Licia Albanese discusses her opera performances
BROADCAST: Feb. 27, 1960 | DURATION: 00:39:03
Licia Albanese discusses her performance preparations, advice to young new opera singers, the conductor techniques from Fausto Cleva, and the late Arturo Toscanini.
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Studs Terkel This voice you've been hearing has been described as the ideal Butterfly. Delicate intimate the warmth the ability to communicate a feeling the voice of Madame Licia Albanese whom we're delighted to have as our guest this morning the distinguished soprano. Madame Albanese I was watching you as you were listening to yourself singing--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel "Un bel di vedremo." You were actually recreating this role you were living it there was something you were saying that intrigued me really much. You spoke of the Oriental flavor.
Licia Albanese Yes. That's right. I said this role should be sang with Oriental way, so soft and so every meaning a word [this?] is really sweet, should be very strong dramatic. Dramatic comes late when she becomes a mother you know, and then Pinkerton, the husband, wants to take the boy the child from her then she becomes like a little animal you know very jealous. And in last action, you know "Madame Butterfly" is a big tragedy in which she kills herself.
Studs Terkel There is where the drama comes in with a conflict of [unintelligible] and--
Licia Albanese That's right. But all the way, now should give this idea of Oriental way. [Like in how?] used to see movies, and Japanese movies which they intrigued me so much. And then I used to read books about their life. It's always like that, even if when they get really mad they have this different way to the way we used to do all over the world. They have a really different way how to say things, to do things, you know.
Studs Terkel This is interesting. A different way, a different way of showing their emotion.
Licia Albanese Showing their emotions, yes.
Studs Terkel Ah, you then are preparing for Cio-Cio-san
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel In preparing for this role then, you read and saw different things--
Studs Terkel About the Japanese life.
Licia Albanese Yes I did. I went to really their history and everything they, I could find. Every small piece of paper and saying something in Japanese I read because--
Licia Albanese It [takes?] me so much.
Studs Terkel You are an actress then preparing for a role.
Licia Albanese You know I had so many friends, Japanese friends, even in Italy and they said that they couldn't understand how come I could I could make themself you know in myself. They couldn't believe it. And I was an Italian girl from- maybe because where I come from, my town--
Studs Terkel This is, was where?
Licia Albanese Is Bari. B-A-R-I.
Studs Terkel Oh the port town, Bari.
Licia Albanese The port. Yes, on the Adriatic Sea. We are close to Oriental there. And they said maybe because we have, and we had this influence Oriental people coming in Bari so many many many years ago. [And that's the same?]
Studs Terkel Because Bari is a seacoast city--
Studs Terkel Sailors.
Licia Albanese We had to see really a lot of people coming in from Oriental.
Studs Terkel Since you've mentioned your town of Bari if we could perhaps go back to beginnings a little. You made your debut as Butterfly didn't you, at the Metropolitan?
Licia Albanese Yes, but that was 1936 in Parma. That's a place near Milano which is more difficult in that, to sing in that small opera house than in La Scala. They always said, Who sings in Parma, that Parma is the town of Verdi, and Maestro Toscanini, too.
Studs Terkel Oh, they're Parmagiani?
Licia Albanese And they're, si, Parmagiana, and [they] very very difficult to accept accept young singers. And I remember my "Butterfly." I think eight times, eight "Madame Butterfly." I, they didn't like the tenor. I had to change tenor every time I did "Butterfly" [there? then?] [laughter].
Studs Terkel They liked the Butterfly though?
Licia Albanese Yes they did [laughter].
Studs Terkel This is something, you were saying this is the home of the champions.
Studs Terkel Here you had to make good. This is the home of Verdi and the home of Toscanini--
Studs Terkel So there were, their values were more demanding.
Licia Albanese Oh yes, very difficult to [they?] demand. It's really something to be to be scared, you know, to sing in that town. But I didn't know, I was so young I didn't know and then I [sang? sing?]. After four performances they asked me to to sing six more. And I, I give ten performance all together.
Licia Albanese Yes. And after that I went to La Scala so then in 1940 I came here. I didn't sing so much, too much in Italy, just for five years.
Studs Terkel We think of you immediately as the Puccini heroine. You and Puccini, these two names have been bracketed. What is it about Puccini that it [unintelligible] attracted you?
