TX: inscribed with fountain pen at lower center of picture <To Barbara [Kokin] / sincerely / Licia Albanese>, stamped at rear upper right diagonally <Please Credit, Photo By: / Sedge LeBlang / Photographer For / The Metropolitan Opera / 147 West 39th St., N.Y. PE. 6-8640>, inscribed with pencil at lower center <1042-3>
CM: Licia Albanese is a distinguished Italian soprano and chairman of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, founded in 1974 and dedicated to assisting young artists and singers. She was born in Bari, Italy on 22 July 1913. Licia Albanese made her unofficial debut in Milan in 1934, when she replaced an absent performer in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, the opera with which she would forever be connected. She has been praised for many of her roles, including Cio-Cio San, Liù, Manon Lescaut, Mimì, and Violetta. There is some controversy regarding when she made her formal debut. It was either in that same year (1934) at the Teatro Municipale in Bari, singing in La Bohème, or in Parma, or in Milan in 1935 in Madama Butterfly. By the end of that year, she had debuted at La Scala as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. She soon realized great success all over the world, especially for her performances in Carmen, L'amico Fritz and Madama Butterfly in Italy, France and England.
Following her considerable success in Italy, France, England, and Malta, Licia Albanese made her Metropolitan Opera debut on Friday, 9 February 1940, in the first of 72 performances on the Japanese bridge of the Madama Butterfly set at the old Metropolitan Opera House. 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. She left the company in 1966 in a dispute with General Manager Rudolf Bing without a grand farewell. After performing in four productions during 1965-66, she was scheduled for only one performance the next season. She returned her contract unsigned.
Arturo Toscanini invited Albanese to join his broadcast concert performances of La Boheme and La Traviata with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in NBC's Studio 8-H in 1946. Both complete performances were later issued on LP and CD by RCA Victor. She was also a mainstay at the San Francisco Opera where she sang between 1941 and 1961, performing 22 roles in 120 performances over 20 seasons, remaining in part because of her admiration for its famed director, Gaetano Merola. Throughout her career, she has continued to perform widely. In recital, concert, and opera, she was heard throughout the country; she participated in benefits, entertained the troops, had her own weekly radio show, was a guest on other broadcasts and telecasts, and recorded frequently.
Even after a career spanning seven decades, Albanese continued to perform occasionally. After hearing her sing the national anthem during a Met opening, Stephen Sondheim and Thomas Z. Shepard cast her as operetta diva Heidi Schiller in Sondheim's Follies in concert with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in 1985. During the 1987 spring season of the Theater Under the Stars in Houston, Texas, Albanese starred in a stage revival of Follies, which was a great success.
Praised for nearly every role she undertook, Albanese is particularly renowned for her Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata and Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème. Her popularity in La Traviata was such that she sang more performances of that opera at the Met and the San Francisco Opera than any other singer in either company's history. Schuyler Chapin describes her as "a splendid former prima donna of the Italian repertoire, remembered by old-timers as the frailest Mimi, the tenderest Butterfly, and perhaps the most haunting of modern Violettas."
Her voice has 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 all the contemporary greats of opera - Beniamino Gigli (whom she always addressed, respectfully, as Commendatore), Claudia Muzio, Jussi Björling, and Franco Corelli. She worked with the best conductors of her time, but it is her work with Arturo Toscanini that has endured. Despite her talent and numerous performances, she was not the best known of her contemporaries, overshadowed in her day by Milanov, Callas, and Tebaldi.
Alfredo Vecchio, a frequent member of the audience at her performances, gave the following tribute to the career of Licia Albanese at the Columbus Club, Park Avenue, New York City, in 1986: "Like all great artists, Licia's specific ingenuity as a singer, the originality of her art, lay in the fact that technique for this artist at least was always a means to an end and never an end in itself: for the salient features of all great art is the ability to connect technique to the emotions. Any other approach would have been for Albanese contrary to the musical sense with which she was born, contrary to musical training she acquired, and, if such exists, contrary to her musical morality. It was this, Licia's uniqueness and musical mastery which drew me, which drew us, into the world of Mimi, Cio-Cio-San, Manon, Liu and Violetta week after week, year after year, inviting me to a place and places I had never been before. It is for all these reasons that Virgil Thomson was able to write of Licia's first Violetta: "She did not sing the role, she recreated it for our times." As we all know, Albanese's art is capable of the widest range of effects from the tragic to the comedic, from dramatic repertoire to the lyrical and even soubrette: and for anyone fortunate enough to have heard her rendition of operetta pieces, she leaves no doubt in the mind that she was born to the operetta form as well as to the rest. [Ulrich 2004]
To all of her work, Albanese has brought passion and commitment, with her rich soprano voice, equalized throughout its range, thrilling in its climaxes. However, despite her repeated performances, she never fell into routine. As she explained in a 2004 interview with Allan Ulrich of the San Francisco Chronicle, "I always changed every performance. I was never boring, and I am against copying. What I learned from the great singers was not to copy, but that the drama is in the music." [Ulrich 2004]
Albanese is chairman of the The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, founded in 1974 and dedicated to assisting young artists and singers. She also serves as a trustee of the Bagby Foundation. She works with the Juilliard School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, and Marymount Manhattan College, and conducts master classes throughout the world.
Albanese became an American citizen in 1945. On 5 October 1995, President Bill Clinton presented her with the National Medal of Honor for the Arts. She has received awards and honorary degrees from Marymount Manhattan College, Montclair State Teachers College, Saint Peter's College, New Jersey, Seton Hall University, University of South Florida, Fairfield University, Siena College, Caldwell College, and Fairleigh Dickinson University. She received 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." [Archives of the Mayor's Press Office 20/11/2000]
ULRICH, ALLAN Many a tear was shed when soprano Licia Albanese sang 04/10/2004 San Francisco Chronicle, California
PRESS RELEASE Mayor Giuliani presents Handel Medallion to Licia Alabense & Roberta Peters 20/11/2000 Archives of the Mayor's Press Office, New York