Born into an old Andalusian family, Supervia (whose actual name was Concepción Supervía Pascual) may have studied at the Barcelona Conservatory and made her operatic stage debut early, just before her fifteenth birthday. This was with a troupe known as the Spanish Opera Company, who were appearing in a short extra autumn season in 1910 at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. Here she sang in performances of Blanca de Beaulieu by the Argentinian composer César Stiattesi, Los amantes de Teruel by the Spanish composer Tomás Bretón and Lola in Cavalleria rusticana. She returned to the Barcelona Conservatory before appearing in Italy at Lecce (singing the title role in Carmen), Osimo (the title role in Mignon) and Bari (Casilda in Marchetti’s Ruy Blas).
The breakthrough in Supervia’s career came with her engagement to sing Octavian in the Italian premiere of Der Rosenkavalier in Rome during late 1911—probably one of the few occasions when this role has been sung by someone younger than the character. She first sang in Barcelona in 1912, making a strong impact as Dalila / Samson et Dalila and as Carmen, which she repeated at La Fenice in Venice. After a season at Havana in 1914, when she added Leonora / La favorita to her repertoire, she returned to the Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona to sing her first Rossini role, Rosina / Il barbiere di Siviglia, which was greeted with great public and critical enthusiasm. During the winter of 1915–1916 she appeared with the Chicago Opera, singing Charlotte / Werther, Mignon and Carmen in distinguished company.
Thereafter Supervia sang mainly in Italy, Spain and later France and England. During 1917 and 1918 she sang at the Teatro del Verme, Milan and at Turin, as well as in recital, before returning to Barcelona to repeat her Dalila at the Liceu. She first sang Angelina / La Cenerentola in Bologna at the end of 1921 as well as Carmen. Later she sang Marguerite in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust at Bergamo in the 1922–1923 season.
After further appearances in Genoa, Rome, Turin and Ferrara she made her debut at La Scala, Milan in early 1925 as Hänsel / Hänsel und Gretel, receiving high critical praise. Later roles at La Scala included Octavian (1927 and 1928) and Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro, with Richard Strauss conducting both his own opera and that by Mozart (1928). Meanwhile she had sung Isabella / L’italiana in Algeri in Rome at the end of 1926, with Vittorio Gui conducting, and in the following year took part in the first performances of Gui’s opera La fata Malerba at Turin.
From 1927 onwards Supervia became extremely active in the recording studios of the Lindström labels (acquired by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1926) in Barcelona, Milan and later Paris. During 1929 she sang Concepción in the first Italian performances of Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole at La Scala, followed by performances of L’italiana in Algeri, La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Rossini Festival held at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. She made her debut at the Opéra-Comique at the beginning of 1930 as Carmen, followed by a second Rossini Festival in Paris.
During the following year, 1931, Supervia first appeared in Britain in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall conducted by Sir Henry Wood. She also married, to a British industrialist, making London her home. During 1932 she returned to Chicago to sing Carmen and in 1933 sang the title role in the French premiere of Lehár’s Frasquita at the Opéra-Comique, followed by La Cenerentola at the Maggio Musicale, Florence.
It was also with this opera that Supervia made her debut at the Royal Opera House, London in 1934. She followed it with Carmen and subsequently sang as Musetta in excerpts from La Bohème in the British film Evensong. Engaged to return to Covent Garden for the summer of 1936, she died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child in March 1936. What turned out to be her final appearance took place at a concert in Copenhagen in the spring of 1935.
Supervia possessed a rich and flexible voice, notable for its fast vibrato, as well as excellent diction and a vivid stage presence – contemporary critics frequently commented upon the subtlety and poise of her stage acting. Her numerous records covered a wide repertoire, from Mozart to Spanish songs.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).