Licia Albanese I don't know. I think he wrote more for soprano than every- any [body else?]. He wrote for the lyric voice which I am. I'm not a dramatic, I'm a lyric. So Puccini wrote for lyric voice and I don't know. With Puccini there is something and I'm glad he's not alive. I would say [another word?] become his sweetheart [laughter].
Studs Terkel You mean you're in love with music so much?
Licia Albanese I'm in love with him, even that. And that's why I want to bring Puccini all the time out and to make more beautiful his own opera and really try to do to even stage them. I would love to do some day. Yes.
Studs Terkel You would like to be the director then,--
Licia Albanese To stage Puccini, to director--
Studs Terkel You'd like to stage Puccini.
Studs Terkel Is there a particular way, this is, if you, if I may ask you what is it you would do you? You are the director.
Licia Albanese Well they have so many nuance to bring out. For example let's take "Madame Butterfly."
Studs Terkel "Butterfly."
Licia Albanese You have to give ideas Oriental way, which I don't think any directors stage directors gives this idea. Well at the Metropolitan we had this Japanese men putting, putting this opera on. Which he did nice things but he didn't know Italian very well. Sometimes we had to do something to act different what the words meant. [And Studs] it bothers me. I have to do everything [that what?]. If you say you sit down you have to sit down, no? Instead sometimes they don't understand Italian or the words. And something like me if I do something in English and I didn't understand a word I want to know what that means before to do. Because I must know the meaning of thing.
Studs Terkel See in your case you would be the ideal stager because not only do you know the Italian, your native language, but you've become so immersed in--
Licia Albanese Yes, I find [so many?] things.
Studs Terkel Oriental.
Licia Albanese You know lately, just few days ago, I want to tell you this. Maybe you don't know this opera, [writ it?] an opera, quite operetta written by Puccini and the name is "La Rondine," which means the swallow.
Licia Albanese It's a beautiful opera. He wrote this opera like an operetta. We gave this in Philadelphia just two days ago.
Studs Terkel Oh you did, really?
Studs Terkel This is light, this is light.
Licia Albanese I stage, I staged it. And I find out so many things I'm really proud. And I think I had a great success. I didn't expect this success which they came out and maybe did many things with it and you can imagine me to smoke. I did smoke on the first act [laughter]. In the first act I stopped to smoke because doesn't [say? see?] anything on the opera, but I find the things that--
Studs Terkel You found a reason for it.
Licia Albanese Just to put this opera, to wake this opera up because the way it is written you can do in the best way but you have to find these things to wake up the public for certain operas, see?
Studs Terkel You were doing this. You were the director--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel You were the stager of "La Rondine".
Licia Albanese Yes. And then I sang the part too--
Studs Terkel And you sang the part--
Studs Terkel But as a director you, something you did, you were like the director of a stage play--
Studs Terkel You found [ways?] to improvise.
Licia Albanese Yes. So to find things and then to tell to all the girls, you know all the girls we on the stage. Or the tenor, do this do that, and step on this music because the music it tells you what to do sometimes. Give so many ideas.
Studs Terkel This is something you just mentioned that intrigues me. The music. You get ideas then from the music?
Licia Albanese From the music. The [old?] writes music or they, the authors and opera, they they all the time if we read their books or what they left over, and they say you have to follow the music movements on the music. Set in a nice way, in a warm way and very beautiful appealing way, not to ridiculous. If you walk with stiff legs so it looks funny and you start to walk in a way or to turn around to just the music tells you to do.
Studs Terkel Music gives you the cue.
Licia Albanese Or slow or fast. Gives you so much.
Licia Albanese Gives more drama more more expression.
Studs Terkel This is a new avenue then for you, isn't it? This one of being the director of the stager now--
Licia Albanese Yes I would love to do that sometime. But just to stage a Puccini opera.
Studs Terkel Puccini! Well since we're on the subject--
Licia Albanese Puccini's my beloved.
Studs Terkel Since we're on the subject--
Licia Albanese Really he is my beloved.
Studs Terkel Puccini and you. Your Mimi too was a memorable figure in the on the stage.
Licia Albanese Yes, what "Boheme" it's a beautiful, really light opera which everybody will always love. It's the life of everybody. You know they go to school they go to their, they are students they are poor. This is life everyday you find this life. That's it will never die.
Studs Terkel Of young students--
Studs Terkel No matter of who they are.
