Thursday, 21 August 2014

A plain singer with lots of expression?

"Only God makes a diva. No, just call me a plain singer with lots of expression."

Living as she did to 105, she had seen all the "divas" come and go - Callas, Tebaldi, Flagstad, de los Ángeles, Schwarzkopf, Sutherland - and still retained the elegance and poise of a true opera star.

Licia Albanese was an artist dedicated to her craft. From her début at the Met in New York in the 1940s, to her "retirement" in the 70s, she performed 427 performances of numerous roles in 16 operas. Regarded as one of the greatest singers of Verdi and Puccini in the operatic world in her day, seventy-two of these performances were as "Cio-Cio San" in Madama Butterfly. She sang with Toscanini, a great admirer of hers; she founded the the “Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation” dedicated to an operatic education for young people; and received the Medal of Honor for the Arts from President Clinton.

In her obituary today in The Telegraph:
Her voice was not large, or unusually beautiful, and she did not command the ethereal pianissimos of Renata Tebaldi, but Licia Albanese brought emotional warmth and exemplary diction to her roles - and an ability to identify completely with her characters.

According to her entry in the International Dictionary of Opera: "Nowhere was [her] mastery of her art more palpable than during the moments that required her to 'expire’ onstage, something she invariably accomplished with the most exquisite expressivity, whether called upon to demonstrate a gradual, quiet fading away (Mimi, La Bohème); a final feverish outburst (Violetta, La Traviata); an intense losing battle to cheat death (Manon Lescaut); or an act of unbearable poignancy such as the suicide of Butterfly.” She studied books about Japan for her characterisation of the tragic heroine and, when preparing for the “consumptive” roles of Mimi and Violetta, even visited a tuberculosis ward.
Here she is in triumphal form in 1953 as Cio-Cio, with a sublime version of Un bel di vedremo:

And here (proving once again that all roads lead to Stritchy) she is as the older "Heidi Schiller" in the 1985 concert production of Sondheim's Follies (at the 4:59 mark)...

RIP Licia Albanese (22nd July 1909 – 15th August 2014)


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