Licia Albanese (1909-2014)

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The Italian-born soprano has died at the age of 105

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Licia Albanese (1909-2014)

US opera star Licia Albanese has died at her home in New York aged 105.

The Italian-born soprano achieved fame for her interpretation of the title roles of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Tosca.

Revered for her pinpoint diction and sensitive dramatic interpretation she had early success in Italy, France and England before beginning a long association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she gave hundreds of performances between 1940 and 1966.

Known for being a lirico-spinto soprano with a voice well suited for lyric roles, Albanese also had the ability to be weightier and dramatic without strain. Perhaps due to her long life, she was likely the last singer of her generation to have been considered a prima donna assoluta, a reputation she denied, retorting to The San Francisco Chronicle in 2004: ‘Diva? Hah! I was never a diva. No, no. What does it mean? Only God makes a diva. No, just call me a plain singer with lots of expression’. Regardless, she spent her prime awash in bouquets at curtain calls with admirers following her from city to city to hear her sing.

American by adoption, Albanese began her career at the Teatro Lirico in Milan in 1934, where she was understudying Butterfly. She became known for her sensitive dramatic interpretations, her nuanced physical gesture and the way in which she created her characters: in particular Puccini’s doomed, fragile heroines. 

She wowed critics as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, a role she performed with the New York Met more than 90 times, a record for the company that remains unbroken.

In retirement, Albanese gave masterclasses around the world as well as establishing the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to assist up-and-coming singers.

David Quinn

Photo: Sedge Leblang/Metropolitan Opera