Teresa Berganza

Teresa Berganza studied music at the Madrid Conservatory with Gerardo Gombau and Jesús Guridi, and singing with Lola Rodriguez Aragon, a pupil of Elisabeth Schumann. She won first prize for singing at the conservatory in 1954 and made her concert début in Madrid during the following year. Her rise to operatic stardom was swift: during 1957 she gave her first recital at the Madrid Ateneo, sang Dulcinea opposite Boris Christoff in a radio performance of Massenet’s Don Quichotte in Milan, participated in a film version of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, also for RAI, and made her operatic début at the Aix-en-Provence Festival as Dorabella/Così fan tutte. The following year she appeared at the Piccolo Scala in Milan as Isolier/Le Comte Ory; at Glyndebourne as Cherubino (later returning to sing Angelina/La Cenerentola); and made her American début at Dallas as Isabella/L’Italiana in Algeri.

Berganza returned to Aix frequently to sing a wide range of rôles, including Rosina/Il barbiere di Siviglia, Dido/Dido and Aeneas, Cherubino/Le nozze di Figaro, Octavia/L’incoronazione di Poppea, and Ruggiero Alcina; and also returned to Dallas in 1959 to sing Neris/Medea, opposite Maria Callas. The same year she made her Covent Garden début as Cherubino, returning in 1960 to sing Rosina, which quickly became one of her signature rôles.

By now Berganza was singing at La Scala, Milan, and at the Vienna State Opera (début rôle Cherubino). She appeared at Chicago as Cherubino (1962); at Buenos Aires as Dorabella (1967) and Sesto/La Clemenza di Tito (1969); and at San Francisco as Rosina (1968). Cherubino was her début rôle at the Metropolitan Opera in 1967, where she returned to sing Rosina in 1968; and with Cherubino again she first appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 1972, returning here on several occasions to give song recitals. During the famous 1976 visit by the company of La Scala to Covent Garden she sang Angelina.

One of the greatest successes of Berganza’s career was as Carmen at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival in a production directed by Piero Faggioni and conducted by Claudio Abbado; she went on to sing this rôle in London, Hamburg, Paris and San Francisco. Also in 1977 she made her Paris Opera début as Angelina. In 1979, the year in which she appeared as Zerlina in Joseph Losey’s film of Don Giovanni, she sang Charlotte/Werther in Zürich. Other operatic parts of which Berganza was a noted interpreter included Concepción/L’Heure espagnole and Salud/La vida breve.

In 1989 Berganza took part in the opening performances of the Opéra Bastille in Paris and in 1992 participated in major concerts associated with the World Exhibition in Seville and the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Between 1957 and 1977 she was married to the composer and pianist Felix Lavilla, with whom she performed and recorded regularly. In parallel with her operatic work she gave recitals in many countries, touring extensively in the USA, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, South Africa, and Japan. As Berganza’s stage career came to a close, she went on to appear as an actress in several films between 2002 and 2006. She is active as a teacher in Spain and gives masterclasses in many countries. In 1994 she was the first woman to be elected to the Spanish Royal Academy of Arts.

Berganza was the ideal Mozart and Rossini mezzo-soprano. Her voice possessed a most attractive rich, creamy tone, which was allied to flexibility and dexterity. In addition, like many Spanish opera singers, she had a winning stage presence and was as equally at home with the humour of Mozart and Rossini as she was with the drama of Bizet. She recorded extensively; the orchestral recitals which she made for Decca, with conductors Sir John Pritchard and Sir Alexander Gibson, contain some of the finest Mozart and Rossini singing of the mid-twentieth century.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).