Licia Albanese (July 22, 1909 – August 15, 2014) was an Italian-born American operatic soprano. Noted especially for her portrayals of the lyric heroines of Verdi and Puccini, Albanese was a leading artist with the Metropolitan Opera from 1940 to 1966. She also made many recordings and was chairwoman of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, which is dedicated to assisting young artists and singers.
Felicia Albanese was born in July 1909 in Torre Pelosa, (a subdivision of Noicattaro, Italy). Later she went to Torre a Mare, a quarter of Bari (the chief town of the Apulia region). She made her unofficial debut in Milan in 1934, when she replaced another soprano in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the role for which she would be celebrated.
Over 40 years, she sang more than 300 performances of Cio-Cio-San. Although she has been praised for many of her roles, including Mimì, Violetta, Liù and Manon Lescaut, it is her portrayal of the geisha which has remained her best known. Her connection with that work began early with her teacher, Giuseppina Baldassare-Tedeschi, a contemporary of the composer, and an important exponent of the title role in the previous generation.
Thank you Lou Barrella for this fitting tribute!
Albanese made her Metropolitan Opera debut on February 9, 1940, in the first of 72 performances as Madama Butterfly at the old Metropolitan Opera House in spite of the fact that after the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, performances of that opera were banned in the U.S. until the end of World War II. Her success was instantaneous, and Albanese remained at the Met for 26 seasons, performing a total of 427 performances of 17 roles in 16 operas.
Her voice had a distinctive character which the Italians call a lirico spinto, marked by its quick vibrato, incisive diction, intensity of attack and unwavering emotional impact. During her career, she performed with many of the greats of opera including Beniamino Gigli, Claudia Muzio, Jussi Björling, and Franco Corelli. She worked with some of the best conductors of her time, but it is her work with Toscanini that has endured.
Albanese was chairman of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, founded in 1974 and dedicated to assisting young artists and singers. She also served as a trustee of the Bagby Foundation. She worked with the Juilliard School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, and Marymount Manhattan College, and conducted master classes throughout the world.
She was awarded the prestigious Handel Medallion, the highest official honor given by the City of New York and presented to individuals for their contributions to the city’s cultural life, from Rudolph Giuliani in 2000. At the ceremony, Mayor Giuliani commemorated the career of a woman who is “without question [one] of the most loved and respected performers in the world.”
By the time Licia Albanese left us in her 105th year, her place as one of the greats in the history of opera and in the hearts of her public was secure.