Mezzo-soprano Marta Pérez, the first Cuban to sing in Milan's famed La Scala opera house, died on Tuesday, August 21 in her Miami-Dade home. She was 85.
Miss Perez was known as Cuba's Diva throughout her long and successful career, during which her remarkable voice took her to the world's most prestigious stages. In 1946, she began a series of tours in the United States with the famous Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's orchestra. She later performed in Mexico and, in 1955, reached a high in her career when she sang at the renowned opera house La Scala, in Milan, Italy, in the role of Preciosilla in Verdi's opera La Forza del Destino, sharing the stage with Renata Tebaldi and Giuseppe di Stefano. Pérez was born in Havana on Aug. 2, 1924. Her artistic talents surfaced early in life, and as a little girl she studied singing with Marila Granowska. At age 13, she performed as soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Havana. In an unforgettable performance in Havana, Pérez was the first to record Gonzalo Roig's famous zarzuela, Cecilia Valdés. In the 1950s, she toured various cities in Europe and the United States, and in 1961 she performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the mid-'60s, Pérez left Cuba and came to live as an exile in Miami, where in 1967, with Pili de la Rosa, Miguel de Grandy and set designer Demetrio, she founded Pro Arte Grateli Society, a Hispanic theater group, which she co-chaired until a few years ago.
`Marta loved to help young singers,'' de la Rosa said. "She cared for new talents. Besides being an extraordinary singer, she was a great human being, very religious and a great friend.''
Cuban soprano Blanca Varela remembered the "good artistic friendship'' she had with Pérez since their early performances together on Cuban television.
"In Cuba, we performed Madame Butterfly's Flowers Duet in a television concert with Maestro Roig,'' Varela said. ``She had a beautiful mezzo voice.
"There was never a rivalry between us. She devoted her entire life to music, never married and had no children,'' Varela said.
Cuban baritone José Le Matt considered her ``one of the great figures of Cuban lyric singing of the 1950s.''
"We met when we were both starting our careers in the Philarmonic's choir,'' Le Matt said. "She later became a soloist. We were all very proud when she became the first Cuban to ever sing at la Scala.''
Besides her operatic recordings, Pérez did albums with traditional Cuban songs and classic boleros, such as La bella cubana and Marta Pérez and Enrique Chía.
"She was an inspiration for us Cuban singers,'' said Elizabeth Caballero, a soprano who has performed with the Florida Grand Opera. ``I remember when I auditioned for Grateli, she was there. It was a very emotional moment. Maybe some day we'll sing in her honor in a free Cuba.''
Like the majority of the prominent Cuban lyric singers of the time, she chose to exile herself at the beggining of Castro's dictatorship. Like many others, she died without ever being able to go back to her country.
RIP, Miss Marta Perez.
Marta Pérez delayed obituaire-(08/02/24-08/21/09)First Cuban Lyric singer ever presented at La Scala
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