Rita Montaner, the One, the one from Cuba

Rita Montaner, the One, the one from Cuba


Ana Maria Silveira

Versatility, charisma and Cubanness made Rita Montaner an essential figure in the culture of this Caribbean island, known by all generations of the country, where she is considered the only one.

Rita Aurelia Fulceda Montaner y Facenda, her full name, was born in the Havana neighborhood of Guanabacoa on August 20, 1900, daughter of a mestizo mother and white father, a mixture that contributed so much to national identity. Her biographers say she inherited physical beauty and fondness for music, from her mother and from her father, his character, which in the case of the diva could become rebellious and explosive.

She studied music theory, harmony, piano and singing at the Eduardo Peyrellade Conservatory of Music and Declamation of Havana, from which she graduated with honors in 1917, and later received singing lessons in New York from Italian professor. Alberto Biomboni.

As a pianist she was notable, but she opted for singing, with a soprano voice that specialists describe as impressive, very well prepared for opera, and her vast repertoire included arias, lieders and other expressions of so-called cultured music.

However, Rita preferred popular art with Afro-Cuban nuances, in which, according to the writer and musicologist Alejo Carpentier, she was unsurpassed.

The most prominent Cuban composers of the time had her as their interpreter. In 1927, she made her professional debut in the theater with the zarzuela La Niña Rita or Havana in 1830, by the great Ernesto Lecuona and Eliseo Grenet, in which she represented the character of a black coachman and sang ¡Ay !, Mama Inés.

That congo tango by Grenet, together with the vendor cry El manisero (peanut vendor), by Moisés Simon, and Canto Siboney, by Lecuona, are among the melodies that went around the world in her voice and transcended time. She was successful and shared musical stages with important figures from America and Europe, although her imprint did not remain there. With spontaneous grace and histrionic talent, she was also an outstanding comic and dramatic actress, with some 15 films to her credit, in Cuba and especially in Mexico, and a pioneer of radio and television in her country, media in which she created characters. that gave her greater popularity.

In her last years (1956), she starred in a whole tour de force when she premiered in Cuba the opera La medium, by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, in which she reaffirmed her extraordinary faculties for bel canto. On April 17, 1958, as a result of cancer, Rita Montaner died in Havana. National Poet Nicolás Guillén also called her Rita of Cuba.