Who was Montserrat Caballe? Google Doodle honors award-winning opera singer with murky tax past
Once a month, Google honors a historical figure from different professions changing the homepage with a unique Google Doodle. This month, on April 12, 2022, Google paid tribute to the legendary Montserrat Caballe. This year marks the 89th birthday of the remarkable Spanish opera singer.
María de Montserrat Bibiana Concepción Caballé i Folch was born on April 12, 1933, in Barcelona, Spain. Also known as La Superba, the operatic soprano passed away on October 6, 2018 when she was 85 years old.
The legendary artist was known to have a personality larger than life but her music is the only legacy she has left behind. Her music journey started in 1965 when she had her debut performance in the United States at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her opera stardom and international recognition were achieved throughout her lifetime. In a career spanning 50 years, Caballe had stints with the Basel Opera and Bremen Opera before her international breakthrough at Carnegie Hall in New York. She went on to perform with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera and Vienna State Opera, appearing opposite the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.
She was best-loved for her rare bel canto vocal technique. This Italian vocal technique places emphasis on beauty of sound and brilliance of performance rather than the dramatic expression or romantic emotion, as described by Willi Apel. The Washington Post described Bel canto as the 'quintessential way to sing opera'.
On her birthday in 2022, Google wrote "Happy 89th Birthday, La Superba. Your legacy sings on." During the span of her career, this Spanish opera singer received five Grammy nominations and won her first Grammy in 1968 for Best Classical Vocal Performance. However, despite being born in Spain she did not make her debut in her home country. Her debut performance was in Switzerland before she performed in Germany. According to the search engine, Caballé gave over 3,800 performances in over 80 roles on five continents.
In what is a treat for music buffs, 29 years ago, in 1992, Freddie Mercury recorded 'Barcelona' with Caballe which was then recognized as the anthem for the Barcelona Olympic Games that year. Apart from being a singer professionally, Caballe was also a philanthropist. She founded Fundació Montserrat Caballé, an organization to support young talent in Barcelona which was constituted on December 4, 2019 but officially registered on June 12, 2020.
However, it wasn't just her singing or the awards that kept her in the limelight. At the age of 82, the singer was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for tax fraud. She admitted in 2010 that she lived in Spain but was registered as a resident of Andorra for tax purposes. The sentence was the result of an agreement with prosecutors that avoided the need for a trial. Cabelle did not go to prison because all first convictions resulting in sentences of less than two years are suspended in Spain.
Apart from the suspended prison sentence, the singer was also ordered to pay a fine of €254,231 ($280,000) and was banned from receiving any public subsidies for a period of 18 months. According to court documents, Caballe allegedly signed all her concert contracts through a dummy company registered in Andorra and deposited the income in an Andorran bank account with the aim of "ensuring the Treasury did not have knowledge of her income and her true residency in Spain".