Met Guild to Honor Licia Albanese & Carlo Bergonzi in 'INCOMPARABLE' in 2015
Summer saw the passing of two of opera's most iconic figures: Licia Albanese, at the age of 105, and Carlo Bergonzi, at 90. They performed together at the Met only five times, but whenever and wherever they sang, the two were both "incomparable" (Chicago Tribune*); fittingly, the next in the Metropolitan Opera Guild's series of tributes to legendary singers is "INCOMPARABLE: A Celebration of Licia Albanese and Carlo Bergonzi." Hosted by Opera News Award-winning soprano Patricia Racette, this special event will take place at New York City's Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on Friday, March 13, at 7:30pm. The speakers will include Martina Arroyo, Rosalind Elias, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Renata Scotto and George Shirley, and the evening will feature a vocal tribute from Vittorio Grigolo, the Italian tenor likened by Gramophone magazine to a "young Bergonzi." In addition, there will be screenings of new video biographies of both singers, as well as rare video footage of some of their memorable performances, and spoken reminiscences from their colleagues and friends. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Guild's education programs.
Licia Albanese died on August 15 of this year, just weeks after her 105th birthday. With a rare gift for projecting the pathos of Puccini and Verdi's lyric heroines, the Italian-American soprano became all but synonymous with the old Metropolitan Opera, where between 1940 and 1966 she gave more than 400 performances. For her house debut, she headlined Madama Butterfly, a role she would sing more than 300 times in the course of her career. Other signature roles included the title characters of Tosca and La Bohème, Liù in Turandot, Nedda in Pagliacci and Violetta in La Traviata, which she sang a full 87 times at the Met, a company record to this day. She also appeared at La Scala and Covent Garden and was a mainstay at the San Francisco Opera, where she sang for many years. After retiring from the opera stage, Albanese turned her focus to stage direction and teaching, and in 1974 she founded the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to support young singers; winners of the Foundation's annual competition include Angela Meade, Latonia Moore, Sasha Cooke, Stephen Costello, and Matthew Polenzani. Albanese's contribution to American opera was recognized with a National Medal of Arts, awarded to her by President Clinton in 1995.
Blessed with a golden voice, impeccable phrasing, and effortless projection, there was, as The Guardian observed after his death in July, "no finer interpreter of Donizetti's, Verdi's and Puccini's tenor roles throughout his long career than Carlo Bergonzi." After spending the final two years of the Second World War in a German prison camp, the singer gave his first performances - initially as a baritone - in his native Italy, before making his U.S. debut in Chicago in 1955. His Met debut followed a year later, and over the next three decades he would give more than 300 performances at the New York house. First and foremost a Verdi specialist, his most famous parts included Radamès in Aida, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, and Manrico in Il Trovatore, as well as Cavaradossi in Tosca, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Rodolfo in La Bohème, and Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore. Beyond the Met, he sang in San Francisco, Dallas, and other U.S. cities, as well as at La Scala and Covent Garden, where he proved a great favorite. Bergonzi was honored with Gramophone's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and his extensive discography - highlighted by an exemplary Verdi aria compilation for Phillips - serves as a lasting memorial of his art.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild paid similar tribute to a legendary singer of the past in September 2013, with "Risë: A Celebration of Risë Stevens," and last month brought the Guild's 80thAnnual Luncheon, which saluted the inimitable Jessye Norman with "Brava, Jessye!" Highlighted by spoken tributes from Toni Morrison and Anna Deavere Smith, the star-studded event also prompted the guest of honor to visit the studios of NPR, where she shared reminiscences and favorite recordings with Tom Huizenga on Deceptive Cadence.