Teresa Berganza, Charismatic Star of the Opera Stage, Is Dead at 89
Ms. Berganza turned for spiritual guidance to José Rifá, a Spanish priest who had long admired her singing. He quit the priesthood to marry her, and he regularly introduced himself as Mr. Berganza. They divorced after 10 years.
Complete information about survivors was not immediately available.
Ms. Berganza made her operatic debut as Dorabella in Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” in 1957 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France. In 1958, she made her first appearance at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as Isolier in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory.” The next year she debuted at Covent Garden in London as Rosina in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” which would become one of her signature roles. Critics delighted in her rich, fluid contralto voice, which easily handled the complex embellishments demanded of Rossini heroines.
In 1967, Ms. Berganza made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.” It would yet become another popular role for her.
For years, Ms. Berganza declined offers to perform the lead in “Carmen,” saying that she found the complexity of the character too intimate. She finally agreed to take it on in 1977, at the King’s Theater in Edinburgh. In preparation, she studied the 1845 novella “Carmen,” by Prosper Mérimée, on which the opera was based, as well as the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.
She then spent weeks in southern Spain interviewing women living in the caves outside Granada to, as she put it, “better understand Gypsy life.” Rejecting the more traditional portrayal of Carmen as a prostitute, she chose to play her instead as a rebellious Gypsy. “She speaks with her heart, her body, her guts,” Ms. Berganza wrote in her autobiography.
Reviewing a Carnegie Hall recital in November 1982. the Times critic Donal Henahan wrote, “The Berganza voice, always a wonder of suppleness and dark polish, has now become, if anything, more excitingly robust and dramatic.”