I first heard Cathy Berberian sing at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1974. I was bowled over, like everybody else in the hall: we had never heard and seen anybody like her on the concert stage. You had to see as well as hear her to fully appreciate the phenomenon that she was.
Cathy was born to sing in public. That was obvious the moment she entered the stage. I can no longer recall whether her hair was dyed white or very light blond—in any case, it provided a curly frame for her face, which was dominated by her large eyes enhanced by long false lashes and by her prominent nose with its Armenian curve. Her smile made you respond in kind, her speaking voice and her body language—where her hands spoke their own dialect—put you immediately at ease and held you captive. But what mattered most was that you sensed she was genuine.
When we met in her hotel, the hair and the eyelashes were in place; at close range they made a rather garish impression. Not to speak of her nails, their polish adorned with tiny music notes. Until the concert and the interview, the Cathy Berberian I had in mind was a rather plain and plump woman, with thick glasses camouflaging her eyes, and her dark, richly abundant hair worn in an unimaginative, rather prosaic hairdo.