Licia Albanese, 1909-2014

by Dave Schuler on August 20, 2014

Opera superstar of the 1940s Licia Albanese has died:

Felicia Albanese was born in Bari, in southern Italy, on July 23, 1909. She began singing as a girl, becoming a pupil of Giuseppina Baldassarre-Tedeschi, a noted Butterfly in her day.

Miss Albanese made her debut unexpectedly in 1934, at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. At a performance of “Madama Butterfly” at which she was understudying the title role, the soprano became ill during Act I. Miss Albanese was hustled onstage for Act II.

A great success, she went on to appear at La Scala, Covent Garden and other European houses.

She left Italy for New York in 1939 and the next year, on Feb. 9, made her Met debut as Cio-Cio-San. Reviewing her performance in The Times, Olin Downes wrote:

“She sounded the note of tragedy and made it the more poignant by the constant light and shade of her dramatic interpretation. There was a real simplicity and contagious emotion in it, and everything was so thoughtfully proportioned that climaxes had never to be forced or passion torn to tatters to make it carry across the footlights.”
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At the Met, Miss Albanese’s other roles included Susanna in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” Micaela in Bizet’s “Carmen,” Marguerite in Gounod’s “Faust” and Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello.” She was also a mainstay at the San Francisco Opera, where she sang for many years.

Miss Albanese, who became a United States citizen in the 1940s, received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1995.

She debuted in 1934 and, astonishingly, continued performing until 1985 when she appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.

I never heard her; I only know of her from old recordings from the 1940s. She had a truly remarkable voice particularly in the upper register. She was the dominant operatic soprano in the United States in the 1940s in a way no one is today.

I honestly had no idea she was still alive. 105!

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