Artist Profile: Soprano Licia Albanese, One of the Most Visceral Singers of the 20th Century

By David Salazar

Licia Albanese was one of the most influential sopranos of the 1900s.

Born on July 22, 1909, in a quarter of Bari Italy, she would make her professional debut sometime in the mid-1930s (there has always been some controversy on when her true professional debut came about). But she did make her official La Scala debut in 1935 (she made an unofficial one a year earlier when she stepped into sing Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly”) and would sing at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in 1940. She would sing with the company over 400 times.

She went on to sing at a wide range of other American companies, most notably the San Francisco Opera.

She left behind a wide range of recordings as well as The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, which was founded in 1974 to assist young artists and singers. She also worked at a number of major conservatories, such as Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, and conducted masterclasses around the world.

She became a US citizen in 1995 and received honorary degrees from nine different universities, including Marymount Manhattan College, University of South Florida, and Siena College. She was also awarded the Handel Medallion in 2000.

She died in August of 2014, at age 105.

Major Roles

The soprano had a number of roles that dominated her career. One of them of Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly,” the role with which she made her unofficial La Scala debut and went on to sing over 300 times in her career. She made her Met debut with the role and would sing it 72 times throughout her career. It was the role for which she was most recognized and is considered one of the finest exponents of the role ever.

She was also praised for her interpretations of Mimì in “La Bohème,” Violetta in “La Traviata,” Liù in “Turandot,” and the title role in “Manon Lescaut.” Her Violetta was Toscanini’s personal favorite interpretation and he recorded the work with her in an iconic rendition with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. She sang Violetta 88 times at the Met and more times than any soprano in the San Francisco Opera’s history. 

Read More on Albanese

Roles She Shared With 21st Century Soprano Superstar Anja Harteros 

Watch and Listen

Here is a wide range of music that highlights Albanese’s vocal range and diversity.

And here is some of Albanese’s recording of “Madama Butterfly,” starring Jan Peerce.


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