She sailed like a Spanish galleon, in the traditional operatic manner, and nobody went to see her for her thespian skills or indeed intelligibility of diction. ‘I am not now nor have I ever been a diva. I am only Montserrat!’ she says, suitably rock-like. All that matters with Montserrat is the music, the line, the control, the shading: listen to her ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s Tosca for superhuman amounts of all those qualities. But for those of us who sometimes think there is no point in any opera other than bel canto, Montserrat is the goddess for whom many of the operas of Donizetti and Bellini – previously seen as pretty pointless – were revived and given meaning through the medium of pure sound. Listen to her in Bellini’s Il pirata or I puritani: that – those hypnotic, time-stopping pirouettes through the musical ether – is the point of opera.
In her own words: ‘When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true.’
Greatest recording: The very best of … EMI 575 8912