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29.1.05

Victoria de Los Angeles Dead at 81

Jussi Björling and Victoria de Los Angeles at the Trevi Fountain, RomeAnother celestial soprano, Victoria de Los Angeles (née Lopez Garcia), died earlier this month (on January 15). Her passing was not noted as widely in Blogistan as that of Renata Tebaldi (see Ionarts tribute from December 20, 2004), although Marcus Maroney and The Standing Room had something to say. Since it is better late than never, here are some remarks translated from French articles. From Eric Dahan, Victoria de Los Angeles, un timbre rare (Libération, January 17):

The greatest conductors succombed to her luminous, fruity timber and her lyric soprano tessitura, which she put at the service of a repertory ranging form Bach to Wagner and including the very popular roles of Carmen, Violetta Valéry, and Madama Butterfly. Growing up in a musical family in Barcelona, under the Franco dictatorship, she benefitted from the best training possible and graduated with a diploma in piano and voice from the Conservatory of the Teatro Liceu of Barcelona with highest honors at the age of 18. She cut her teeth first on the Baroque and Renaissance repertory, on the German Lied, as well as French and Spanish song, as part of the Ars Musicae Group, gave her first recital at the Palay de la Musica Catalana in 1944, quickly followed by her début as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro on the stage of the Liceu.
That part about her early connection with the early music movement is a wonderful and sometimes overlooked part of her career. She later performed with renowned violist Jordi Savall, for example (see my post from January 3, 2004). Dahan also mentions one of her last major appearances in public, in 1992, during the closing ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic games. From Marie-Aude Roux, Victoria de Los Angeles, une voix au naturel (Le Monde, January 18):
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Massenet, Manon, Victoria de Los Angeles and Pierre Monteux
This lover of the French repertory—you should listen again to her rendition of Duparc's Invitation au voyage, on Baudelaire's poem—made her triumphant debut as Marguerite in Gounod's Faust, in 1949, at the Opéra de Paris: a marvelous and touching heroine with her solar timber and her freshness of interpretation. She was equally so as Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas and even more sublime in Massenet's Manon, at once fragile and tender. Her 1956 recording under conductor Pierre Monteux still remains an essential version.
She recalls the recital she gave in Paris for her 70th birthday, on November 1, 1993: "The singer had lost nothing of her legendary purety or her vocal ease." Her Carmen at the Met in 1979 was a revolution, perhaps because of her Spanish (Catalan) background. She told the New York Times that "Carmen is proud and reserved like all Spanish women, loyal and faithful to a single man at the same time." She left us, according to the article, with 80 recordings on EMI, including 21 complete operas and 25 solo recitals. We will have to be content with that. In the same issue of Le Monde, Marie-Aude Roux published a brief tribute by Teresa Berganza (Teresa Berganza : "C'est une époque du chant qui disparaît", January 18), on de los Angeles and the singing era that is disappearing:
In the 1940s, my family and I used to listen to her a lot on the radio, and my father used to use her as an example for me. She was the first great international singer that we had in Spain, and we were very proud of her. She opened the way to our generation, to Montserrat Caballé, Maria Bayo, and me. Without intending to imitate her interpretations, I was clearly very impressed by her aura and prestige. One of my regrets is never having worked with her. I would have love to sing on the stage with her, to interpret at ther side Pergolesi's Stabat Mater or Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro or Così fan tutte. We had the impression that she had been born with that voice, so incredibly natural and recognizable from the very first note. She had a shining timber, incredible purity, and was remarkably musical.
She was truly a great ambassador for Spanish music. Berganza remembers her "holding the audience in a trance when she took up her guitar to sing a malagueña or a zapateado." Her voice, as Berganza put it, was "that of an angel."

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