The Complete Conchita Supervia, Vol. 4
Odeon/Ultraphone 1932-1933

52061-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


The Complete Conchita Supervia, Vol. 4
Conchita Supervia is one of the most sought-after singers among serious record collectors. In fact, she is as close to a cult-figure as it gets with the shellac-set. Supervia recorded over 200 sides for Odeon and later, several sides for Ultraphone. Although many of these records are common, many were only issued in Spain and are extremely scarce. What makes Supervia so well loved is the unique timbre of her voice that is immediately recognizable. Whether singing La cenerentola, Carmen, or the vast number of unusual Spanish songs, Conchita Supervia is amazing. This two-CD set, the fourth in the Supervia series, spans 1932-1933 and includes some beautifully-executed Spanish songs on Odeon as well as her French-language version of Lehár’s Frasquita on Ultraphone. Finally, a previously undiscovered French Odeon record from 1930 is included, which is of two Eduardo Toldrá songs.
CD 1 [79:16]


23 MAY 1932

1. Capa española (Francisco Cotarelo; Emilio Pisón) 3:27
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7706) 184296
2. La buenaventura (Ignacio Tabuyo; F. Moya Rico and J. Colorado) 3:24
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7707) 184286
3. LA ROMERÍA DE LOS CORNUDOS (ballet): Romance de Solita (Gustavo Pittaluga; Cipriano Rivas Cheriff) 2:54
  With orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Pittaluga
(SO7708) 184296
4. Lola la Manola de Escayola (Francisco Cotarelo; Emilio Pisón) 3:29
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7709) 184303

25 MAY 1932
With piano, Pedro Vallribera

5. El amor es como un niño (Traditional; Arranged by Joaquín Nin) 1:37
  (SO7714) 184345  
6. Jota valenciana (Traditional; Arranged by Joaquín Nin) 1:29
  (SO7714) 184345  
7. Canción gallega, No. 1 (Traditional; Arranged by Joaquín Nin) [text] 2:47
  (SO7715) 184329  
8. Cantiga (Canción antigua) (Joaquín Rodrigo; Marqués de Santillana) 2:53
  (SO7716) 184329  

27 MAY 1932
With orchestra, conducted By Pascual Godes

9. El pañuelo de lunares (Francisco Alonso; S. and J. Álvarez Quintero) 3:08
  (SO7717) 184303  
10. La del pañuelo rojo (Zortzico) (Traditional; Arranged by Ignacio Tabuyo) 3:29
  (SO7718) 184345  
11. Consejos (Habanera) (F. M. Álvarez; Eusebio Blasco) 3:13
  (SO7719) 184294  

28 MAY 1932

12. Rubores (Pasodoble) (Pascual Marquina; A. Corral Moraleda) 2:30
  With band
(SO7722) 184289
13. Suspiros de España (Pasodoble) (A. Álvarez Alonso; Felipe Ferrer) 3:24
  With band
(SO7723) 184289
14. Java apache (Java musette) (Pascual Godes; Felipe Ferrer) 3:29
  With the Serramont Accordion Orchestra
(SO7724) 184294
15. Bésame (Habanera) (Pascual Godes; Felipe Ferrer) 3:33
  With the Serramont Accordion Orchestra
(SO7725) 184294

3 JUNE 1932

16. Les fulles seques (Sardana) (Enrique Morera; Ángel Guimerá) 3:06
  With orchestra, Cobla Barcelona “Albert Marti”
(SO7733) 184289
17. Llevantina (Sardana) (Vicente Bou; R. Libera and J. Serracant) 2:38
  With orchestra, Cobla Barcelona “Albert Marti”
(SO7734) 184289
18. Melodía (Vocal arrangement of Melody in F, op. 3 no. 1) (Anton Rubinstein; T. Ramos Fernando) 3:10
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7735) 184333
19. L’ángel de la son (Juan Lamote de Grignon; Apeles Mestres) 2:57
  With piano, Pedro Vallribera
(SO7736) 184301

27 OCTOBER 1932
With orchestra

20. La rosa oriental (Bolero) (Ramón Espigul) 2:41
  (SO7882) 185012  
21. Lamento borincano (Song in Cuban style) (Rafael Hernández; Arranged by Brito) 3:21
  (SO7883) 247  

