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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the classical music community in mourning Montserrat Caballé, the legendary Spanish soprano, who died on Saturday, October 6. She was 85.

Caballé appeared with the Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall on one occasion, on April 28 and 29, 1966, performing Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Weber’s scene and aria, “Ozean! Du Ungeheuer,” from Oberon under the baton of associate conductor Irwin Hoffman.

In the Chicago American, Roger Dettmer noted, “One of the largest Thursday audiences in recent Orchestra Hall history assembled for the first local appearance last evening of Montserrat Caballé, the Spanish soprano who has taken Milan, Vienna, Munich, Mexico City, Dallas, and Manhattan by storm. When she had finished singing music of Richard Strauss and Weber, accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Irwin Hoffman’s deferential direction, there was a roar of acclaim. . . . She is always a delicate and intelligent singer, in strict command of her resources. As important and admirable, she is a painstaking, persuasive musician, who has the measure of Strauss’s twilight songs—their intimacy, ecstasy, and inner peace—as well as the thrust for ‘Ozean!'”

“The consummate artistry of Montserrat Caballé gave Orchestra Hall one of the great moments in its history last night,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The Spanish soprano who has been attracitng maximum attention elsewhere does not have the big voice with a cutting edge associated with the luminaries of the German opera. . . . With the intuition which all of the great ones seem to have, she gave you a sample of the power and volume once or twice before setting in to spin the most gleaming of pianissimos heard since the glittering years of top flight [Elisabeth] Schwarzkopf . . . a pliant and carefully balanced phrase whose give and take adjusted to the words as well as the tonal requirements of the vocal line.”

Countless tributes have been posted online, including the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, BBC News, and Opera News, among several others.

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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

On October 28 and 29, 1954, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her American and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts in Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and the closing scene from his final opera, Capriccio. Fritz Reiner conducted.

Schwarzkopf “is both a soprano with a historically beautiful voice of its kind and a musician of transcendent intelligence. She knows most intimately what her texts are about, feels them deeply, and possesses the extraordinary vocal capacity to color with each word, each mood, each musical phrase,” raved Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “Here was artistry of the utmost fulfillment of an exquisite and cherished kind heard rarely in a lifetime of listening.”

“It has seemed to me that it took Miss Schwarzkopf a long time to come here,” commented Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “But exactly the right time, too. For it brought her here when Reiner, a kind of Straussian magician, had restored to the Orchestra its old, deep layered glow, and had added an immaculate polish strictly his own. Good things go together, and it is worthwhile to wait.”

October 28 and 29, 1954

October 28 and 29, 1954

The capacity crowd on October 28 included another legendary soprano—Maria Callas—also preparing to make her American debut, in town for the title role in Bellini’s Norma during Lyric Theatre of Chicago’s first season.*

*The company’s name was changed to Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 1955–56 season.

This article also appears here.

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Solti leading a Verdi Requiem recording session at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Sir Georg Solti twice led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem, with concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall.

April 24 and 26, 1975, at Orchestra Hall (special non-subscription concerts)
April 30, 1975, at Carnegie Hall
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 31, 1977, at Orchestra Hall (Musicians’ Pension Fund concert)
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

The work was recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977.

John Warrack‘s review in Gramophone magazine noted: “Much credit for bringing four strong and distinctive artists into a unified performance, of distinctive character, clearly resides with Solti. Either he now takes a less hectic, more consolatory view of the work, or he has let the quality of his soloists make this the shaping element of the performance. He is fortunate in an outstanding choir and orchestra, and in a recording that encompasses all the vehemence of the ‘Dies irae’ and also the cool sound of the three flutes accompanying Dame Janet’s beautiful singing of the ‘Agnus Dei’, without any sense of a change of perspective.

“There are sections where he has allowed the choir to let vehemence do duty for real emphasis—a case in point is the ‘Te decet hymnus’—and the renewal of the main ‘Dies irae’ theme has a slight note of an automatic return to a sensational moment, rather than a re-intensification of the moment of Judgement.

“But this is a fine performance, and one which can stand beside any which has been recorded. To choose between this and the Giulini performance listed above is not really reasonable: Giulini has qualities which are unique, and close to the heart of the work; Solti has his own qualities, and is favoured with at least two incomparable performances among his soloists. We are fortunate to have both interpretations recorded.”

(Warrack refers to Carlo Maria Giulini‘s 1964 recording of Verdi’s Requiem on Angel with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra. The soloists were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Solti also recorded the Requiem in November 1967 for London Records with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Chorus. Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Martti Talvela were the soloists.)

Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer for RCA (this was one of the few records Solti made independent of London/Decca). The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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Theodore Thomas

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