Berberian, Cathy (actually, Catherine)

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Berberian, Cathy (actually, Catherine)

Berberian, Cathy (actually, Catherine), versatile American mezzo-soprano; b. Attleboro, Mass., July 4, 1925; d. Rome, March 6, 1983. She studied singing, dancing, and the art of pantomime; took courses at Columbia Univ. and N.Y. Univ.; then studied voice in Milan with Giorgina del Vigo. In 1957 she made her debut in a concert in Naples; attracted wide attention in 1958, when she performed John Cage’s Fontana Mix, which demanded a fantastic variety of sound effects. Her vocal range extended to three octaves, causing one bewildered music critic to remark that she could sing both Tristan and Isolde. Thanks to her uncanny ability to produce ultrahuman (and subhuman) tones, and her willingness to incorporate into her professional vocalization a variety of animal noises, guttural sounds, grunts and growls, squeals, squeaks and squawks, clicks and clucks, shrieks and screeches, hisses, hoots, and hollers, she instantly became the darling of inventive composers of the avant-garde, who eagerly dedicated to her their otherwise unperformable works. She married one of them, Luciano Berio , in 1950, but their marriage was dissolved in 1964. She could also intone classical music. Shortly before her death, she sang her own version of the Internationale for an Italian television program commemorating the centennial of the death of Karl Marx (1983). She was an avant-garde composer in her own right; she wrote multimedia works, such as Stripsody, an arresting soliloquy of labial and laryngeal sounds, and an eponymously titled piano piece, Morsicat(h)y. Her integrity as a performer is reflected in her life-long insistance that her objective was always to meet the challenge of the new art of her time.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Berberian, Cathy (actually, Catherine)

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