On first glance, you would never find the commonalities between Monserrat Caballé and Lily Pons. The two sopranos, one Spanish and the other French-American, are known for distinctly different repertoire. The former had a wide range that saw her dominate both bel canto and dramatic repertoire while the latter was best known for more delicate roles, particularly in her native tongue.
And yet the two women had a lot of overlap from a repertoire standpoint throughout their careers.
They also share a birthday, April 12. Pons was born on that day in 1898 while Caballé was born on Pons’ 35th birthday. Here is a look at some of the roles both sopranos sang.
Lucia di Lammermoor
This is the most obvious one of them all. Pons, of course, was the Lucia of her time, singing the role for the entirety of her career. During her 30-year career with the Met that spanned 301 performances, she sang the role a whopping 94 times; it was the role of her debut on Jan. 3, 1931 and the final complete opera she sang on April 12, 1958 (she sang two galas thereafter in 1960 and 1966). She also made a plethora of recordings of her signature role with a wide range of singers.
Caballé was not known for her work in this opera, but she did famously record it with frequent collaborator José Carreras and Samuel Ramey.
While Caballé took on the famous courtesan throughout the early parts of her career, Pons actually didn’t perform the opera until the very end. Remarkably, Pons had learned the role during her first season at the Met, but never actually performed there; she debuted the role in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Caballé sang Traviata six times at the Met, all of them in her first few seasons with the company and made one of the most beloved recordings of the opera with Carlo Bergonzi, Sherrill Milnes, and conductor George Prêtre. That recording features no cuts to the opera and is one of the few that includes all of the music Verdi wrote for the opera.
La Fille du Regiment
Technically, the two women never sang the same role in this opera. Pons made a career out of the role of Marie, singing it 15 times at the Met throughout her career. Her “Salut a la France” might be the most famous recording there is, alongside that of Joan Sutherland.
Caballé never sang the role of Marie, though she did appear as the Duchess of Crakentorp late in her career.
Caballé did record many arias from some of Pons’ signature works, including “Rigoletto,” “La Sonnambula,” “Lakmé” and “Les Contes D’Hoffmann.”
Also worthy of note is that they both famously shared the stage with one opera’s most famous singers – Plácido Domingo. Caballé and Domingo were artistic partners for years, recording numerous Verdi and Puccini operas together. But lesser known is that Domingo, then 21, sang in Pons’ final ever opera appearance in 1962 at Fort Worth Opera. The opera in question? “Lucia di Lammermoor.”