Licia Albanese was a beloved star of the Metropolitan Opera from 1940 to 1966.
Things were relatively easy for Albanese at the beginning. That does not deny the hard work and study she constantly applied, but recognition was quick and virtually universal. She found a good teacher and, almost as important, a mentor in Rosetta Pampanini, who taught her tricks of resting the voice during performance, which enabled her, even at the early stages of her career, to take on relatively heavy parts such as Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, even Maddalena in "Andrea Chenier." She entered an Italian competition in Bologna (her initial offering was an aria from Mascagni's "Iris") and won.
Albanese made her debut in what probably was to become her most famous role, Butterfly. The locale was the often-ferocious opera town of Parma. She appeared on that occasion against the advice of the conductor, Antonino Votto, who thought she was too young for the part. Soon, the young soprano found herself engaged all over Italy. At her La Scala debut she sang Sophie in "Werther" opposite Tito Schipa and Gianna Pederzini.
"I had timing and luck in my career, but most important, I had qualita. I listen to young singers all the time. Most of them can do anything. But the sound! Where is the qualita ? I don't know if I could do it today. I'm not sure Beniamino Gigli and Schipa could. Why? The conductors.
"All the conductors in my day could adjust to the voices in a cast. Now they can't or won't. Toscanini could adjust. That, plus my technique, is why I could do some of the parts I did. That beautiful smile of Tullio Serafin looking up at you from the pit, supporting you, encouraging you."
Albanese's last appearance at the Met was at the closing gala at the old house, April 16, 1966. She sang — what else? — "Un bel di." In a wonderful moment — spontaneous, she says — she kissed her hand, knelt and touched it to the floor.
Albanese died Aug. 15, 2104, at her home in Manhattan.
— Walter Price and Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times