De los Angeles’s career was forged during an era of tremendous prima donnas. But there were none of the tantrums or torrid affairs that rocked the careers of her counterparts such as Callas and Schwarzkopf. She had a gentle serenity and humanity about her that enchanted me when I first came across her in early EMI recordings with Sir Thomas Beecham.
Listening to de los Angeles singing gave me my first experience of how a great voice doesn’t just imitate emotion, but embodies it. Her Butterfly may not have the tragic nobility of, say, Renata Scotto, but it has a sense of blighted innocence, a childish pathos that goes to the character’s heart. I love the sassy humour that de los Angeles brings to Bizet’s Carmen. The mellow mezzo range and seductive low register made her perfect for the role. Other memorable encounters on disc include Marguerite’s wide-eyed delight tinged with a sense of the absurd as she opens the jewel box in Gounod’s Faust, a flirtatious Manon in Massenet’s Manon Lescaut, and Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.
In her own words: ‘I never wanted to be a singer… I like what it is to sing, or to be with others singing, to make music. But the fuss, and all the things that are the exterior part of a career, has never interested me. So I don’t think in reality I am a singer. I think I am a human being that has sung, always, all her life.’
Greatest recording: Puccini: La bohème cond. Beecham EMI 567 7502