Licia Albanese The story's so youth, is full of youth. So beautiful and fresh.
Studs Terkel This is what you just said: full of youth.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel Now we come back to "Boheme" if I may.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel You have played with just about every fantastically talented tenor. You've worked with Gigli--
Licia Albanese very young. "Boheme"'s really most I sang with Gigli and Lauri-Volpi, Schipa, and Jan Peerce, [unintelligible] [Tucker?] and Martinelli, which really I great, I had a great Spanish--
Studs Terkel Madame Licia Albanese. You are now at this moment, you are Mimi. You are this girl and you know you feel frail. Suppose you set the scene for "My Name is Mimi." Would you mind setting the scene for it before you sing.
Licia Albanese Well, you know [he and?] Mimi sits at a chair and a tenor sings his aria telling her how beautiful eyes you have can make, just can dream about your eyes. And I sit and I sing "Mi chiamano Mimi" because you know Mimi is a sick girl. She's not going to blast in the voice to say "Mi chiamano Mimi" [in strong voice] you know. She's a very delicate and suffering girl and she has TB. So you can imagine. Did you ever had a friend or see people sick with that illness? I had. I had a servants in Italy too. But she was very frail and very quiet and talking very low, [whispering] you know, like this. That's what is Mimi. The way I sing Mimi "Mi chiamano Mimi" is soft. The voice is very quiet.
Studs Terkel Madame Albanese as you were talking, no I know that was something I want to catch you on this as you were listening to Mimi. You were thinking something and then suddenly you said something: you were this girl Mimi as you were sitting, and you say you spoke of her love for the sun.
Licia Albanese Yes. Because Mimi is sick. She's she has TB, no? And every, and when they are sick like that they want warm place. They prefer the spring. They prefer the summer and not the winter with the snow. And I said I'm a healthy girl. And I love snow, I love snow [laughter].
Studs Terkel This is Licia Albanese who likes the snow.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel You're strong, you're in good health. But when you are doing Mimi--
Licia Albanese Oh well I feel like her--
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] you're thinking--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel Differently about it.
Licia Albanese Just [some? I'm?] scared of snow.
Studs Terkel There's something else you just said and I think this is worth discussing. You said today so many singers sing Mimi the same way they sing Aida.
Licia Albanese Aida, same that's that--
Studs Terkel Now tell us the difference.
Licia Albanese I don't know if I'm wrong--
Licia Albanese Tell us the difference.
Licia Albanese But I don't think I'm wrong. Well Aida is healthy girl and she's a colored girl, primitive girl, should be a little rude you know, rough I'd say this way.
Studs Terkel More outwardly passionate, you would say.
Licia Albanese Yes. With a big voice you know. You can not say "Si mi chiamano Mimi" [singing with force]. You can say "Ritorna vincitor! E dal mio labbro usci l'empia parola!" [singing with force]. You cannot say "Ritorna vincitor! E dal mio" [singing softly]. No. She's a very [earthy?] girl and she should sing really with all of her the voice she has in her throat and her heart. So that's what I mean to to try to sing all the opera. Every opera an artist wants to sing. Maestro Toscanini used to say in my time I sing I used to sing, especially the soprano because the tenor can sing and they sing "Boheme," they sing "La Traviata," they sing "Aida." They used to sing all the opera they wanted with a lot of--
Studs Terkel Thought.
Licia Albanese [Brain?] and thought and a big heart. So every artist can sing any opera they want. But we have to change mood, atmosphere, voice, even from the first act at the last act. We have to start with another idea. Let's say the first act of "Madame Butterfly". Madame Butterfly, she's a young girl, 15 years old, so she has to start with a light voice, doing girlish things, you know talking to him you know, when she says "Vogliatemi bene, un bene piccolino" that means love to me but a little love, not to hurt me. So in this Oriental way the voice is small and clear like a girl. Second act she's a mother and I'm repeating again. Then the voice becomes more mature, see? The voice is built. After you have a baby you become mature. So on the last act she, the tragedy comes and then she becomes very strong and a voice even comes strong. But don't forget ever to lose that Oriental way to do, see?
Studs Terkel You--
Licia Albanese And Aida too, Aida the first act she's a girl and then she starts to love the tenor Radames, so and then she finds out to the the other soprano loves Radames, the queen of Egyptian--
Studs Terkel Amneris.
