Music

Freddie Mercury Barcelona: Montserrat Caballe ‘He knew he wouldn’t live long enough’

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Everyone knows the song. It is yet another example of the remarkable range of talents unleashed on an adoring and very fortunate public by the Queen frontman. To the fans,  Barcelona is just one of his extraordinary hits, but for Freddie, it was the pinnacle of his career. He called it “a dream come true, although I wondered if our voices would match or she would accept to do it.” He adored the opera and, in particular, idolised the legendary Spanish soprano. Watch Montserrat in her last ever interview before her death in 2018, talking about their incredible partnership and confessing, very movingly, the reason why she was glad he told her about his Aids diagnosis.

Freddie had made a playful comment on Spanish TV in 1996, mentioning that Montserrat was his favourite singer in the world. When Barcelona, her home city, was chosen for the 1992 Olympics, she approached the Queen star to create a single.

When they met in 1997, they discovered a mutual passion for creating something new. An entire album was born between tapes send back and forth between the UK and Spain, and recording sessions in London.

Montserrat revealed that Freddie originally came to Barcelona and played her some of his compositions for them to duet on. And she was “captivated.” The opera star said Freddie’e work was “magnificent. It is something very special, it is created from the heart.”

She even tried to persuade him to record some pure opera with her.

Montserrat said: “When I said to him in his London home, ‘Why don’t we record a duet for baritone and soprano?’, he said, ’No, because people would see me sing for real.’

“I suggested we sing the aria from La Traviata between the father and girl because it’s for a baritone, but he told me no, that it would seem as if he was betraying his public and his fans.”

Montserrat’s niece, who shares the same name, remembered the enormous fun and late nights rehearsing in London at Freddie’s West Kensington mansion.

She said: “We were in Freddie’s house,  there were days when we were maybe there until six or seven in the morning, because after dinner they went to the piano and he played the piano and sang, and Montserrat improvised. Truly it was an incredible party.

“For Freddie, Montserrat was something out of this world. He had such love and admiration for her, he was always watching to make sure everything was perfect for her. When we arrived at the hotel, there were roses in every room, we wanted for nothing.”

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While the pair were still working on their collaboration, Montserrat also gave a performance at the Royal Opera House, with Freddie in attendance.

Freddie described how she “embarrassed” him by introducing him to the crowd: “I was sitting there with my tuxedo and I had to stand up and take a bow. She blew kisses to me and I blew kisses back.”

Montserrat said: “The audience loved it. They went crazy at the Royal Opera House.”

Asked if he hoped the song would become the official song of the Barcelona Games, Freddie said: “Yes. Yes! And if they don’t like this one, I’ll write another one. I hope the people in Barcelona, well everyone, I hope they like it. It’s for the whole world.”

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At the official launch of the song Barcelona in Ibiza in May 1987, Freddie joked that he would dedicate the rest of his future to the woman he called Montsi: “(I’ll do) some more songs with Montsi. She’s gonna take up all my time now and I’m quite prepared to do it. I’m looking forward to all that time.”

Of course, time was not something Freddie had. The single was released in October 1987 and became a major hit, reaching Number Eight in the UK charts.

in 1990, Freddie confided in Montsi that his health was failing and that he would not survive to perform their song together at the Olympics.

The soprano described how Freddie broke the news, but also her heartfelt reaction.

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Montserrat said; “He told me two years earlier. He said, ‘I won’t make, I won’t make it.’ We were in the recording studio, recording some final things, which was the last thing he recorded, and he said to me, “I can’t do the Barcelona (performance).’

“And I totally stopped and said, ‘Why?’ I thought he didn’t want to. It was true that he had lost a lot of weight and deteriorated  a lot and he said, ‘With AIDS, I can’t think about two years from now, anymore.”

In another interview, Montserrat added: “He said, ‘It is my duty to tell you this.’ And I said, ‘No, it is not a duty, but I am very thankful that you told me because it means I have your friendship and this is most important as anything to me.”

The soprano also made a very special personal recording for her friend: “He told me he would have liked to have sung the aria from the Phantom of the Opera and I told him I would record it – and I recorded it in the studio for him.”

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