28 OCTOBER 1932

22. Moreno es el bien que adoro (Vicente Romero; Fidel Prado) [text] 3:12
  With piano, Pedro Vallribera
(SO7884) 184339
23. Sentir gitano (Tomás de Aquino; V. Moro and L. Muñoz Arenillas) [text] 3:34
  With piano, Pedro Vallribera
(SO7885) 184339
24. Las meninas (Canción de la guitarra) (F. Diaz Giles; Lucio and Capella) 3:24
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7886) 184313
25. Un barberillo alegre (J. L. Mediavilla; Fidel Prado) 3:13
  With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes
(SO7887) 184313

30 OCTOBER 1932
With piano, Pedro Vallribera

26. Flor del terruño (Canción Castellana) (R. Martinez Valls; Felipe Ferrer) [text] 3:32
  (SO7890) 184325  
CD 2 (78:00)

30 OCTOBER 1932 (continued)
With piano, Pedro Vallribera

1. Canción de antaño (R. Martinez Valls; Felipe Ferrer) [text] 3:43
  (SO7891) 184325  
2. Hay en mi jardín (Lizcano de la Rosa; M. Poal Aragall) [text] 3:32
  (SO7892) 184333  

31 OCTOBER 1932
With orchestra, conducted by Pascual Godes

3. EL JURAMENTO: ¡Ay! yo me ví en el mundo desamparada (J. Gaztambide; D. L. Olona) 3:25
  (SO7893) 184326  
4. LA TEMPRANICA: Sierras de Granada (Jerónimo Giménez; Julián Romea) 3:36
  (SO7894) 184326  
5. EL MAL DE AMORES: Canción de la gitanita (José Serrano; S. and J. Álvarez Quintero) 2:34
  (SO7895) 184305  
6. LA ALEGRÍA DEL BATALLÓN: A una gitana preciosa [Dolores’s Gypsy Song] (José Serrano; Arniches & Quintana) [text] 2:56
  (SO7896) 184305  

With piano, Frank Marshall

TONADILLAS (Enrique Granados; Fernando Periquet)

7. Las currutacas modestas 1:21
  (SO7897) 184335  
8. Callejeo 1:29
  (SO7897) 184335  
9. La maja dolorosa 3:08
  (SO7898) 184335  
10. Amor y odio 2:22
  (SO7899) 184336  
11. El tra-la-la y el punteado 1:08
  (SO7899) 184336  
12. El majo discreto 1:44
  (SO7900) 184336  
13. El majo tímido 1:03
  (SO7900) 184336  

With piano, Pedro Vallribera

14. Pandereta andaluza (Esteban Fuste; Justino Ochoa) 2:21
  (SO7903) 184315  
15. Hojas muertas (Charles Maduro; José Mojica) [text] 2:29
  (SO7904) unpublished on 78 rpm  


MAY 1933
With the Paris Opéra-Comique Orchestra, conducted by Paul Bastide

FRASQUITA (Franz Lehár; French version by M. Eddy and J. Marietti)

16. Qui a dit “Voleurs”? [Frasquita’s entrance] 3:11
  (P76392) AP1020 transposed down a semi-tone  
17. Deux yeux très doux 3:23
  Louis Arnoult, tenor solo
(P76394) AP1021
18. Ce que c’est que l’amour 3:06
  (P76393) AP1020 transposed down a semi-tone  
19. J’ai ma jeunesse ensoleillée … C’est là qu’est écrit mon secret [Act 1 Finale] 6:17
  With Louis Arnoult, tenor
(P76398/99) AP1022 transposed down a semi-tone
20. Il y avait une fois [Couplets de la cigarrière] 4:36
  (P80127) EP1024 transposed down a semi-tone  
21. Quand un coeur veut parler le langage d’amour 3:37
  With Louis Arnoult, tenor
(P76400) AP1023 transposed downa semi-tone
22. Ne t’aurais-je qu’une fois 3:42
  Louis Arnoult, tenor solo
(P76395) AP1021
23. Le beau rêve est fini 3:38
  Louis Arnoult, tenor solo
(P76401) AP1023

MAY 1933
With guitar, A. Cuenco

24. Tengo dos lunares (Valverde; traditional) 1:53
  Note: Supervia interpolated this song into Act 2 of FRASQUITA
(P80128z) EP1024
25. Los ojos negros (Barta; traditional) 2:04
  (P80128z) EP1024  


The following two sides were recently located and are included here out of chronological sequence.


