Witty, impertinent, effervescent, passionate: these are adjectives often applied to the personality of the great Spanish mezzo. Teresa Berganza loves life, people and above all - composers. "Mozart is my Messiah", she says, "I want people to think of me as a mystic: I'm not called Teresa for nothing!" But Mozart and Rossini were her main masters. First, she learned style and emotion, and then technique and speed.
Presented at Aix-en-Provence in 1957 in a memorable Cosi Fan Tutte alongside Teresa Stich-Randall and Luigi Alva under the direction of Hans Rosbaud, her career got off to a flying start. The following year she was at La Scala and then at Glyndebourne, Covent Garden, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Paris. She was acclaimed everywhere, for her fresh voice that was so at ease on stage alongside the greatest of the greats, even if she was somewhat looked down upon in London or Vienna, as if she had come from a country of savages. After all, rationing had only just ended in Franco's poor and isolated Spain.
One role followed another, Rosina in the Barber of Seville; Cherubino in the Marriage of Figaro; Octavia in The Coronation of Poppaea, Ruggiero in Alcina. She began to make records. In 1961, she met Ernest Ansermet to record Manuela de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat that he had put on with the Russian Ballet. She befriended the young Claudio Abbado as his career took off. Together, they would share great moments, on stage and on disc. Together they would create famous records whose success has never faded. The Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola (Rossini) in 1972, Carmen (Bizet) in 1977, followed by a memorable production for the Edinburgh festival. This role, which she would sing for the first time when she recorded it, would get under her skin and drive her to distraction, to the point that she would forget all other music. But if Carmen is an absolute vocal reference point, it is also because Berganza has stripped her of all cheap "Hispanic" affectations: she is a noble and proud woman. "Mérimée and Bizet wanted to pay homage to my country with class and dignity", she said.
It was with this same dignity that Teresa Berganza also sang several zarzuelas, that Madrid operetta which is too-often derided outside of its home country, whereas, according to Teresa Berganza, many are worth a thousand Donizetti operas. Barbieri, Chueca, Chapi, Bretón, Giménez, Vives and Torroba are the great composers of zarzuelas.
Teresa Berganza has left us an abundant discography which is still available on the best labels. She was also very engaged in the Spanish repertoire, of which she recorded a lot with her husband the pianist Felix Lavilla. Teresa Berganza has given up the studio, diverting her customary passion to teaching. In 2013 she agreed to undertake a book put together by Olivier Bellamy: Un Monde habité par le chant. In it, she tells the story of her life with sincerity and human warmth.
© FH / Qobuz