Licia Albanese is an Italian-born American operatic soprano. Noted especially for her portrayals of the lyric heroines of Verdi and Puccini, Albanese was a leading artist with the Metropolitan Opera of New York from 1940 to 1966. She also made many recordings and is chairman of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation which is dedicated to assisting young artists and singers.
Born in Bari, Italy, Licia Albanese made her unofficial singing debut in Milan in 1934, when she replaced an absent performer in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the opera with which she would forever be connected. Over 40 years, she sang more than 300 performances of Cio-Cio San. Although she has been praised for many of her roles, including Mimì, Violetta, Liù and Manon Lescaut, it is her portrayal of the doomed geisha which has remained her best loved. Her connection with that work began early with her teacher, Giuseppina Baldassare-Tedeschi, a contemporary of the composer and an important exponent of the title role in the previous generation.
There is some controversy regarding when she made her formal debut. It was either in that same year at the Teatro Municipale in Bari, singing in La bohème, or in Parma, or in Milan in 1935 in Madama Butterfly. By the end of that year, she had debuted at La Scala as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. She soon realized great success all over the world, especially for her performances in Carmen, L’amico Fritz and Madama Butterfly in Italy, France and England.
Following her considerable success in Italy, France, England, and Malta, Licia Albanese made her Metropolitan Opera debut on February 9, 1940, in the first of 72 performances as Madama Butterfly at the old Metropolitan Opera House. Her success was instantaneous, and Albanese remained at the Met for 26 seasons, performing a total of 427 performances of 17 roles in 16 operas. She left the company in 1966 in a dispute with General Manager Sir Rudolf Bing without a grand farewell. After performing in four productions during 1965-66, she was scheduled for only one performance the next season. She returned her contract unsigned.