Basketball? Well, no, opera divas. The incredible Licia Albanese died a few days ago at the age of 105. Amazing.
Also amazing, is that she resisted playing the lead in Lucia De Lammermoor. You could imagine, ala "Oprah, Uma" David Letterman inanely standing on stage and shouting, "Licia! Lucia!" Or not.
Frankly, as regulars to the blog know, opera is not often covered here. It's not often covered anywhere, come to think of it, because what was once the peoples' art form…soon changed to operetta and finally Broadway musicals. Some might say that's a sign of the degeneration of culture in the past 100 years, but look, they won't say it for long. In another 100 years there won't be a planet. If it still exists, it'll be a planet of the apes, and musical history, as taught in "skooz," would begin with M.C. Hammer.
In other words, my autographed Licia Albanese record album, if I was alive, wouldn't fetch a buck on eBay, and my autographed photo of Rise Stevens even less.
Victoria de Los Angeles was probably my favorite, but Rise Stevens was up there, and because nobody cared about her, Jean Madeira, and because she went topless, Carol Neblett. Of the vintage performers, there was Licia, whose best work was done way before I was even born. Licia (short form of Felicia, July 22, 1909-August 15, 2014) came to prominence the year the Marx Brothers were "At the Opera," 1935.
She was known for "Madame Butterfly" first and foremost, and specialized, as one might expect, in Italian operas by Verdi and Puccini. Her love of Puccini led to her enduring "Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation," which gives scholarships and encouragement to young, struggling singers who have an unfortunate love for an archaic music form in an era of Viley Virus and Justa Beaver.
After touring her version of Madame Butterfly all over the world, Licia made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1940. She also performed at the San Francisco Opera, and on radio with Toscanini. Ageism being an old and familiar nemesis, Licia had a 26 year run at the famous Met…until the venue's ruler, Sir Rudolf Bing, decided to cut her down to only one role for the entire season. Licia's response to Der Bingle's decision was to gracefully walk away. She continued to play at other opera houses, and when her voice was no longer strong enough for opera, she switched to Broadway show tunes…appearing in various productions of Sondheim's "Follies" in the mid-1980's.
Though she wasn't as well known as the more flamboyant Maria Callas, or the amusingly-named Lily Pons, Licia Albanese was a favorite with the critics, especially in her most familiar roles, in Puccini's "La Boheme," "Madame Butterfly" and "Manon Lescaut." She also joined Rise Stevens for a recording of "Carmen" in 1951. Among the more recent artists who have acknowledged her as an inspiration…Teresa Stratas, who saw the great Albanese in a production of "La Traviata," a role that Stratas would play so well in the 1982 movie version opposite Placido Domingo.
In keeping with blog policy on being obscure and contrary, your download isn't an aria by Puccini or Verdi. From the Parnassus vinyl, Licia sings an aria by Francesco Cilea...who is not a household name as a composer but still is beloved by Celiacs everywhere, and no diet of classical should exclude him.
From "ADRIANA LECOUVREUR" "Lo Son L'Umile Ancella"