Spanish Opera Singer Teresa Berganza has Died, Aged 89

The mezzo-soprano had over a four-decade career, giving recitals well into her 70s, and was hailed by Herbert von Karajan as “the Carmen of the century”

(Photo credit: Alberto Aja)


Teresa Berganza Vargas was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1933 to a homemaker mother and accountant father, who played trumpet and piano and arranged her first music lessons. 

When she got older, Berganza aspired to be a nun and attended Madrid’s Royal Conservatory of Music where she hoped piano, organ, and vocal studies would prepare her to direct a convent choir or teach music at a religious school.

Ultimately, it was her voice tutor, Lola Rodríguez Aragón, who upon recognizing her talent, began training Berganza professionally. She later won first prize for voice at the conservatory in 1954 and would maintain connections with Aragón throughout her career, according to the New York Times.

At the Madrid conservatory, Berganza also met her future husband, Félix Lavilla, a piano student, who later became her longtime accompanist at recitals. They had three children, but their marriage ended after 20 years.

Berganza made her operatic debut as Dorabella in Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” in 1957 at France’s Aix-en-Provence Festival. In the years following, she debuted at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Metropolitan Opera, and at London’s Covent Garden with coveted solo roles. 

Berganza is remembered for her unique mellow voice and her superb acting skills. “For the most part, [Berganza] sings exactly what is written in perfect pitch and accurate rhythm…[she is] one of the most gifted of coloratura singers,” Harold C. Schonberg of the NY Times wrote of Berganza’s performance at the San Francisco Opera in 1969. 

In 1977 at Edinburgh’s King’s Theater, she took on the lead in “Carmen” after years of declining the role due to feeling intimidated by the character’s complexity. Her preparation for and dedication to the role saw her study texts and conduct interviews with women living in caves outside Granada to further understand the Gypsy lifestyle. 

Berganza’s last opera performance was at age 57, playing “Carmen” at the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville. Following this, Berganza would continue to give recitals into her 70s.

“A whole life dedicated to opera,” began Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in a tweet. “She has been one of the great female voices on stages around the world. Her voice, her elegance, her art will be with us forever. My love to the family and loved ones of Teresa Berganza.”

According to the Kuwait Times, Berganza was the first woman to attend Spain’s Royal Academy of Arts and was also a recipient of an honorary doctorate by Madrid’s Complutense University. In 2005, she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur — the highest French order of merit.

Our condolences to Ms. Berganza’s family, friends, and colleagues.