5 JULY 1930
With orchestra, conducted By Gustave Cloëz

26. Cançó de passar cantant (Eduardo Toldrá; José M. de Sagarra) 2:49
  (Ki 3513) 184191  
27. Cançó de l’oblit (Eduardo Toldrá; Tomas Garcés) 2:38
  (Ki 3515) 184191  

CD 1:
Languages: Spanish [1-6, 8, 10-15, 18, 20-26]; Galician [7]; Andalusian [9]; Catalan [16-17, 19]

CD 2:
Languages: Spanish [1-13, 15, 24-25]; Andalusian [14]; French [16-23]; Catalan [26-27]


The Frasquita recordings are presented here in score order.

Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston

Audio Assistance: J. Richard Harris

Photographs: Eduardo Benarroch, Gregor Benko, César Dillon, Marcos Klorman, and Peter van der Waal

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

Marston would like to thank Michael Aspinall, Gregor Benko, Bill Breslin, César Dillon, Marcos Klorman, Lawrence F. Holdridge, David Mason, Fabian Piscitelli, and Robert Tuggle.

For additional discographic information see British Institute of Recorded Sound Bulletin, No. 4 (Spring, 1957), Conchita Supervia Discography by Harold M. Barnes.

Conchita Supervia, Volume IV

One of the most magnetic singers of our day was Conchita Supervia, whose death in 1936 was a tragedy for music and a bitter blow to all her friends. Unusually beautiful, with large, expressive eyes, a small nose and the most beautifully shaped mouth I have ever seen, she had a mass of carefully disorganised auburn hair and the sort of figure, all curves and charm, that Latin taste judges to be perfect. She was always intensely alert and possessed of apparently inexhaustible vitality and a special sort of intelligence that one finds in very feminine women who are in no sense intellectuals. I can’t remember her reading books, for she was far too busy for what you might call serious reading. Her gaiety, good temper, sympathy and charm cloaked a keen intelligence and adamantine will power. To be with her was to inhabit a land of cloudless happiness; waiters and railway porters leapt devotedly to her service and everywhere men stopped to admire her as she passed. I once walked with her by the Arno, in Florence, where navvies engaged in road work put down their picks and stared in frank admiration as she passed. Supervia, without even a glance in their direction, sensed their admiration and visibly preened herself.

‘You surely don’t enjoy men looking at you like that?’ I asked.

‘I do,’ she replied, amused at such a very Anglo-Saxon question. ‘I don’t find it unpleasant to think that they are all saying to themselves, “If I was a rich man, that’s what I’d want.” You see, Italy is a woman’s country. In your country, if I walked down Bond Street,’ she went on lightheartedly, ‘not a man would notice me unless I pushed him off the pavement.’

Some artists make their careers very slowly. Supervia was not one of them—she was really quite young when she sang Octavian at the Scala and then went on to do Hansel and Gretel and a very wide repertoire of operas. She came for her first appearance in London at an orchestral concert in the Queen’s Hall conducted by the great classic conductor Felix Weingartner. After that one performance people talked about her. Everywhere I went I heard people say “Did you hear that Spanish singer—she’s fantastic.” I was very thrilled when a woman friend of mine said “Conchita Supervia is coming to lunch on Tuesday; will you come?” I turned up with my best collar and tie on; it was only a small party of four and I was the only man in the party and I could not get the conversation away from the lingerie of Paris. I couldn’t get a word in. I thought the whole meal had been wasted on me, but it was not long before we became good friends.

Everybody who had just met her for a few moments called her Conchita. I do not find it easy to describe Conchita, for she was unlike anybody I have ever met. The Gods were certainly lavish with their gifts to her. Once she said “How can you play for me if you have never seen me in an opera? I have got a concert in Monte Carlo; come down.” So I went to Monte Carlo and was strolling along the wonderful terraces in the sunshine and the first person, to my astonishment, that I ran into was the great Chaliapin; he said in that deep voice of his “What are you doing here?” So I said “I am here to play for Conchita Supervia.” He said, “They tell me she is a very beautiful woman.” I said “She’s not only a very beautiful woman but she’s a very accomplished artist.” Well, in that case, offer her my homage and tell her that although I have the voice of a basso profundo I have the heart of a tenor.” I told Conchita about that and she said “I am not interested in those Russian fantasies.”

