Carlo Del Monte died on September 15th in Mexico City. He was born Helenio Barjau Vallmitjana at
San Andrés, near Barcelona on 25th January 1923 , a son of the militant socialist Felipe Barjau.
During the Civil War his father was forced into French exile, and Helenio was interned with the rest of his family in a concentration
camp, before making a dramatic escape to Mexico in 1939, on the ship Sinaya.
He worked and paid his way through the Mexico City Conservatory,
beginning his career in comprimario roles at the Teatro del Palacio
de Bellas Artes.
As Arturo in Lucia de Lammermoor he played opposite Callas and Di Stefano. Leading roles soon followed at
where he enjoyed a particular triumph as Manrico in Il Trovatore.
Championed by his compatriot Victoria de los Ángeles, he obtained
a Carnegie Hall audition in New York which led to further study at the Escola La Scala, Milan; engagements in Paris; and his
earliest and most celebrated recordings with de los Ángeles for EMI - a much-praised Rinunccio in the classic Gianni Schicchi
with Gobbi, under Gabriele Santini (1958); and as Alfredo in the recently reissued 1959 La Traviata with Los Ángeles and Mario Sereni,
conducted by Tullio Serafin. One of his more unusual engagements around this time was to sing Jacopo in I Due Foscari at the Wexford
Festival conducted by Sir John Barbirolli.
Returning to Mexico after a serious eye operation in 1959, he later revisited Barcelona - though he never sang in the famous Teatro
Liceu, due to a ban there on Republican performers. It was in Barcelona, however, that he perfected his vocal technique in fresh studies
with the soprano Conchita Badía (14 November 1897 – 2 May 1975),
first singer of La Dolorosa on record and also Montserrat Caballé's teacher. Later opera roles
in Europe and Mexico included Duca in Rigoletto, Hoffmann, Pinkerton, and Rudolfo in La Bohème.
He sang little if any zarzuela on stage, but the form was certainly important to his recording career. Indeed, his working situation
in Spain was eased during the 1960's by a contract to record a series of zarzuela film soundtracks under Torroba for EMI-Hispavox, for
which actors played the roles onscreen. These included the memorable versions of El huésped del sevillano, El caserío and Maruxa which
are still available on EMI-Hispavox CD; together with recordings of Luisa Fernanda, Bohemios, Gigantes y cabezudos and El joven piloto
(by Tellería) which are not, though Bohemios is at least available on video.
Amongst his later recordings was one for Philips, as part of a large team of soloists in a Zarzuela Anthology under the unlikely but
highly galvanic baton of Igor Markevich (1967). In 1968 he finally made his debut at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, in
Escudero's Basque opera Zigor, another Spanish work he recorded. By the end of 1969 his voice was showing signs of wear, and after
1970 he retired to Mexico City from which time his singing appearances were few.
With its fast, tight vibrato, its consistency and richness throughout the range, and its focussed emotional power Del Monte's voice
is perhaps comparable in some ways to Carlo Bergonzi. But the sound is always unmistakably his own, and his zarzuela recordings -
pre-eminently the intensely moving El caserío - are a legacy fully worthy to stand beside the better-known opera recordings, fine
mementos of a musical and highly distinctive singer.
© Christopher Webber 2000