Disappearance of the mezzo Teresa Berganza, a woman inhabited by singing

The famous Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza died in Madrid at the age of 89 this Friday, May 13. The circumstances of his death have not yet been disclosed. “I want to go quietly…I don’t want public announcements, vigils, nothing. I came into the world without anyone knowing, I want the same when I go “, she hinted in her last wishes, published by her family in the Spanish daily El País However, the entire Spanish press is already mourning this exceptional artist who will leave “a huge void in the history of lyrical art”.

France Musique pays tribute to the immense mezzo-soprano this afternoon, with a special edition of Van Beethoven devoted to the artist, and this weekend, a special tribute will be paid to him in The major concerts of the House of Radio and Music and in Saturday at the Opera. More tributes to the Spanish mezzosoprano will continue throughout the week, especially with the rerun of the series The big talks of 2018 and a special Relax! this Monday.

Teresa Berganza began her career at a very young age, at the end of the 1950s, and quickly established herself as a key figure on the opera scene, recognized for her musical rigor and the finesse of her characters. For almost 40 years of career, she had known how to stay at the top, knowing the limits of her voice and managing her career carefully, while reinventing Carmen in the early 1980s.

Maria Teresa Vargas was born in Madrid on March 16, 1935. Her father, a musician and scholar, introduced her to the piano but also to painting and literature. Keeping happy memories of her childhood, she explained that she had suffered little from the Spanish civil war which broke out when she was only three years old: “ With the love we had, we lacked nothing “. Passionate, the young girl devoted herself entirely to music, learning the piano, the organ and even composition. Yet it is singing, which she first practices in choir, that catches up with her. She entered the Madrid Conservatory and became a pupil of Lola Rodriguez Aragón who noticed her talent and made her work intensely. After a mystical episode, her father having to almost force her out of a convent where she wanted to live, she launched herself professionally and made her debut in Madrid in 1955. She told this childhood with humor for a Grand Interview granted to France Musique in 2018.

Learn more:
Teresa Berganza: “Before, I wanted to go to a convent”

Noteworthy beginnings

Among his first appearances, there is Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte in 1957 which marked the beginning of two relationships: one with Mozart, the other with the Aix-en-Provence festival where she performed regularly. She comes there with her family and her singing teacher. It’s a triumph and, at only 24, she begins a brilliant career. She then chained the roles at Rossini The Italiana in Algeri, Count Ory in Milan and with Mozart Sesto from La Clemenza di Tito but especially Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro which she performed at the Glyndebourne Festival and then around the world. In 1958, she also sang in the Medea of Cherubini in Dallas alongside Maria Callas, who introduced her to social events and to which she will remain deeply grateful.

When I hear bad things about Maria Callas, I become a beast and I eat people with my fingernails because she was great, only she was hurt a lot

She sings at La Scala, in London, at the Metropolitan Opera interpreting new roles at Rossini such as that of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Seviglia or even Angelina from The Cerentola. She also approaches the Baroque repertoire, at the time when we are beginning to rediscover it, by singing Dido and Aeneas by Purcell or L’incoronazione di Poppea of Monteverdi, still in Aix en Provence. She works with Giulini, Karajan or even Abbado who would have described her as “the most sublime of mezzo-sopranos”. She recounted this childhood with humor for a Grand Interview granted to France Musique

“I am a musician who sings”

From the mid-1970s, her repertoire was enriched with, in particular, Carmen, whom she began in 1977 at the age of over 45. While she had refused the role several times, she offers a Carmen different from tradition, respecting the music and the text, more spiritual and free than voluptuous. His recording the following year with Domingo and Abbado will be a milestone. Another role: Charlotte de Wether which marks the limits of his voice but where his presence and his attention to the text earn him a triumph.

Learn more:
Carmen by Georges Bizet with Tereza Berganza, Placido Domingo, Claudio Abbado…

However, married to the pianist Felix Lavilla with whom she has three children, she experienced difficult years in her private life, as she explained to Diapason in 1985:

In Spain, divorce was not easy. Installed in the hotel, the children, still small, came to see me. This horrible discrepancy between the great stages of my public life and my private life lasted eight years, preceded by eighteen others of forced smiles which repeatedly left me speechless and these two wrinkles on my face, not to mention a attempted suicide, which left me mentally exhausted.

Remarried thereafter, she continues to sing: the Orfeo by Gluck, La Perrichole of Offenbach as well as Zerlina for the Don Giovanni filmed by Joseph Losey in 1979. She continues to present her Carmen on all the stages of the world (in particular at the Bercy omnisport palace in 1989) before a final performance in 1992, in Seville, with Carreras on stage and Domingo in chief, in the pit. Spacing out or canceling certain performances, she nevertheless continues to sing songs and Spanish melodies where she can express her taste for literature and her respect for the score.

“Carmen was not a whore but a woman. But the people - the men? - continue to love rivalry, shouting, chest voices...”
“Carmen was not a whore but a woman. But the people – the men? – continue to love rivalry, shouting, chest voices…”

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– Photo by JACQUES MORELL/Sygma

“I had a very beautiful life, sometimes I say it was difficult, but I had a very beautiful life”

Among his recordings, there are of course the integral works of Rossini (for example a Cenerentola with Abbado and Luigi Alva and a Barbiere di Seviglia with Hermann Prey and Abbado again, for Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film) and those of Mozart (you can discover a live Nozze di Figaro directed by Giulini with Schwartzkopf and Söderström recently reissued where she is an anthology Cherubino). She also leaves very beautiful recordings of Spanish music: De Falla in particular (El amor Brujo and The Brief Vida among others), zarzuelas (“I tell you as I think, some of our zarzuelas are worth a thousand times better than an opera by Donizetti” she told Le Figaro in 2013) and popular songs.

We will miss a unique, precise and brilliant voice, drawing the musical line and the words with drypoint, with a way of articulating the vocalizations as one would say of a pianist that his playing is pearly. Musician and actress at the same time, she knew how to breathe life into Rossinian or Mozartian characters, lending them in turn her playfulness and her sensitivity. especially with Olivier Bellamy A world inhabited by song (Buchet-Chastel). She lived near Madrid, surrounded by her memories and her family. Good-natured but sometimes melancholy, she seemed to consider old age with a certain serenity when she explained to Diapason in 1985:

I see myself blossoming slowly, with white hair rolled up in a small bun, in a pretty red dress; disappear like the sun goes down, like I came, without wanting it. But in beauty.

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Disappearance of the mezzo Teresa Berganza, a woman inhabited by singing


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