I toured with Conchita not only all over the British Isles but also in Europe and America. From Montreal we went down to Havana where she had a fantastic success. I never saw her show the slightest sign of fatigue in spite of the long journeys. As soon as my eyes opened in the morning I grew accustomed to hearing her gentle and sweet voice on the telephone. She said, “My dear Eevor (Ivor), may I ask just a little sacrifeece (sacrifice) of you?” (Her sentences were a mixture of all the Latin languages and English words which she had a way of pronouncing in the Latin fashion.)

Harold Holt organised an extensive ‘International Celebrity Tour’ of joint recitals, in which Supervia would be joined by ‘cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and I would accompany them both. Supervia did not know Piatigorsky and asked what he was like. When I described him for her, she said, ‘How splendid! When I am singing, all the men in the audience will be delighted, and his playing will enchant all the women.’

Before we set out, I invited Piatigorsky to meet Supervia in the interval of one of her London recitals. Supervia welcomed him with all her natural warmth. Piatigorsky, usually the most voluble of men, smiled, bowed low and kissed her hand with all the grace one expects from a Russian in these circumstances; then, with more bows, he backed out of the room as though he were leaving the presence of royalty. ‘Your friend is not very talkative,’ was Supervia’s comment.

‘What happened to you?’ I asked Piatigorsky later. ‘I’ve never known you so quiet.’

‘I was too dazzled. Everything about her sparkled,’ he told me. ‘Not only her jewels and her dress, but she herself really glistened. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t think of a thing to say that was worthy of the occasion.’

Before long I was not only Conchita Supervia’s accompanist but also her go-between with managers and agents, for at this stage in her career, she had little knowledge of English; we talked in French, which, like Italian, she spoke beautifully. Remarkably soon, however, she could cope vividly, if not conventionally, with English. The speed with which she picked it up left me amazed, while her eccentric use of the language added to her charm. She had an incredible facility for wording telegrams in the most effective and the most economical way. “I find her English enchanting. Never let her improve her English,” said Hamilton Harty.

The only time I saw her less than her radiant best was during a crossing of the Atlantic in unpleasant weather. We were in the Mauretania, which was considered the rocking horse of the Atlantic. With an extreme effort on my part I reached her cabin and found her lying amongst a mass of pillows and much lace; wearing no make-up she looked much younger than I had ever seen her before. “Look into my eyes,” she said, “and assure me that we shall reach New York.” And then she said, “Why did we come? Neither of us was faced with starvation. That could be the only justification for enduring this hell of suffering.”

She was naturally generous and at the end of a tour would always send me a blank cheque together with a note explaining that she was not ‘good at the masculine repertoire’, so that I was to choose myself a present and to add to its cost all the small, casual expenses which I had incurred during the tour—tips, taxi fares and so on.

Soon after she arrived in England she had married a rich London businessman; at lunch at the Spanish Embassy one day, people questioned her about her husband. Was he Spanish? No. Was he English? ‘Oh no,’ replied Supervia, and, determined to achieve strict accuracy in an alien tongue, she paused to set the correct words in their proper order: ‘My husband is a Jewish gentleman.’

Conchita was very devoted to Rossini and she always sang Rosina in the original key, unlike the great sopranos over the years who have transposed the arias up a tone. Her triumph in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in Italy and France, and in similar roles in The Barber of Seville and L’ltaliana in Algeri, made her determined to appear as Rossini’s Cinderella at Covent Garden. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas Beecham, who was musical director of the opera at that time, was unshakably convinced that not only was the work beyond the services of artificial respiration but that the English public would never tolerate a Cinderella which had lost the traditional embellishments of pantomime. Supervia therefore instructed me to approach Geoffrey Toye, the manager of Covent Garden Opera House, and his brother Francis, the musicologist, and invite them on her behalf to Paris to hear La Cenerentola. Though neither believed that the opera would be a viable proposition for London, the idea of a comfortable weekend at the Ritz in Paris, even if it included an evening devoted to a Rossinian museum piece, was too attractive to be rejected. The two brothers went prepared to be bored but returned raving to Beecham about the glories of what they had seen and heard, for Supervia was partnered in the work by a couple of superb artists—Dino Borgioli and Ezio Pinza; the result of the Toyes’ enthusiasm was that Supervia was invited to Covent Garden the following season to sing six Carmens and six Cenerentolas.

