Hipgnosis Songs

    The Chainsmokers’ writer and publishing rights have been acquired by the fast-growing Hipgnosis Songs and its investment adviser, The Family (Music) Limited, for an undisclosed amount, the company announced today. The company has acquired 100% of the Chainsmokers’ interest in 32 of the duo’s songs, including ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) income in [...]

  • Disney Music Group Launches 'For Score'

    Disney Music Group Launches Composer Podcast Series

    Disney Music Group, in association with Treefort Media, will debut “For Scores,” a new podcast series featuring interviews with film and television composers from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. Set to launch this week, the podcast is hosted by Variety contributor Jon Burlingame and “will give voice to award-winning visionary composers, exploring [...]

  • Azim Rashid

    Columbia Records Names Azim Rashid Head of Urban Promotion

    Azim Rashid has been named senior vice president and head of urban promotion at Columbia Records, SVP Promotion/Operations Jim Burruss announced today. The Sony Music label’s urban roster includes Lil Nas X, Taylor the Creator, Russ, Dej Loaf Dominic Fike, OBN Jay and Polo G, among others. Rashid arrives from Roc Nation where he also served [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Says ‘Many’ Suing Artists’ Masters Were Not Damaged in 2008 Fire

    UPDATED: Late Friday the attorneys representing Soundgarden, Steve Earle and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac amended their lawsuit against Universal Music Group over damages to their music archives as a result of a 2008 fire. While most of the amended complaint updated details in the original document — adding information about UMG’s alleged [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Music fans listen to the band

    Woodstock Gets a Low-Key 50th Party With Ringo, Santana and That Album Cover Couple

    After efforts to stage a massive event celebrating Woodstock’s 50th anniversary failed to materialize, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York’s Catskills region became the only game in town. For months, organizers quietly promoted a weekend of concerts that would put the focus on the 1969 event and its musical and cultural [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content