Conchita Supervía (December 9, 1895–March 30, 1936) was a notable and successful Spanish mezzo-soprano singer.
Supervía was born in Barcelona to an old Andalusian family and given the baptismal name of María de la Concepción Supervía Pascual. She was educated at the local convent but at the age of twelve entered the Conservatory of the Liceo in Barcelona to study singing. She made her stage debut in 1910 at the young age of 15 in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Tomás Bretón’s opera Los amantes de Teruel.
In 1911 she sang the role of Oktavian in the first Italian production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome. In 1912 she appeared as Carmen at the Teatro del Liceo in her native city, a role with which she would be associated for the rest of her career.
She made her American debut in 1915 as Charlotte in Jules Massenet’s Werther at the Chicago Opera, where she also sang in Mignon and Carmen. Back in Europe by the end of the First World War she was invited to Rome, where she started the Rossini revival that made her world-famous – as Angelina in La cenerentola, Isabella in L’italiana in Algeri and Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, in the original keys. Conchita Supervía had exactly the type of voice for which Rossini wrote these works – a "coloratura" mezzo-soprano.
A powerful chest register linked to a flexible upper voice that could cope easily with florid passages, allied to a musicianship of great individuality and refinement – she could fine a note to a mere thread of sound – and with impeccable enunciation. Her voice is instantly recognisable though it was not without its critics; a pronounced tremolo that in the lower part of the voice became almost a machine-gun rattle, ‘as strong as the rattle of dice in a box’, is a comment attributed to the British critic, Philip Hope-Wallace. Many lucky enough to have heard her in the flesh have said that this vibrato was more evident on records than on the stage; an example of the microphone exaggerating a singer’s faults. It was her vibrant personality and sense of humour that delighted her audiences as much as her artistry. In 1924 Supervía made her debut at La Scala as Hänsel in early German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel but, strangely, she never sang the Rossini roles or Carmen at La Scala though she sang there in every season until 1929.
In 1930 she sang Carmen in Paris and it was in this year that she made the records from this opera that are so much admired today. All in all, she made more than two hundred recordings mostly for the Fonotipia and Odeon labels, featuring not only her famous roles in opera but also a vast song repertory in Spanish, French, Italian, and English, as well as zarzuela and operetta (She had been in a legendary production of Franz Lehar's Frasquita at the Opéra Comique.)
In 1930 she made her London debut at the Queen's Hall. The following year she married a London businessman, Ben Rubenstein, and settled in London. (She already had a teen-aged son, George, from a previous association.)
Her Covent Garden debut was in 1934 in La cenerentola and in 1935 she repeated that part, plus L’italiana in Algeri.
In 1934, Supervía appeared in the Victor Saville British film Evensong as a singer named Baba L'Etoile, opposite actor Fritz Kortner.
Pregnancy forced her to cancel her planned appearances in the autumn of 1935. On March 29, 1936 she entered a London clinic to await the birth of her baby, which was stillborn on March 30; a few hours later she herself died. She was buried with her baby daughter, in a grave designed by Edwin Lutyens, in the Liberal Jewish Cemetery at Willesden in NW London. The grave, which had fallen into disrepair, was refurbished by a group of admirers and re-consecrated in October 2006.
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