Naturally delighted at the success of her suggestion, she accepted with only one condition, that she should sing all her Cenerentolas before embarking on her Carmens for, as she explained, the low tessitura of Bizet’s opera would make it very difficult for her to sing Rossini’s comparatively high coloratura. When the season was announced and Carmen billed for its opening night, she was determined that her proviso must be kept, but Beecham was no more ready than she to yield the point; naturally he felt that it would be wiser to open the season with a very popular singer in a very popular work which provided her with one of her finest roles rather than with an opera unknown in London.

The deadlock was completed when Supervia replied that if her original terms were not adhered to, she would not sing at all. This declaration was communicated to Beecham and, in the grand prima donna manner, simultaneously released to the press, who made much of it. She was very clever at fanning the flames. By a coincidence, Supervia’s presence in London coincided with the filming of Beverley Nichols’ novel, Evensong, which he had based upon the rivalry between an aged Queen of Song and a brilliant young singer who seemed destined to supplant her. As Nichols had been secretary to the ageing Melba, many people saw a resemblance between the elderly prima donna and her rival in his novel—and Melba and Toti dal Monte. The moment Victor Saville, the director of the film, read of Supervia’s dramatic refusal to sing at Covent Garden, he telephoned and offered her the part of the young and brilliant singer, a properly tempestuous and temperamental prima donna, opposite Evelyn Laye as the Queen of Song. Supervia’s acceptance was wonderful publicity for the film and also had the useful effect of keeping her within reach of Covent Garden should the opera house authorities feel disposed to come to terms with her.

During the making of Evensong, I was rung up by my friend Geoffrey Toye. ‘I am the General Manager of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,’ he declared portentously, apparently considering that the occasion called not for a friendly chat but the utmost formality. ‘I understand that you are the only one who has the ear of Madame Supervia. I wish you would explain to her that we have spent £3,000 on the production’ (by the standard of 1934 a very considerable sum), ‘and that Sir Thomas Beecham is greatly distressed by the situation that has arisen. Can you tell Madame Supervia that I will go anywhere to meet her and discuss the position?’

‘That won’t be easy,’ I told him, ‘because she has expressly forbidden me to utter the words “Covent Garden” in her hearing.’ But I promised to see what I could do and, when driving with her next morning to the film studio (for she had insisted that I too appeared and played in the film), I had summoned up courage enough by the time we reached Shepherds Bush to disobey her instructions. ‘Couldn’t you just see Geoffrey Toye?’ I asked. ‘Simply to talk to him would not commit you to anything.’

‘I shall not go out of my way to meet him,’ she replied slowly but firmly. ‘But let me see, I’m going to a film premiere tonight, and then to supper in Hill Street with the Rothschilds. But perhaps I could break my journey on the way, say at the Mayfair Hotel. If he would look for me in the lounge around half-past ten, I shall see him.’

The upshot of the renewed negotiations was that La Cenerentola was booked for performance on the final Wednesday and Friday (the latter being the closing night) of the season and went into immediate piano rehearsal. Sir Thomas had decided that the heroine must make her way to the ball in the traditional crystal coach drawn by six ponies and found an obscure Rossini overture to accompany her drive round the stage. I watched one early rehearsal from the back of the stalls. A répétiteur sat at that really dreadful old upright piano, well known to but hardly loved by those engaged in opera at Covent Garden, which had been wheeled on to the stage. Supervia was radiant and everybody else happy. At the point at which the drive took place, Sir Thomas interrupted proceedings. ‘How much of this music do we need?’ he asked. ‘Has anybody any idea how long the coach will take?’

No one had, and there seemed to be no alternative but to procure ponies and work the problem out. ‘Sir Thomas,’ cried Supervia, aware of another possible solution, ‘Geoffrey—come and be my snow white ponies.’

In the atmosphere of radiant high spirits which Supervia had brought into the rehearsal, the great conductor and the manager of the Royal Opera House leapt at the opportunity and, with Supervia cracking a whip around them, the two trotted, knees raised high, side by side like haute école horses round the stage, gravely pleased with their new task while the episode was timed.

‘Did you see that?’ said Supervia to me in delight at the end of the rehearsal. ‘After all the unhappiness they caused me over this production, I got them where I wanted them. I can’t tell you how I enjoyed using that whip!’

