Teresa Berganza: The Legacy of a Spanish Opera Star May 24 2022

A dramatic figure with flashing dark eyes, Teresa Berganza passed away last May 13th, 2022, at 89, and was acclaimed as a coloratura mezzo-soprano, with a vocal register that was warm at its lower range and supple at its higher end. Her repertoire included mostly the operas of Mozart and Rossini and as a recitalist included German lieder, French and Italian songs and, most notably, Spanish music — zarzuelas, arias and Gypsy ballads — which she consistently championed.


Teresa Berganza as Carmen

Teresa was born in Madrid on March 16, 1933, to parents who reflected Spain's deep divisions on the eve of its civil war. Her father, Guillermo Berganza, an accountant, was an atheist who favored left-wing causes. Her mother, Ascensión Vargas, a homemaker with two older children, Guillermo and Ascensión, was a deeply religious Roman Catholic, a monarchist and a supporter of the future dictator Francisco Franco.

[IMAGE] Teresa Berganza as Carmen - Promo photograph signed by the Spanish mezzo

She studied piano and voice at the Madrid Conservatory and made her concert debut in Madrid when she was 22. Her opera debut was as Dorabella in Mozart's Cosí fan tutte in 1957, appearing also that year at La Scala by first time as Isolier in Rossini's Le Comte Ory. In 1958 she appeared as Cherubino in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and as Cenerentola in Rossini's opera at La Scala. Her debut at the Covent Garden would come in 1959 as Cherubino and was invited in 1960 to sing Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which became one of her signature roles.

Her first appearance in the United States was at the Dallas Opera in 1958 as Isabella in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri and then as Neris in Luigi Cherubini's Medea alongside Maria Callas and Jon Vickers under the baton of Nicola Rescigno. Almost one decade later, in 1967, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino alongside Mirella Freni, Cesare Siepi, Tom Krause and Pilar Lorengar. In 1968 she returned to the Metropolitan to sing Rosina to great acclaim according to the critics of the time. By 1977, Berganza finally appeared as Carmen in Edinburgh under Claudio Abbado, being this production considered one of her greatest successes on stage, portraying the character with intelligence, flexibility and dynamics.

Teresa Berganza in Role

Teresa was also hailed as a praise-worthy recitalist, whose repertoired included Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Russian songs, but focused in Spanish songs, from medieval cantigas from the XII century to works by Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados.

[IMAGE] Teresa Berganza in role - a beautiful photograph signed by her

Teresa retired from opera stage in 1992, at age 57, as Carmen at Teatro de La Maestranza in Seville, opposite Jose Carreras as Don Jose, under the baton of Placido Domingo, but Teresa would continue to give recitals into her 70s.

She insisted she had no regrets about not having been born a soprano, which would have given her the opportunity for many more leading stage roles. She preferred being a mezzo, she said, just as she favored the more mellow sound of a cello over a violin. “If I could not sing,” she wrote in her autobiography, “I would want to be a cellist.”


Teresa Berganza met her future husband pianist Felix Lavilla during her years in the Conservatory and married him in 1957. He became her accompanist in her recitals and recordings until they divorced in 1977. The couple had three children: Teresa, Javier and Cecilia.

Teresa Berganza in recital with Felix Lavilla

Teresa Berganza in recital with Felix Lavilla

Ms. Berganza turned for spiritual guidance to Jose Rifa, 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.



Berganza received a Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts from the Kingdom of Spain on 26 February 1982, and shared the 1991 Prince of Asturias Award for Arts and Letters with Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Pilar Lorengar, Alfredo Kraus, and Placido Domingo. In 1994, she became the first woman elected to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, and was awarded the Premio Nacional de Música in 1996. In addition, she was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of the Civil Order of Alfonso X The Wise from the Kingdom of Spain on 3 May 2013, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 International Opera Awards.


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