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August 2014
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Passings: Licia Albanese, Carlo Bergonzi

Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly"

Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly"

Carlo Bergonzi, July 13, 1924-July 25, 2014
Licia Albanese, July 22, 1909-August 15, 2014

He gave more than 300 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. She exceeded 400. Two Italian-born, 20th century opera stars passed away in recent weeks: tenor Carlo Bergonzi and soprano Licia Albanese.

A star for the soprano on Hollywood Boulevard

A star for the soprano on Hollywood Boulevard

Carlo Bergonzi as Radames in 1956 at the Metropolitan Opera

Carlo Bergonzi as Radames in Verdi’s Aida, Metropolitan Opera, 1956

Albanese and Bergonzi together in a Metropolitan Opera production

Albanese and Bergonzi together in a Metropolitan Opera production

Bergonzi in particular had a long performance history in Chicago, making his American debut at Lyric Opera in 1955; while Albanese worked primarily in New York and San Francisco, becoming an American citizen in 1945.


Larry Johnson, host of WFMT’s Arias and Songs, reflects on each performer:

“The world of opera has lost two superb and beloved artists in just a few weeks. Carlo Bergonzi was a leading international tenor in a time of such giants as Jussi Bjoerling and Franco Corelli. He also made numerous appearances in Chicago at Lyric Opera.

Soprano Licia Albanese was a part of American cultural life for seventy five years.  Another truly great artist, renowned for her Verdi and Puccini interpretations, chosen by none other than Arturo Toscanini for his radio broadcasts, and friend of WFMT’s own Andy Karzas.


Licia Albanese pictured with tenor Saimir Pirgu (Don Ottavio in the Ravinia production of Don Giovanni)


Carlo Bergonzi, Riccardo Muti, and Fiorenza Cossotto


In recent years, Licia Albanese turned her energy toward future generations of performers, giving master classes and providing assistance to young singers. About the foundation she created for that purpose, she wrote: “I have been fortunate to have had a long and wonderful career as an international opera singer since I made my debut in Milan in 1934. Following my debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1940, I have had the privilege of singing…17 roles in 16 operas for 26 seasons with the world’s finest singers on the stage of that house…In appreciation of my successful career, in 1974 I founded the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to assist in passing on the world’s operatic legacy to the next generation of opera singers.”

In 2013, Anthony Clark Evans of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center was a beneficiary of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, taking the top prize in the vocal competition.

Larry Johnson’s Arias & Songs will remember Licia Albanese on Saturday, September 6th, and Carlo Bergonzi on Saturday, September 20th.

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