Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona by Freddie Mercury

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Barcelona, how can I forget?
The moment that you walked into the room
you took my breath away Read full Lyrics
Between 1987 and 1988, iconic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury got together with the highly accomplished operatic soprano Dame Montserrat Caballé, and recorded the song "Barcelona." The result was a rare and exciting fusion of pop and classical opera that tells not only of a beautiful city, but also of a beautiful friendship.

Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury, was born in 1946 to a Parsi community in Zanzibar, growing up between Zanzibar and India until age 17 (making him Britian's first Asian rock star). In 1964, he fled with his family to Middlesex, England due to the threat of the violent Zanzibar Revolution. After earning a diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College, Mercury joined a slew of small bands that found little success. Eventually he joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (then in the band 'Smile') and formed Queen. He officially changed his surname from Bulsara to Mercury around the same time. Though his solo career is usually eclipsed by his success with Queen, Mercury's skill as a singer, instrumentalist, stage performer and songwriter remains constant across all his work. He has been voted by several eminent musical magazines as 'the greatest male singer of all time,' and what is perhaps Queen's most famous song, "Bohemian Rhapsody" (voted the greatest song of all time), was composed mostly by Mercury.

The Arc de Triomf (Triumphal Arch) in Barcelona<br>Photo: katerina198, PixabayThe Arc de Triomf (Triumphal Arch) in Barcelona
Photo: katerina198, Pixabay
Dame Montserrat Concepción Bibiana Caballé i Folch is a native to Barcelona, where she studied music at the Liceu Conservatory, and trained in singing technique with the great Conchita Badía. In 1997 she released the album Friends for Life, produced by Mike Moran (who also worked on the Barcelona album). The album includes duets with singers such as Bruce Dickinson, Gino Vannelli, Johnny Logan, Helmut Lotti, and Johnny Hallyday, as well as further collaboration with electronic composer Vangelis (whom she previously worked with on his album El Greco). Though her accomplishments in both classical opera and collaborative pop are undeniable, none of her other collaborations compare to her "Barcelona" duet with Mercury in terms of passionate sentiment and the fusion of two most remarkable voices.

"Barcelona" is the first track on the two-disc album of the same name, released in 1988. This collaboration with Caballé would be Mercury's final solo project before his death of bronchopneumonia (brought on by AIDS) in 1991. After Barcelona was selected to host the upcoming Summer Olympics, Mercury was asked to write the theme for the impending games. He collaborated with producer Mike Moran, and together the two shared creative control of the project. The song was to be a duet with Montserrat Caballé, who hails from the city. Long before their initial meeting, Mercury had been a great admirer of Caballé's voice, but over the course of their collaboration she grew to reciprocate the admiration. Though their schedules permitted very little face-to-face time (to the extent that Caballé's parts were mostly recorded in other locations and sent through the mail), a strong sense of friendship and mutual respect grew between the two artists while sharing what little time they had in Barcelona.

Skyscraper Torre Agbar, Barcelona<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Torre_Agbar.jpg">Susana Calvera</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en">CC BY-SA 2.0 DE</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsSkyscraper Torre Agbar, Barcelona
Photo: Susana Calvera, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
The city of Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain (after Madrid), and the capital city of Catalonia. As is the case with most great European cities, Barcelona has had its share of historical strife. It acted as a Republican stronghold in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 –'39. Unfortunately, the Republican government lost, and Barcelona paid dearly for its resistance. The native Catalan language was actively suppressed, and all autonomous institutions abolished. Hosting the Olympic Games in 1992 helped revitalise the city, which today is one of the world's leading centres of tourism, economy, trade and fair exhibitions, and cultural sports. The city was recently ranked Europe's fastest improving city as well as the world's most successful "city brand," and is on the road to becoming one of the major cultural and economic hubs of south-western Europe. Above all, the city is beautiful, and its architectural and geographical richness is referenced in the song's lyrics: Barcelona, such a beautiful horizon. Barcelona, like a jewel in the sun.

This song shows Barcelona as the place of a brief but bright flash of friendship between two truly remarkable vocalists, and although their bond was cut short by Mercury's early death, at least he got the wish expressed in the song's closing verse:

If God is willing, if God is willing, if God is willing, friends until the end! Viva Barcelona!

Stefan Smit
June 9, 2014
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