Licia Albanese Amneris. So she becomes really like a lioness. Very mad, very, and then the voice becomes stronger and stronger until the end she's dying in the in the tomb, no? The grave? They close them in that and then she's dying and the breath, she doesn't have a breath anymore. Do you think she has to scream and yell? She has to do soft way because she doesn't have any more breath to talk you know [speaking softly] in this grave closed. Do you think she will have more breath, and even Radames. And then she goes--
Studs Terkel [Here's?] the artist--
Licia Albanese They die together, see? Without any air at all. They didn't have air conditioning in that [laughter].
Studs Terkel I think Licia Albanese, here you are the artist continuously conscious then of all the nuances--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel The change-- even the most, in the case of "Aida" a different culture--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel [Culture?] bigger, stronger. At the same time here too different nuances.
Licia Albanese Yes. And nuance, you must have nuance to give it a [unintelligible]--
Studs Terkel And the way you describe "Butterfly"--
Licia Albanese More interest to listen an opera, to love opera. Because in the opera you know they come 10 20 50 times to see and hear the same opera even with the same artist. I know I'm singing "Traviata," "Butterfly," "Boheme," "Manon" for 20 years. So--
Studs Terkel So a question a question--
Licia Albanese And they come and come over and over to listen to me because I change so many things, I change I give new things new movements and new dress and new way I put my hair and they really are interest to see that.
Studs Terkel And then your approach, this then so many times you have done say Violetta or Mimi--
Licia Albanese Yes?
Studs Terkel Or Butterfly yet each time it's never the same.
Licia Albanese No, I have to change. Yes I always, they come and they say, This is a different Albanese, see? That's what I want.
Studs Terkel Does your, aside from say changes in physical things--
Licia Albanese Yeah, physical.
Studs Terkel What about changes-- Do you find your interpretation different too?
Licia Albanese Interpretation, yes. You can find so many way different way. Not to make people, the publics tired. Is like to make a movie: the movie you can never change [who?] is there. They go and see two, three times, and myself I love movies. I go in after three or four times, I don't go back, if I like a movie. And even the things on Broadway, you know the plays which I love and I go once in a while when I have time. It's too bad I don't have much time because I love Broadway plays or other things they do. Is that, you go twice but you don't go back because they do the same routine, the same movements, the same steps, the same face. In the opera, no. I have that chance to change.
Studs Terkel To the good actor though you see, just like you with a fine singer actress, the good actor in a straight play, he too some of the very best ones--
Licia Albanese Oh yes, oh yes.
Studs Terkel Have to change the show.
Licia Albanese They should. That's what I tell all these young youngest generation [new?] singers if they ask some advisement from me and I tell them why don't you do in this way in this way and [they? then?] don't remember, don't take with this part and I tell you to. Tomorrow you can do different. You have always study and be [a lift?] to give the opera and give new things in the opera, in this same opera. So I think this is what I keep alive of the people.
Studs Terkel Tomorrow you will do different. This is-- two things you just said. Tomorrow you will do it different. This is the key thing. And the way you keep them alive, that life itself is always full of changes.
Licia Albanese Oh yes. And the same thing with concert, yes? They each, well to sing in a concert's difficult because you have to change mood each aria. Which is more on the French aria and Italian aria and English aria is different way I would sing.
Studs Terkel You said, do you find a concert, is a concert more of a challenge? Is a concert tougher to do than a role in an opera?
Licia Albanese Well it used to be to me because I used to sing opera most. Concerts it's more delicate and you had [put?] less voice. If we sing Italian [or antique?] lieders, see, we have to put just a little voice in. And then we sing the aria. The voice is more out and but it is different. Now I don't feel concert, I love concerts.
Studs Terkel There is something you said earlier Madame Albenese, [to?] indicate you were a little disturbed maybe by today. You said today some of the singers sing Butterfly [they way they sing?] Aida. How would you explain. Why is this? What is missing today?
Licia Albanese Well they sing with the same strong voice, yelling all the time. Every opera, just the same. And then you don't have any different mood.
Studs Terkel Is a lack of training? What is it? Is there less, is there less intensive--
Licia Albanese Oh a lack of training, that depends from us?.
Studs Terkel Training today than there was?
