The Soprano Who Sang Me to Success

By Croan, Robert | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Soprano Who Sang Me to Success


Croan, Robert, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When I was a teenager attending performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Licia Albanese virtually owned the title roles in Verdi's "La Traviata" and Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." She was an icon of my formative years. The Italian-born soprano died at her home in New York on Aug. 15 at the age of 105.

I always felt that I grew up with Ms. Albanese, hearing her live at the Met in the 1950s and listening to her recordings at home.

I particularly recall a 78 rpm disc that I played over and over. It was the Act 2 duet from "La Traviata" - the heartrending "Dite alla giovine" - with baritone Robert Merrill. Every subsequent Violetta I've heard has had to bear comparison to her high standards.

Although she couldn't have known it, Ms. Albanese was responsible for my having a career as a music critic.

*

In March 1962, while I was a doctoral student at Boston University, one of my professors - Czech-born musicologist Edith Vogl - got it into her head that I should be a music critic. She called her friend Harold Rogers, arts editor of the Christian Science Monitor, then a Boston-based national newspaper that devoted a single page to religion but also had great arts coverage. She told him about her student, and Mr. Rogers suggested that I submit two music reviews of local concerts, not for publication, as a kind of audition.

One of those two reviews - the one that got me the job - was of a recital by Ms. Albanese. In that review, I called her "an incomparable performing artist," praised her "excellent diction" and said her rendition of an aria from Boito's "Mefistofele" was "as fine ... as one is ever likely to hear." Re-reading what I wrote in that audition piece, I find that I was also painfully honest, saying that at this point in her career, "she can no more summon the vocal resources for the roulades of 'Sempre libera.' "

A week later I was a freelancer for the Monitor. Before I left Boston six months later to begin a professorship at Duquesne University, I had written 26 published reviews for the Monitor, as well as one for the Montreal Star. The portfolio I amassed was crucial in my being hired by the Post-Gazette in September 1964, as a freelancer to assist then music critic Donald Steinfirst. This in turn led to my becoming Post-Gazette music critic after Mr. …

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