Catalan Soprano and instrumentalist, Montserrat Figueras, passed away on Wednesday, at her home in Bellaterra, Spain. She was 69.
Not well-known outside of Early Music (music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and early Baroque) circles, she was revered and influential within that wonderful mix of musicians, historians and dedicated lovers of bringing musical ghosts from the past to vibrant life in the present.
Her career spanned more than 40 years. Most of her efforts were as collaborator and partner with her husband (since 1968), Jordi Savall, one of Early Music's most important figures. In this century, Figueras, Savall and their two children, Arianna and Ferran, often played together, both in Savall's well-know ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, and in other groups.
Since my close friend, the late James Acord, made me aware of Savall's and Figueras' work, their approach to historically informed performance has had a profound influence on how I understand music of those times.
I often use this excerpt from Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo to open up my lecture on the origins of opera in my Music Appreciation class. Figueras is Eurydice, and Savall is the conductor:
The following excerpt from a program Savall presented, based on music and other art from the Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229). In it, Monserrat Figueras plays zither and sings. Savall plays a predecessor of the viola de gamba. Her singing is hauntingly beautiful, reminding me of New Yorker music critic Alex Ross' description: "her smoky, penetrating, flatly expressive voice falls somewhere between grand opera and rural folk singing, and combines the best aspects of both."
Indeed, she seems to evoke both Maria Callas and Joan Baez: