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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Incomparable Victoria de Los Angeles

Canción española

From The Times

It was in the Argyll Hotel in Glasgow just after I had met with Mairi MacInnes, the Scottish Gaelic singer and her family. Just the night before I had heard Miss MacInnes sing in Wendy Weatherby's SUNSET SONG. We were talking about music and favorite singers and I mentioned my fondness not only for Scottish and Irish folk music but classical repetorie as well and of course VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES came up in the conversation. It was a Saturday, January 15, 2005.

January 17, 2005

Victoria de los Angeles
Enchanting Spanish soprano who must be counted among the finest singers of the past 50 years

VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES was a singer whose charismatic personality and knockdown charm secured her a vast public, but in the process sometimes obscured that her deep musicality, remarkable technical accomplishment, catholicity of taste and — above all — a lyric soprano voice of unsurpassed beauty must cause her to be rated among the greatest singers of the second half of the 20th century.
She was first heard in Britain in 1948 when the BBC astutely engaged her for a broadcast performance of Falla’s La vida breve. Her Covent Garden debut (as Mimì in La bohème) followed in 1950. She became a regular visitor to the house for the next decade, excelling in Puccini and Massenet. Habitués counted her Butterfly and Manon, especially when conducted by Kempe, as among the most exquisite in living memory.

Outside the theatre a devoted audience thronged her regular London recitals, first at the Royal Festival Hall and later at the Wigmore Hall, which she continued to give until well into her seventies. In the autumn of 2003, on her 80th birthday, she could look back on a career that had lasted 60 years.

Victoria de los Angeles was born Victoria Gómez Cima into a poor Catalan family in Barcelona in 1923. Her father was a porter and caretaker at the university and her mother a cleaner. The Spanish Civil War played havoc with her schooling, but eventually, against the wishes of her father, she got into the Conservatory in Barcelona to study singing and the piano in 1940.

It did not take her long to make her mark. Though she became a competent performer on the piano, the guitar and the recorder, it was principally as a soprano with a voice amazingly developed for her age that she attracted attention, and by the time she came to graduate she had won every vocal prize available to students. When she was only 16 she was heard on Radio Barcelona and the following year made her opera debut in a Bohème sponsored by the Tres Cosacos cognac company.

De los Angeles gave her first public recital, devoted — perhaps for diplomatic reasons — to German lieder, in Barcelona in 1944. Her debut on the operatic stage followed the same year as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro at the Teatro Liceu, and her early career was notable for some appearances with the 57-year-old Gigli in Madrid in Bohème and Manon, when the famous tenor was said to have been displeased by the enthusiasm aroused in the madrileños by the rising young star.

The door to an international career was opened for de los Angeles by the ending of war and by her winning first prize in the Geneva international competition in 1947.

In the interim she returned to Barcelona to sing Elsa in Lohengrin and Agathe in Der Freischütz. Her success in Geneva having led to the invitation from the BBC, this in turn provoked the interest of EMI, the record company with which de los Angeles was to have a lifelong association.

Sadly, an audition for Sir David Webster at Covent Garden came to nothing, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, she had made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1949 (as Marguérite in a very ancient production of Faust), which was followed by her Covent Garden debut and a Wigmore Hall recital.

Her Mimì and her Madama Butterfly in London won golden opinions, and her enchanting Manon, in which her regular partner was Walter Midgley. She was also heard in the soprano leads in both Cavalleria rusticana and I Pagliacci on the same evening.

In February 1950 she made her first appearances in Stockholm and Copenhagen, and in March 1951 she arrived in New York to sing Marguérite on one of the Met’s more humdrum evenings, causing Virgil Thomson to write that she made everyone else on stage seem amateurish and to add: “I think she has the makings of a great star.”

They were prophetic words in that from this time onwards her success can be said to have been worldwide and unfailing.

Nor was it only in the French and Italian repertory. It is easily overlooked that de los Angeles made her La Scala debut as Strauss’s Ariadne (under Dobrowen in May 1950), and that in 1961 she went to Bayreuth to sing Elisabeth in Tannhäuser in Wieland Wagner’s production. It was conducted by Sawallisch, and the cast included Windgassen in the title role, Bumbry and Fischer-Dieskau.

Always keen to avoid being typecast as a “Spanish specialist”, she later said she thought of these Bayreuth performances as in some ways the culmination of her career.

