[La Cieca’s old, old, old friend Camille attended Montserrat Caballe‘s Valentine’s Day duo recital earlier this month. Her reactions — which she admits it took her some days to sort out in her mind — follow.]
After some reflection and reviewing Caballe’s Orange Festival Norma, once again, I can merely pipe up with my opinion that she belongs to such a rarified class of singer that it is not for mere mortals to quibble about her dalliances or far-fetched caprices.
THAT SAID, this recital was not, however, in the category of wonderful self-parody, a la Freddy Mercury/Barcelona, or even the absolutely mind-boggling appearance I saw on Dutch T.V. in 1995, when I watched in orrore extremis as she actually did sing, in duet fashion with some other old Dutch mole, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.
No, “A Special Valentine” was all just kind of sad. She really should not appear anymore. For any reason. Let us keep our memories.Â
My take on the recital was that it seemed to be a goodwill tour of sorts to launch this fellow Nikolay Baskov‘s career as a “serious singer.” As he also sings concerts with her daughter, Montserrat Marti — he seems to be a sort of family pet.
Mr. Baskov is not just a pop singer, he has a fine instrument, far superior to, e.g., Rolando Villazon, and deserves to have a chance in some provincial house, singing Lenski and Il Duca, Nemorino, etc. He has already studied seriously enough to make a good start towards an operatic career, with a debut as Lenski with the Bolshoi, but got sidetracked into the popular thing as he had the kind of looks that appeal to young girls and (I would imagine) middle-aged housewives from Odessa, and could make gobs more money. Although he looks like a sort of blond Ken doll, he really did not preen or act conceited, in notoriously tenor fashion and had a sort of old-world, old-fashioned courteous aplomb.
The really, truly frightening thing about this concert was, for me, the lurking suspicion that Caballe is having a senior-moment love affair with this fellow. As I played hostage-witness to one of my female singing teacher’s obsession’s with a tenor protegÃ© forty-five years younger than she, I know for fact that this sort of senior diva-dementia is very real and is very scary and further, brooks no opposition nor does it accept any opinion but its own. They just can’t accept that they are no longer Carmen (in my teacher’s case), nor Salome (in Caballe’s instance). The fact that she included a bit from Herodiade was very telling for me as I heard her sing it in Rome, in 1986, and with another tenor pet of hers, Jose Carreras. Amazingly, she actually sang it here with more voice, albeit transposed down a whole step, if my ear heard correctly.
I must also include that this not my idea. I wanted to preserve my memories of her; but I’m glad I did go:
to see the audience (lots of screaming hags muttering “BORIS….COME HERE!” mobs of mobster Russians, and working girls in furs and Carrie Bradshaw stilettos, the like of which I have not seen for a coon’s age) but the illusion of Caballe as a demi-goddess was indeed besmirched; that her DIVINITA was, apres tout, subject to the laws of gravity and mortality the rest of us are, with the singular and notable exception of Mme. Galupe-Borszh. ( To Mme. G-B, I have only to say “You go, GURL!”)
Her gowns, her wig(?) were all classic Caballe; she looked uncannily like herself of thirty to thirty-five years ago. I saw her first in about 1971 or 1972, in a gym in Orange County, her West Coast concert debut. She looked mightily annoyed at the upraised basketball hoop over the stage and sang unevenly, even then, but with a hair-raising ability to embroider; I remember only “Nel cor non piu mi sento” Paisiello, which was spectacularly rendered. Next up, 1979 concert at Carnegie Hall, which is and was, and remains, the most demented thing I’ve ever seen; the audience was shrieking and moaning in extasi. Then a pretty horrific, voiceless Agnese di Hohenstaufen in Roma in 1986, butchering the great aria, ‘O Re del cieli’. Last time, a few months later, was the aforementioned Herodiade, in which Carreras made a very good impression; quite a noble style of singing in that one instance.