When it was at last seen, its success surpassed anything that might have been expected; the critics were almost ecstatic in their praise of Supervia’s acting, the charm and simplicity other characterisation and the fact that, as she sang it, the coloratura of Rossini’s music, its elaborate fioriture and roulades became entirely expressive, not merely a display of vocal skill. Even Ernest Newman, no devotee of Italian opera, wrote delightedly of Supervia as an actress and as a singer to whom the decorative complexities of Rossini’s music were exquisitely phrased, deeply expressive ingredients of a beautifully designed work.

‘The statue of Rossini must be smiling tonight,’ I told her. Supervia refused to believe that London contained a statue of the composer, but when I had convinced her that Rossini is one of the marble celebrities carved around the Albert Memorial, she insisted that I joined her in laying flowers at his feet.

So overwhelmed was the Covent Garden management by this triumph that it immediately engaged Supervia to open the next season with La Cenerentola, to add to it Rossini’s L’ltaliana in Algeri and to sing Carmen later in the season. The triumph was, of course, repeated. Carmen, however, led to another struggle between Beecham and the charmingly implacable Supervia. Few people whose will ran counter to Sir Thomas Beecham’s ever had their way, but when Supervia first sang Carmen at Covent Garden, she was determined not to sing the recitatives (added after the composer’s death) but to restore the spoken dialogue as is usual at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Despite Sir Thomas’s opposition, the ‘poème parlé’ was used after a series of battles which left the conductor furious and the singer undisturbed. At the dress rehearsal, Sir Thomas, already in a difficult mood, soon found fault with the boys’ chorus in Act I.

‘Where is the chorus master?’ he roared. ‘These boys have entirely the wrong tempo and never so much as look at me.’ He flung down the screen that had been put round the rostrum to shield him from draughts to stalk out, declaring, as he made his way through the empty auditorium, ‘Nothing on earth will induce me to conduct this opera tomorrow night.’ There was appreciable consternation on the crowded stage; the chorus stood pale and aghast and I, for my part, was convinced that irreparable disaster had struck the production. The stage manager saved the situation by shouting, in a voice empty of emotion, ‘Break for an hour!’ Urgent messages were sent to Geoffrey Toye, at the Savoy Hotel, to bring him back to the opera house as peacemaker. I made my way to Supervia’s dressing-room to offer her heartfelt but, as it turned out, unnecessary sympathy; like the stage manager, she remained unmoved. ‘It’s nothing,’ she said. ‘You should see the scenes I’ve endured in rehearsals in Italian opera houses.’

On the evening of the performance she determined to make her peace with the temperamental but susceptible maestro. She left an urgent message with the stage door keeper for Sir Thomas, in response to which he came to her dressing-room shortly before the curtain was due to rise and was told that, as they both wished to give the performance of their lives, they could only do so if there was love and understanding between them. ‘He said nothing,’ Supervia reported to me afterwards, ‘he just took my hand and kissed it with tears in his eyes.’

I described this reconciliation to one of Sir Thomas’s closest friends. ‘That’s a charming story,’ she commented. ‘I believe it, too—except for that bit about tears. He’s never wept in his life—he’s incapable of it!’

Conchita was constantly asked on tour to sing the arias from Carmen but she very firmly refused. She said they belong to the opera and have no meaning away from the stage. Unlike some opera singers, Supervia was fascinated by the problems recitals present, and went to a good deal of trouble to select interesting, original programmes. Before she spoke any English, as soon as she had met English audiences, she was eager to learn some English songs. She said to me “You must help me.” That was a sort of royal command. I couldn’t imagine anyone less suited to sing English songs than Conchita so I had to give a great deal of thought to it; the first I thought of was a very old English song Have you seen but a white lillie grow? Fortunately Conchita liked it; her diction was impeccable in this and to hear her pronounce the word “white” was just the absolute quintessence of purity. I taught her a number of them which appealed to her—amongst them was the folk-song ‘Oh, no John’, which appropriately declares ‘My father was a Spanish Captain.’ She liked this immensely—and she began to sing in English with remarkably clear enunciation; her diction in English songs was already a lesson to many native singers before she could speak the language.


