T. Berganza and O. Bellamy, Un monde habité par le chant (Buchet-Chastel, 2013)
At 80, you feel the need to speak out about your career and your life. Have you never thought about doing it before?The whole interview is one zinger after another ("Some of our zarzuelas are a thousand times better than a Donizetti opera!"), including some great anecdotes about Herbert von Karajan and Maria Callas. I have to get my hands on her book, which I suspect will be a great read.
I stopped looking backward the day when a critic had the misfortune to call me "the mezzo of the 20th century." That day, I tell you without exaggeration, I realized I was screwed [fichue]. The weight of the responsibility was such an obsession for me that I had only one desire any more: always to work more, and to curb even the smallest ambition. It was only a few years ago that I rediscovered the joy of looking in the rear-view mirror, telling myself: "Be happy, you have had an amazing career!"
To hear you and read you, it seems like you never felt satisfied at such a level of popularity and excellence. Is that the case?
It is because of my education. My father was an accountant and adored music. We were neither rich nor poor. I was born three years before the Spanish Civil War, but we never had the feeling of lacking anything whatsoever because, for my parents, our education rested on two values: love and humility.
It must be said that you never intended to have a career as a singer...
I began with the piano because my father played it marvelously well. I owe him my first solfège lessons. He had discovered that I had a perfect ear and pushed me along this path. Then at conservatory, they found I had a voice. I had always sung as a child, with my father, but without ever taking a single lesson.
Do you remember your first singing lessons?
How could I forget? It was with Lola Rodriguez Aragon, who always remained my teacher. The first time she saw me, she said: "Go back home, lie down on the ground with the biggest books you can find on your chest, and breathe deeply until you see the pile of books rise and fall significantly." I did as instructed. My father being well read, we owned an entire collection of encyclopedias that were as heavy as the dictionaries of today. I remember seeing my mother raise her eyes to heaven, saying: "My daughter is going crazy."
Not completely! But my first performances were marked by a certain insouciance. For my first big recital in Paris, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, I had forgotten what time the concert was, and I was sleeping peacefully in my room, at the Meurice, when the conductor of the orchestra, in a panic, called me fifteen minutes before the curtain! I had just enough time to throw on the first outfit I could find, my mother loaned me a shawl to fill out the illusion, and I arrived all sweaty, neither warmed up nor with makeup on, just in time for the concert. It was a triumph. [...]
You do not seem to have a special place in your heart for opera directors...
I do not like what they do now, these stagings that respect neither the period nor the music. For me, opera is a religion, and one must respect it as such. Would one go tell young people: "Tintoretto is too old-fashioned a painter: let's add some red here or some fluorescent yellow there to make his paintings more modern?" The first person who did that would end up in prison. We should do precisely that with certain opera directors.
If opera is a religion, who are its gods?
The composers, of course: from Monteverdi to Shostakovich. And Mozart is my Messiah. Let them call me a mystic. That is fine with me. I am not named Teresa for nothing.