Friday, August 15, 2014

Licia Albanese

A report on Parterre Box says that the great soprano Licia Albanese has died at 101. Well, no: she was 105, unless you think she lied on her naturalization papers, which state that she was born in 1909.

In any event, she lived to a ripe old age, and very likely got to celebrate her 100th birthday twice.

She was a wonderful singer, with a lovely voice and a born feel for the line of Italian opera. As evidence, I offer up my favorite recording of La Boheme, from 1938, with Albanese and the equally great Beniamino Gigli as Rodolfo. Here they are, in Act I, from "Buona sera" through to "O soave fanciulla." If they don't touch you, you have no heart.

Aren't they wonderful?

Her voice was on the slender side, especially for some of the repertory she sang. It's a little hard to imagine her as Tosca, though it's obvious she would have nailed it stylistically. And you don't necessarily want to hear her in Mozart. But in Italian opera, she was supreme; a great Liu, partly captured on record in 1937 with Eva Turner; a great Violetta; a great Mimi; a great Butterfly.

I met her once, in 2004 or 2005, when I was actively researching a biography of Turner. She adored San Francisco, sang here often during her career, and visited regularly after her retirement. She was lovely to speak with and told me a few telling tidbits about Turner's personality. In truth, she didn't remember that much about how Turner had sounded back in 1937, but it really did not matter much. I feel lucky to have met her.

A long life, a great career, greatly loved - what more could you want?

Rest in peace, Licia Albanese.

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