Licia Albanese Because in myself, I study all the time. I study even if I know an opera. I go [and say?] they tell me, Oh you studied this opera again. You sing so many times. I said, All the time you can do better and better. That is this was not my idea too. I had this idea [unintelligible] myself but when I did something with Maestro Toscanini, I sing these two opera. So I heard from him to say the same thing. So and then I get my [courage?], I said, Oh and then I'm not wrong. If he said so the same thing that I used to think, now the same, and he's used to say all the time you know when I go home I always think how to do this. And then I come back and we do and then the next day I change. He said, Don't don't think that I'm, I crazy man. I changed because I find a way that it's better done. It is right. He was right.
Studs Terkel Since we're coming now to Maestro Toscanini and this fantastic rehearsal which we hear his voice, you were present there.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel And we come to this, there's one question before that. Do you feel maybe the repertoire of many of the younger singers is too broad today? The repertoire too wide? Don't concentrate--
Studs Terkel Enough on single--
Licia Albanese All this young new singers, they want to do fast everything.
Licia Albanese They don't want to have an hour to sit down and learn the part and go over. They want [they?] sing at the Metropolitan for the first time. For me it's wrong. They should have experience. Well I know they say, Where we got to take experience to have experience. In Italy we had experience. In small theater, like I told you before. With Gigli, a tenor and then I sang a part with him: "Boheme," Mimi, but he was the star. And I was just [a start?], see? So and then they heard me and then next time I will go in a small, I went in a small town and I sang with Schipa.
Studs Terkel Schipa.
Licia Albanese So they heard Schipa, they heard me. And before I went to La Scala I told you I sang [unintelligible] in a difficult city.
Studs Terkel Parma.
Licia Albanese Parma, Piacenza, Bologna, all very difficult city.
Studs Terkel Where the audience has heard these operas many times.
Licia Albanese They whistle. It's like to say you know "boo" here.
Licia Albanese They whistle over there. Here when they whistle, it's good. And I was scared here for when I had my debut you know here in 1940.
Studs Terkel You heard the whistling?
Licia Albanese They started to whistle and I got scared and I ran [laughter]. They say, No no, go back, that's good here in this country. It wasn't in my town or in my country, really. I was really scared, upset for- So that's why I [tell you this Studs?]. But that's why I go when they call me and start a new opera season, I always start with them. I never say no because I like to to just give away I say in this way, I use this word to [knew?] and to be a lot [of luck? love?] to give a lot of [luck? love?] to these people. And they are really, oh they have great voice, beautiful voice and I want to help. [I do so much?]
Studs Terkel But they're being rushed, you feel too much of a rush.
Licia Albanese But they have, yes. They should start and they you know I used to sing for nothing for many years. And I knew I didn't have money even to eat. But what I said, they have to know me, I must go. And just they pay me the expensive alright. And said, Now I tell you the truth, all these young kids, they want a lot of money. And it's really bad. It's not good. If they it with art, and not with business is much better. I think they would someday reach the top--
Studs Terkel Now you're hitting--
Licia Albanese Of the beauty--
Studs Terkel You're probably hitting the core--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Licia Albanese It's, you say business rather than art. It surrounds them doesn't it--
Licia Albanese Yeah.
Studs Terkel In the world today.
Licia Albanese But I think that when they ask for benefit and they say, Oh do they pay? I say, No, you have to sing for nothing. Oh no no nothing doing. Said, But nobody knows you. They should know who. They say, No I don't care, they have to pay me. So, where is [he or she?] You don't hear of them for years. No more. I said if you start and then every, for benefit I think we should do things: special for children or for sick people. It's a great great medicine for them. So they make money when we sing--
Studs Terkel Talking about the artists.
Licia Albanese So they buy medicine to them. You know what a great thing I think we do. You know [which well?] I love to sing. And for me it's not a sacrifice or to heavy work to give benefit even everyday, which I did when I came this country I think for every religion, they ask me benefit for everything.
Studs Terkel [So the idea is?] singing.
Licia Albanese So I went. I went on the radio, did they pay me just a small amount on this program I had on the radio. After six years they paid me a big amount because I made a success. They liked me they start to know me, so but they don't know really. They should know they should start for nothing to work.
Studs Terkel In the old days too, or the days before now, there was more rest for singers too wasn't there? I mean they, the airplane takes you one day and then [here?] the next day you're singing another opera [then?].
