Spanish opera star Montserrat Caballé dies aged 85

Spain's world-famous opera singer Montserrat Caballé, known for her velvet-edged voice and radical rock duet with Queen singer Freddie Mercury, died in Barcelona on Saturday at the age of 85.

Spanish opera star Montserrat Caballé dies aged 85
In this file photo taken on January 27, 2005 Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe performing at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes. Photo: PASCAL GUYOT / AFP
Hailed as one of the world's greatest singers for her vocal virtuosity and dramatic powers, Caballé charmed audiences for half a century with a huge repertoire that saw her perform across the globe. 
The Spanish soprano was already considered an opera great when her duet with Mercury, a boundary-busting combination of opera and rock, became the anthem for the 1992 Olympic Games and propelled her into the mainstream.
Retired for several years because of health problems, the soprano was hospitalised in mid-September due to a gall bladder problem, local media reported.
“She died overnight at the Sant Pau hospital,” a hospital source told AFP.
A service for the singer will be held on Sunday at 2pm local time, with a funeral the following day, Barcelona authorities said.
“Montserrat Caballé, her voice and her tenderness, will always stay with us,” said Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez on Twitter. 
He said the country had lost “a great ambassador of our country, a soprano recognised internationally”. 
Vocal virtuoso
Born in April 1933 to a humble family in Barcelona, Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepcion Caballé i Folch studied music at the Liceu Conservatory in the Catalan capital.
But her families financial troubles almost derailed her budding career, forcing her to briefly abandon her studies until a patron stepped in to help her.   
After making her debut in Basel in Giacomo Puccini's “La Boheme” in 1956, she first performed at Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu in 1962, beginning a decades-long love affair with fans in her home city.  Caballé's big break came in 1965 when she stepped in for American soprano Marilyn Horne in the notoriously difficult role of Lucrezia Borgia in Donizetti's opera in New York. Her spectacular performance went down in opera history as one of the greatest overnight successes.
She went on to tour the world in a career spanning 50 years, garnering international acclaim for her creamy voice and gregarious stage presence.
Her vast repertoire, vocal versatility and mastery of the art of “pianissimo” meant she was as much at home with Rossini and Donizetti as Mozart and Dvorak. She sang on some of the world's most prestigious stages, including New York's Metropolitan Opera House, Milan's La Scala and the Royal Opera House in London. Career highlights included a triumphant performance in Bellini's “Norma” at La Scala in 1972.
Rock 'revolution'
Caballé performed with other opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. But it was with Freddie Mercury that she was able to display her talents to a global mainstream audience, recording an album “Barcelona” with the rock star in the late 1980s. 
“For the world of opera it was a revolution, a genuine revolution,” she said, according to a 2003 documentary about her music. 
The title duet became the anthem for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and her performance of the song, without Mercury who had died the previous year, was an electrifying highlight of the opening ceremony.  
Caballé was afflicted by a series of health problems during the latter part of her career that made her drastically reduce her performance schedule. After a long break from the stage she made a rare appearance at the Barcelona opera in 2002 to mark 40 years since her debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Her first entrance was greeted with a rapturous ovation lasting more than ten minutes.   
Caballé suffered a minor stroke in 2012 and recent years were also notable for a tax evasion investigation that saw her being given a six-month suspended jail term and a fine in 2015.
Caballé's daughter with her husband Spanish tenor Bernabe Marti whom she married in 1964 is also a soprano.
By AFP's Alvaro Villalobos   


Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop -- but it's this eclectic sound that has turned him into a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop
Spanish rapper Anton Alvarez known as 'C. Tangana' poses in Madrid on April 29, 2021. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s biggest Spanish-language stars since his third album “El Madrileno” — the Madrilenian — came out in February. That ranks him alongside his superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia, the Grammy-winning Catalan singer with whom he has co-written several hits.

C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way since a decade ago when he became known as a voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the wake of the financial crisis.These days his rap is infused with everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles from Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitised by autotune.

“It’s incredible that just when my music is at its most popular is exactly when I’m doing something a bit more complex, more experimental and less
trendy,” he told AFP in an interview.

And he is unashamed to be appealing to a wider audience than previously: his dream is now to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or someone older can enjoy at home while cooking”.

‘People are tired’

The rapper, who sports a severe semi-shaved haircut and a pencil moustache, has worked with Spanish flamenco greats including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already drawn nearly six million
views on YouTube.

Shifting away from trap, one of rap’s most popular sub-genres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move — especially for someone with a young fanbase to whom rumba, bossa nova and bolero sound old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They’ve had enough of the predominant aesthetic values that have previously defined pop and urban music,” he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan
singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazil’s Toquinho, one of the bossa nova greats.

“What struck me most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I don’t mean pop,” he said.

A new direction

C. Tangana started out in 2006 rapping under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept Spain a few years later, hard-hitting trap was
the perfect way to voice the angst of his generation. But after more than a decade of rapping, things changed.

“When I was heading for my 30s, I hit this crisis, I was a bit fed up with what I was doing… and decided to give voice to all these influences that I
never dared express as a rapper,” he said.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which came out a year after his big hit “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he used to listen to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in
education and a journalist father who liked to play the guitar. The Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and with bachata which were played in the first clubs I went to, which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stints working in call centres or fast-food restaurants.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know. But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who dabbles in folk, rock and pop — another jack of all musical trades.