Italian Soprano, Puccini Star Licia Albanese Dies Aged 105

By James Inverne on Aug 19, 2014 04:23 PM EDT

Licia Albanese, one of the great Italian sopranos of the 20th century, has died. There has been some discussion about her precise age, but general agreement is that she was 105 (older than had been previously thought). She was a rare kind of talent--which is meant not just in the conventional sense of payig a compliment, but the voice itself was an unusual combination of soft-edged delicacy and bursts of piercing power that sung 'through' rather than over the orchestra.

Two mighty musical figures helped forge her early reputation--Benjamino Gigli, the supertenor who insisted on her participation in his recording of La boheme and recommended her to the Met, and Arturo Toscanini, who realised her natural suitability for Puccini. Albanese's teacher had known Puccini, as had Toscanini of course, so there was a direct line to the composer in whose music she enjoyed her most famous successes.

Albanese 'worked' in Puccini as few had before her, because while that softness in the voice suited the vulnerability of what were once commonly called Puccini's "little women" (Mimi, Butterfly, Liu and the others), the piercing quality brought out their inherent toughness. Because, as Albanese in her recordings never lets us forget, Mimi is a woman surviving alone for much of the time, Butterfly turns down a 'safe' marriage, Liu's death is a moment of defiance.

Towards the end of a career that took her to the great opera houses of the world and saw a special relationship with the Metropolitan Opera (particularly the old theater) she was seen in some fun outings. Of particular poignancy was her appearance in an autumnal duet for a New York concert of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

They say her high notes never left her. That certainly is the impression given by this video, aged 100, where she suddenly shocks everyone with a high note--a bit unsteady, perhaps, but there.

Definitely there...

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TagsJames Inverne, Licia Albanese, Gigli, Toscanini, Puccini, Metropolitan Opera

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