Opera singer Montserrat Caballe dies in Barcelona, aged 85

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MADRID (Reuters) – Renowned soprano Montserrat Caballe, who brought opera into the pop charts by singing “Barcelona” with Freddie Mercury three decades ago, died aged 85 early on Saturday, hospital officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe laughs during a concert at Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria June 22, 2011. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

The Spanish singer, who was born in the Catalan capital, had been in ill health for a number of years and had been admitted to hospital in mid-September, an official said. She died in Sant Pau hospital in Barcelona.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house in Barcelona, where Caballe performed more than 200 times, described her as “one of the most important sopranos in history”.

Spanish tenor Jose Carreras said she possessed a voice of great range, combined with a flawless technique.

“Of all the sopranos I’ve heard live in the theater, I’ve never heard anyone singing like Caballe,” Carreras said in a radio interview with Catalunya Radio.

Spain’s royal family called her “the great lady of the opera, a legend of universal culture, the best among the best”.

FILE PHOTO: Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe gestures during the Spanish Film Academy ‘Goya’ awards ceremony in Madrid, Spain January 30, 2005. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

“Her personality and her unique voice will always be with us,” the royals said in a tweet.

Caballe released the song “Barcelona” with the Queen frontman Mercury in 1987 – and it was used again during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a year after Mercury’s death.

Renowed for her performances of Italian opera, she also worked with the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

60-YEAR CAREER

Among other reactions, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted: “Sad news. A great ambassador of our country dies, an opera soprano recognized internationally. Her voice and her kindness will always remain with us.”

Caballe was considered one of the finest modern exponents of the ‘bel canto repertoire’, Spain’s Culture Minister Jose Guirao said on Saturday.

“Her loss leaves a huge void,” he said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Caballe’s almost 60-year career took her from Basel to New York.

She began in the Swiss city in 1956, as Mimi in La Bohème, then joined the Bremen Opera, where she sang from 1959 to 1962, in a wide variety of roles.

Wider international recognition came in 1965, when she appeared in a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The performance won her great acclaim from the public and made her an overnight sensation.

Her success led to her debut that same year at the Metropolitan Opera, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust.

Despite a career of glittering success there was some controversy.

In 2015, at a time when Spain was cracking down on tax evasion as it attempted to rein in a large public deficit during a prolonged economic crisis, Caballe agreed to a fine of 250,000 euros and a symbolic six-month jail term.

Her funeral is expected to be held on Monday in Barcelona, the newspaper La Vanguardia reported.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Jesús Aguado; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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