A lot of the de los Angeles repertoire coincided with that of her older contemporary and rival Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and many will recall the two divas joining together in a concert in honour of Gerald Moore at the Royal Festival Hall when the point was made by an EMI record of the pair singing Rossini’s Duetto dei due gatti which became a bestseller.

Although de los Angeles’s appearances in the opera house tapered off in the 1960s, she finally retired from the theatre only in 1980, when she sang her last Mélisande, and a list of places where she sang would include almost every major house in the Western hemisphere. But she continued to grace the recital platform with her powers seemingly little diminished. The breadth of her repertory remained astonishing, from Monteverdi through Handel and Mozart to Stravinsky and Vaughan Williams; but however satisfying her published programme, her admirers always looked forward to the moment when, for her encores, she would pick up her guitar and accompany herself in Clavelitos or Adiós Granada.

Her recording career for EMI spanned more than 30 years and included 22 complete operas and some 40 recital records, in which her command of the florid music of Handel or Rossini is as conspicuous as the refined sensibility of her singing of Brahms or Schubert. There is hardly a dud among them, a rare achievement. Among her outstanding recordings are the Bohème she did with Beecham, which remains a classic set, her Manon with Monteux and her Marguérite ( Faust) for Cluytens.

Her Carmen (also with Beecham), aside from being beautifully sung, is one of the few in which the character’s humour is done justice to. It is a list, again, that could be much extended.

Her voice was a lyric soprano of gorgeous refulgence and limpidity, extending in her early years to the D above the stave. It also went down solidly enough to enable her to sing Carmen and Rossini’s Rosina in its original mezzo-soprano key.

De los Angeles was one of those rare singers for whom singing seemed a complete method of self-expression; when she sang the whole person sang. Yet her command of such matters as enunciation, phrasing and colouring,as well as of coloratura, attested to her deep musicality. To all this she united excellent stagecraft and an enchanting persona.

She was a tireless advocate of her country’s music, and if her singing of Spanish song struck some as overpolite, her fastidiousness paid off in German lieder and elsewhere.

She married Enrique Magriñá in 1948, who became her manager, and leaves two sons by the marriage.

Victoria de los Angeles, opera and concert soprano, was born on November 1, 1923, and died on January 15, 2005, aged 81.


Concha. De España vengo, soy española,
en mis ojos me traigo luz de su cielo
y en mi cuerpo la gracia de la manola!

De España vengo, de España soy
y mi cara serrana lo va diciendo.
He nacido en España por donde voy.

A mi lo madrileño, me vuelve loca
y cuando yo me arranco con una copla
el acento gitano de mi canción
toman vida las flores de mi mantón.

De España vengo, de España soy
y mi cara serrana lo va diciendo.
Yo he nacido en España por donde voy.

Campana de la Torre de Maravillas
si es que tocas a fuego toca de prisa:
mira que ardo por culpa de unos ojos
que estoy mirando. Madre, me muero,
por culpa de unos ojos negros, muy negros,
que los tengo "metíos" dentro del alma
y que son los ojazos de mi gitano.

Muriendo estoy, mi vida, por tu desvío;
te quiero y no me quieres, gitano mío.
Mira que pena verse así, despreciada,
siendo morena!

De España vengo, de España soy
y mi cara serrana lo va diciendo.
Yo he nacido en España, por donde voy!

Concha. I come from Spain, I am a Spaniard,
my eyes reflect the bright light of her sky
and my body the grace of her people!

I come from Spain, I am Spanish,
and my highland face shows it plainly.
I am Spanish born , that's for sure.

Anything from Madrid drives me wild,
and when I break into song
the gypsy style of my singing
makes the flowers on my shawl bloom.

I come from Spain, I am Spanish,
and my face shows it plainly.
I am Spanish born , that's for sure.

Bell of the Tower of Wonders,
if you must raise the fire alarm, ring quickly:
see how I'm burning because of a pair of eyes
that I've fallen for. God, I'm dying
because of a pair of dark eyes, so dark,
they have stripped me to the soul,
the eyes of my gypsy boy.

I am dying, my love, of your disdain;
I love you and you don't love me, my lad.
See how sad it is to be despised,
for being dark!

I come from Spain, I am Spanish,
and my face shows it plainly.
I am Spanish born , that's for sure!


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