Known as the soprano who has most performed in Pablo Casals’ oratorio El Pessebre, Olga Iglesias, the youngest of eight children born to Rafael Iglesias Normandín and María Victoria Antoni Rodriguez, was born on March 22, 1929 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Raised in a musical household, Olga was exposed to music at an early age and showed talent in singing. At the age of 14, she was already performing in front of her classmates and teachers at school functions. Around this age she began to study with esteemed Puerto Rican tenor Antonio Paoli and afterwards with Spanish soprano Ángeles Ottein. In the 1947 season, Olga made her public debut on May 4, 1947 at La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico, during the first annual “The Week of Music”. At this occasion she sang Verdi’s Caro Nome from Rigoletto and Ah! for’se lui from La Traviata.
After completing her musical studies in Philadelphia and New York, with scholarship granted to her by the Puerto Rican government, Olga Iglesias returned to Puerto Rico to begin in earnest a musical career which little did she know would be taking her on course to work closely with Pablo Casals as his primary choice of soprano for his oratorio of peace, El Pessebre, and Casals: Six Songs.
During the 1950’s Olga Iglesias traveled throughout the island of Puerto Rico giving concerts and recitals under the auspices of El Instituto de Cultura Puertoriqueña alongside Marta Montañez, cellist, Luz Hutchinson , pianist, and her husband, Henry Hutchinson, violinist, among many others. In addition to these engagements, Olga belonged to the Círculo Operático, a musical group of local operatic singers founded by Puerto Rican soprano Rina de Toledo and Puerto Rican pianist Elsa Rivera Salgado to promote the classical arts and local culture throughout Puerto Rico. Of note, Olga also appeared on many occasions on the local public television station, WIPR-TV, and WAPA-TV.
In 1958 Olga Iglesias made her Casals Festival debut in Ponce, Puerto Rico under the direction of Richard Burgin. This was the first of several performances to come in which Olga would sing as a participant of the Casals Festival. In July of 1960, Olga received a letter by renowned violinist and conductor Alexander Schneider, who at the time was functioning also in an administrative capacity for the Casals Festival. He indicated that Pablo Casals had selected her to be the soloist in three concerts in which Pablo Casals would conduct. These concerts took place in March of 1961 in which she sang Donizetti’s Regnava nei silenzio from Lucia de Lammermoor and Mozart’s No, no che non sei from K. 419. In 1963, under Pablo Casals’ baton, she later went on to Carnegie Hall under the Casals Festival to perform in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion (BWV 244) and in 1964 to sing in Haydn’s The Creation. These are two of three performances she had at Carnegie Hall, among many others with Pablo Casals and the Casals Festival.
Beginning in 1960, Pablo Casals began to take his oratorio of peace, El Pessebre, across the world as conductor. Pablo Casals used El Pessebre as a vehicle to promote his message of peace. From the American debut in San Francisco in 1962 to its final performance in 1972, Olga Iglesias has been the soprano that has most sung in Pablo Casals’ El Pessebre. Such notable performances include the 1963 and 1967 concerts at the United Nations, the Athens Festival in 1966 held at the Herodes Attticus in Athens, Greece, and in Pablo Casals’ native land of Barcelona, Spain in 1967. In addition to these, with Olga as soprano, El Pessebre was also performed in Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, Venezuela, Switzerland, France, England, Israel, Germany, and throughout the USA.
In 1965, with Rudolf Serkin as the artistic director, Olga Iglesias received correspondence confirming her participation in the annual Marlboro Music Festival in Marlboro, Vermont. In attendance that summer was also Pablo Casals, a frequent participant. In the summer of 1966 Olga returned to Marlboro once again, but this time to actually record Casals: Six Songs with Mieczyslaw Horszowski on piano with supervision by the composer, Pablo Casals. This recording can still be commercially obtained today.
After Pablo Casals’ death in 1973, Olga Iglesias continued to perform in the Casals Festival, to appear with the Symphonic Orchestra of Puerto Rico, and also to sing once again under the auspices of El Instituto de Cultura Puertoriqueña. One of her final public concerts was performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in April 1986. Apart from performing, Olga was a voice professor as well as eventually the department head of the voice department for the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico.
Olga Iglesias passed away on May 26, 2013 in Hollywood, Florida having contributed to the Pablo Casals legacy as well as to the classical music scene of Puerto Rico. Surviving her was her high school sweetheart and husband, Robert I. Cheney, her only child, Robert I. Cheney Jr., two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.