Montserrat Caballe, Catalan Opera Singer, Dies in Barcelona at 85

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Operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe performing 'I Vespri Siciliani' in 1974.

The great opera diva was known to global pop fans for her duet with Freddy Mercury.

Montserrat Caballé, the great opera diva best known to global pop fans for her duet with Queen’s Freddy Mercury, has died.

Caballé passed away early Saturday (October 6) at Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital, where she had been interned since September for a gall bladder condition. She was 85 years old.

The singer’s death was front page news in Spain, where she was affectionately called “everybody’s diva.”

Upon hearing the news of her death, the Spanish Royal Family issued a statement via social media calling her a “legend of universal culture” whose “personality and unparalleled voice will always accompany us.”

Montserrat Caballé was born into a working class family in Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood. Her prodigious talent emerged in early childhood, and she later undertook her formal training at the conservatory of the Barcelona opera house El Liceu.

In 1985, she made an explosive debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. An instant star in the opera world, she was soon consecrated by critics and fans as one of the greatest opera singers of all time.   

Her career spanned 50 years, with a repertoire of some 90 roles in operas that included Madame Butterfly, Aida, Tosca, Cossi Fan Tutte and Salomé. She performed with the great tenors Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarrotti and Josep Carreras, among many others.

For the general public, Caballé’s best-known collaboration was with Freddy Mercury, who was first her fan and then her good friend until his death in 1991. Together they recorded the song “Barcelona,” which they had intended to perform at the opening of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. They did sing the song triumphantly at Mercury’s last concert, at the La Nit Festival in Barcelona in 1988.

Monsterrat Caballé continued performing until she was 80 years old, when health problems forced her retirement from the stage.

Caballé is to be buried in Barcelona on Monday (Oct. 8).