Victoria de Los Angeles

Share this article


Born: 1 November, 1923, in Barcelona.

Died: 14 January, 2005, in Barcelona, aged 81.

SHE was one of the most serene and elegant sopranos of the post war era. Victoria de Los Angeles brought beauty and sophistication to everything she did. Naturally a most handsome lady, her voice seemed to match her appearance. When she drifted on to a concert platform, the smile beaming to all parts of the theatre, she looked every inch a diva. Couturier gown, hair immaculate and a silk stole over the shoulders to add a touch of glamour.

Early in her career de Los Angeles did sing often in opera but she was not a natural stage performer: on her own admission she didn’t delve into characters afresh. She did, however, sing often at Covent Garden in the 1950s and in other leading opera houses. Her recordings of La Boheme and Carmen (both with Beecham) and her two of Madame Butterfly are historic and have not been out of the catalogue in half a century.

De Los Angeles came out of retirement to sing with other eminent Spanish stars at the closing ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. She came to many Edinburgh Festivals, starting in 1950, and in that year was unwittingly involved in one of those festival fracas which seemed to be an annual event in those days. De Los Angeles behaved impeccably and sailed through the storm with her usual grace.

The soprano made her debut with the Barcelona Opera in 1945 as the countess in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and after appearing in Faust in Paris she came to London to sing in de Falla’s La Vida Breve with the BBC in 1948. That transmission made her international career and she was immediately booked to sing Mimi in La Boheme, Manon and Madame Butterfly with the Royal Opera in 1950. All roles she would return to in the next decade at Covent Garden.

In 1957, Rudolf Kempe agreed to conduct Madame Butterfly at Covent Garden - a rare foray into Italian opera - and de Los Angeles sang the title role. "We will do it without a second interval," the maestro declared. This put an extra strain on de Los Angeles but she agreed and the performances were acclaimed.

Other debuts followed (including the Bayreuth Festival in 1961 as Elisabeth in Tannhuser) but that year she decided to reduce her opera performances and concentrate on recitals. She did occasionally return to opera (particularly to sing Carmen - a much favoured role) but she was more at ease and relaxed in recital and adored singing her Catalan folk songs. At her Carnegie Hall debut, in 1950, de Los Angeles received a standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience. By way of thanks she brought on her guitar, jumped on to the lid of the piano and sang Spanish songs for half an hour. It was typical of this most untempremental diva.

She was much loved in Edinburgh and was one of the few solo artists who could fill the Usher Hall regularly twice a festival. Her first visit was for two evening concerts in the Freemasons’ Hall in 1950. Accompanied by Gerald Moore she sang Lieder and Spanish songs.

However, that year the festival director (Ian Hunter) had had tortuous negotiations with the La Scala Orchestra about who should pay their airfares. To smooth things over the orchestra agreed to give an extra matinee to defray the costs. De Los Angeles was willing to sing some arias and everything seemed settled until at a rehearsal in the Usher Hall it was discovered what the soprano planned to sing was not what the conductor (de Sabata) wanted to perform. Voices, it is believed, were raised.

Hunter with a masterstroke of operatic spin put out a press release talking of the "cordiality on all sides" and about how "La Scala would not compromise its standards" and "Madame de Los Angeles, quite rightly, will not sing if it is not up to festival standards". So there was no extra matinee.

The following year de Los Angeles joined the BBC Scottish Orchestra (under Ian Whyte) in Mozart and was to return on now fewer than three other occasions (usually with Gerald Moore) to give recitals to a packed Usher Hall. In 1958 she appeared at the King’s Theatre with the Spanish Opera Ballet in La Vide Breve for three acclaimed performances.

Her discography is remarkably wide ranging. She recorded 21 complete operas and songs from Spain and France. But there are two recordings for which de Los Angeles is specially known. She was the first artist to sing the haunting Songs of the Auvergne that is now a classic interpretation. Then, for Gerald Moore’s farewell concert, at the Festival Hall in 1965 she and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sang Rossini’s hilarious Cats’ Duet: they meowed themselves almost into the charts. It brought the hall down and the audience went off thrilled. Luckily EMI were on hand to record the evening for posterity.

Her many recording awards include the Edison award and six Grand Prix du Disque.

She was an artist of impeccable taste and style. Never self-regarding or brash. Tito Gobbi who sang with her often wrote in his autobiography "the voice has a beautiful quality all its own: appealing, intensely feminine and with a capacity for bringing a lump into the listener’s throat unrivalled in my experience."

De Los Angeles was once married but the marriage was dissolved. She is survived by a son; another son having predeceased her.