Many a tear was shed when soprano Licia Albanese sang. Now she is celebrating her signature work, 'Madama Butterfly.'
Allan Ulrich, Special to The Chronicle
Monday, October 4, 2004
Was she or wasn't she? Licia Albanese is adamant.
"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."
For almost seven decades, the opera world has begged to differ. Plain never applied to Albanese. At the mere sound of the Italian soprano's voice, listeners have reached for their handkerchiefs and their lists of superlatives.
Albanese's searing portrayals of the lyric stage's most vulnerable heroines -- Cio-Cio San, Mimì, Violetta, Liu, Manon Lescaut -- have left their mark on generations of opera folk. You can attribute it to the distinctive character of the Albanese voice (the medium-weight instrument Italians call a lirico spinto), marked by its quick vibrato, incisive diction, intensity of attack and the unerring ability to go for the emotional jugular. Or, you can credit that mysterious, indefinable quality of artlessness concealing art.
Now 91, Albanese is apparently blessed with total recall of colleagues as legendary as the honey-throated tenor Beniamino Gigli (whom she always addressed, respectfully, as "Commendatore") and the irascible conductor Arturo Toscanini (whom she calls "cute"), and she is bursting with advice for the younger generation of singers.
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