I had played a great deal for soprano Emma Calvé and we always had in the programme a song which Guy d’Hardelot wrote for her called Lesson with the fan. Calvé moved with utmost grace and could handle a fan with great elegance—something all the ladies of fashion in those days prided themselves on. This was always considered a sign of good breeding. Being a Spaniard Supervia knew how to handle a fan and liked the song very much but I felt that I myself could not get across to her exactly what had been in the composer’s mind. So Mme. d’Hardelot agreed to sing the song to Conchita and talk to her about it. Now she was then very old; she had already changed her red wig for a grey one and she was very frail: we had great difficulty in getting her up to the first floor drawing room of Conchita’s house, then in Westminster. Guy liked to sing her own songs, but she sang like a basso profundo with a cold. It was an extraordinary sound that she made, right down in her boots, and on these occasions she always accompanied herself. I introduced her to Conchita and said “I wish you would sing this to Conchita and just give her some idea of this song.” Guy then gave the most extraordinary performance—right down about four octaves below any sound ever heard from a human voice before: it could have been made by a very old man. But with her eyes and eyebrows and smiles she conveyed the naughty elegance of the period. When we had seen her back into her car Conchita said in that feminine way of hers: “What a wonderful life that woman must have led!” Conchita’s recordings of these songs are still eagerly sought after.

In Spanish music—the Seven Popular Spanish Songs of Falla, for instance, or Granados’s Tonadillas—the agility and technical brilliance of her performance was joined by the poise and breeding one associated with Spain. One of the most moving items in her programmes was a completely wordless song by Nin, Canto elegiaco Gitano, in which a gypsy woman laments by the grave of her child; Supervia sang it with a wealth of tone colour and vocal shading which made words quite unnecessary. Equally touching and delightful was the sense of fantasy with which she would deliver songs like El paño Murciano, another piece by Nin, in which an Andalusian girls asks a silversmith how much it will cost to set her lover’s kiss in a ring so that she can always have it with her.

Spaniards seem to be born with a faultless sense of rhythm. ‘Remember,’ she told me once, ‘in Spanish music a rallentando is the greatest luxury you can ever allow yourself, and you can allow it to yourself only very rarely.’ Supervia loved to sing and seemed always to be eager for the next performance; but her confidence was entirely without conceit. ‘Is every nerve in your body awake?’ she often used to ask me just before we went on to the stage, and when I hopefully assured her that every nerve was tingling with impatience, she would say, ‘Good, let us begin.’

Supervia’s vitality seemed to be endless; she never showed fatigue and her gaiety was inexhaustible. While we were in New York, an author, a composer and a producer called on her hoping that they could persuade her to play the lead in a new operetta set in Spain; they described it to her at some length, but even when they told her the salary that would be offered to her, Supervia said, ‘I would rather go back to England and have a baby.’

One day in the spring of 1936, not long after our return, she and her husband invited me to their home in Lowndes Square to show me the nursery they had equipped for the baby she was expecting. The perfection of their elaborate arrangements reminded me of the preparations made for the arrival of Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome. Supervia was lively, confident and very happy. ‘Do come soon,’ she said ‘and see my little Easter Egg.’ Twenty-four hours later, at the height of her fame and with, one would have thought, many years other glorious career still ahead other, she was dead.

Her mother came to her bedside after her death, to prepare her body for a Catholic funeral, bringing with her candles and a crucifix, but was stopped. To her horror she found that Supervia had, out of love for her husband, become a Jewess towards the end of her life, and that she was to be buried with her stillborn baby in a Jewish cemetery without ritual. Her husband commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to design her tomb and Sir William Reid Dick, at that time the most celebrated sculptor in England, to carve a tortoise, always her mascot, to be placed upon it. Supervia remained with us in England and was not, at the end, separated from the faith she had adopted.

It was left to her fourteen-year-old son Georgio, to pronounce her epitaph with the sudden wisdom which is sometimes revealed to the young. In the midst of his unbearable sorrow he spoke suddenly. ‘Mamma has been spared a lot,’ he said. ‘She couldn’t have borne to grow old. There’s a lot to be thankful for. She would have hated to lose her looks and her voice. She couldn’t have borne life in obscurity.’

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Note: This article comprises most of the material from the chapter on Supervia in Ivor Newton’s memoir, At The Piano—Ivor Newton The World of an Accompanist published by Hamish Hamilton in 1966, with material added from a talk on Supervia that Newton gave at the British Institute of Recorded Sound on 18 December 1972. While permission to reprint the talk has been granted by the British Library, exhaustive attempts have been made to find the right’s holder of Newton’s memoirs, without success.