Montserrat Caballe, soprano

Montserrat Caballe
Montserrat Caballe
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Montserrat Caballe, who has died at 85, was an operatic soprano who was singing Bach cantatas at just seven years old.

Born in Barcelona to a working-class family, she was admired around the world for her versatility and as one of the greatest opera stars to have graced the stage.

Accepted for tuition in a Barcelona music conservatory as a child, she went on to 90 opera roles and nearly 4,000 performances.

She had her first major role, as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, at the Basel Opera in Switzerland, where she was resident from 1956 to 1959, before heading to Bremen in Germany.

Her international breakthrough came in 1965, in a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in New York. She had to fill-in for the role at only a month’s notice but won a 25-minute standing ovation.

Known for the purity of her voice, she performed at venues around the world, including the Glyndebourne Festival in East Sussex, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala, Milan, and the Royal Opera House.

She also performed alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

In 1964, she married the tenor Bernabe Marti and one of their children, Montserrat Marti, is also a soprano.

Caballe also had a huge impact on the pop world, recording Barcelona with the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band, Queen. The 1987 collaboration was a feature of the 1992 Olympics in Spain.

A counterpoint to that success came two decades later when she was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for tax fraud, having admitted that she lived in Spain but had been registered in Andorra for tax purposes.

But it is her stage presence for which she is remembered. The tenor Jose Carreras said: “She could do everything from the purest bel canto all the way to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.”