She wore in “Act I” a beautiful, pale gold overcoat/mantle with a black, discreetly sparkling bejeweled gown underneath. She was assisted on stage by the accompanist and seemed pretty wobbly on her feet, never a good sign for singing, as the lower body support is so important. “Act II” was a different ensemble, a gorgeous, glittery black/gold overdress with triangled edges over a crimson full skirt — very a la mode espagnole and very beautiful. I found her stage presence, at times, to almost be that of yore; she is, in my opinion, a real maga and practices some sort of Spanish sorcery. [Program notes “MEET THE ARTIST” sez…”Montserrt Caballe remains the authentic embodiment of what it is to be a DIVA”. No argument with that, only it should read “was.”]
MONTSERRAT CABALLEÂ Â NIKOLAY BASKOV
A SPECIAL VALENTINE
N. Piccini Se il ciel mi divide – from Alessandro nelle Indie – CABALLE
V. Bellini Malinconia – BASKOV
G. Donnizetti Una lacrima – BASKOV
Niedermeyer Deja la nuit s’avance — from Marie Stuart — CABALLE
P. Tchaikowsky Kuda, kuda — from Eugene Onegin — BASKOV
A. Catalani Canzone egizia — from Dejanice — CABALLE
G. Puccini E lucevan le stelle — from Tosca — BASKOV
J. Massenet Salome…Jean — from Herodiade — CABALLE AND BASKOV
F. Cilea Non voglio no pensar — from Tilda [This was not sung. (I happen to know as I am Cilea freak enough to own the music for his fifty-year memorial in 2000-2001 or so, in which all three Cilea pieces are included.) She instead offered “Ciocciara bella”, which is, in fact, written for mezzo, but no one would know, or so she thought…]
D’astri e viole — from Gloria
R. Leoncavallo? ??? [A quite beautiful song, which I had never heard before and which I was quite taken with, i.e., an interesting adaptation of the Nedda/Silvio duet “Silvio, a quest’ora!”, from Pagliacci. Love to get my mitts on the music.]
S. Cardillo Core ‘ngrato — BASKOV
Traditional Dorogoy Dlinau — BASKOV [“Dorogoy Dlinau” is Russian for, omigod, “THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND” — god, I didn’t know, neither did my companion. The audience sang along. It was a hochstelustpunkt for the Russisch guyzunddolls.]
D’Hardelot Because — BASKOV
P. Sorozabal No corte mas que una rosa — from La del manojo de rosas — CABALLE
No puede ser… — from La tabernera del Puerto — BASKOV
F. M. Torroba Subir, subir — from Luisa Fernanda — CABALLE AND BASKOV
M. Penella Si torero quiero ser — from El gato Montes — CABALLE AND BASKOV
The accompanist was Manuel Burgueras (Caballe’s habitual piano-player who sounded bored to death).
[NOTA BENE: To get a professional opinion of the format that this konzert took and to which I found an marked similarity, access Will Crutchfield‘s review of March 1987.Â She did the same schtick; especially with the finally warming up with the Spanish portion of her concert which was, even here, markedly better than the rest; I mean, Alessandro nelle Indie was ABYSMAL!]
Caballe — She sang the Zapateado from the zarzuela “La Tempranica” (again, unannounced but known to the author as I wore out my zarzuela album with Victoria de los Angeles on which this piece resided).
Baskov & Caballe — Occhi chorneye (sorry, I don’t spell Russian) duetto style – and for a glorious moment, it sounded like she was going to do a “Barcelona” style swooping/arpeggio/overlay to his straight singing–it didn’t quite jell but it was kinda fun.
Baskov — GRANDE ERRORE. This guy had the due palle to sing ‘Vesti la giubba’. Big boo-boo. No chest resonance, ergo, no drama. He has, according to program notes, recently made a video thing of this same aria with Giancarlo Del Monaco directing him (vergogna, he should know better), but even Baskov realized, with a shrug, that he hadn’t pulled it off.
and FINALLY —
A very sweet rendition of the Merry Widow Waltz with the pair. He even grabbed her hand, which was clutching on to the piano the whole time for dear life, and bravely dipped a two step with Monster for about 30 seconds, before she once again collapsed onto the piano. It survived.
THAT’S ALL FOLKS!!
I wonder if Sutherland will come out of retirement next?