Licia Albanese Yes it is true. But you know, we don't, I don't do that. I don't rush so much. I rush if I have to sing for benefits. I tell you the truth. I go here and there and [then run?], but if they pay me I say no, I can't stay home, I don't feel to go. Even when I was sick when I was hoarse, but I give my word I had to go even if I talked to them I said I'm going to talk to them and just to say listen I don't feel well I'm going to sing one aria. So and I did. I always [didn't?] disappointed people.
Studs Terkel Called giving of yourself. If we may come now to the maestro Arturo Toscanini, the man who did not rush. I mean this--
Studs Terkel Yes, and he did so much to- so many benefits he did. And he never wanted, everybody knew, even when he sent money to Italy or give money in this country, he said, Nobody should know what I do. And he used to tell to his son, please Walter don't tell to anybody what I do for benefit.
Studs Terkel You mean the columnist of the daily papers didn't have his name in every day [laughter]?
Licia Albanese No, no, he never wanted. That's why I said he was an [ample?] [poor?] person, such a great person.
Studs Terkel What of this rehearsal? Here we hear the maestro and it's the NBC Symphony I believe--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel Is it not? This is the rehearsal of "Traviata" isn't it?
Licia Albanese Mmmhmm.
Studs Terkel Now you were Violetta?.
Studs Terkel Could you sort of, we hear we hear the maestro singing too.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel Would he do this often?
Licia Albanese Mmmhmm. Well he used to do that even with singers. So he did this with the orchestra to make the orchestra, you know.
Studs Terkel [Even?] we're tuning in.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel This is somewhere in one of the halls in New York is this?
Studs Terkel And this is during a rehearsal--
Studs Terkel and a bit of "Traviata." What was that he said there, Madame Albanese? "I like Mozart as much as I like Verdi!"
Licia Albanese It's wonderful. Yes, he said that the way you love Mozart you should love Verdi, which is beautiful too. See--
Studs Terkel Talk about [it?].
Licia Albanese Well they used to conduct only in concerts not classic, so opera is less classic, but he used to say in the opera you can find everything. You find classic music, and voice, and quartet and duet, and then the orchestra alone. Everything is put together in an opera, which is true.
Studs Terkel He was saying there earlier, you now you watched the conductor play the way the conductor sings?
Studs Terkel Is that what you were saying?
Licia Albanese Yes, he said, You look the way I sing with this expression, you know very strong expression and with warmth. That's the way you had to play and look at me. Really was a great experience for me to be with him. Too bad it was just at the end of his career.
Studs Terkel You say he always sang. Would you mind telling us about that?
Licia Albanese [Well you see?] if you hear the "Traviata," we did with the Maestro, he used to sing with the singers, too. He used to do [humming] with this humming, you know. And it was really a pleasure. What a great maestro.
Studs Terkel And what was, he always felt for the singers didn't he?
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel What did you tell he orchestra some-? Never drown out?
Licia Albanese No. He says never done the voice of a singer. We have singers here and when we are alone you play forte like it is written, fortissimo or mezzo forte. But when we have an artist the place is just written forte, with one f. You put an m and f, that means mezzo forte, and when is one p is piano. And he used to say, Put two p. And that means pianissimo, see?
Licia Albanese Very quiet. And never never to drown out the voice of the singers.
Studs Terkel Always the respect for the artists on the stage.
Licia Albanese Respect for the artists because they come to hear them not us, he says.
Licia Albanese And then when we play alone, he said, and then we do all the things written on music, and he was right. Really right.
Studs Terkel Here then is the maestro in the pit with his orchestra, a very distinguished conductor--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel Yet always saying he sublimates himself to the artist.
Licia Albanese Well he used to have a heart for everything thing. Heart for the singer's heart, for the players, for himself which he was great, ah, how do you say when a person always study?
Studs Terkel Conscientious.
Licia Albanese Conscientious.
Studs Terkel Conscientious.
Licia Albanese He was studying all the time.
Licia Albanese Every moment of through the records, and listening his rehearsing on records which is a great help to [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Even in his latter days?
Licia Albanese Oh yes. We used to make all the records of the rehearsing and he used to go and call us to say, Listen, come over. And see see here you the tenor, too [pierce?]. You singing too [upper forte?], this [too?]. And then I said to Maestro, Maestro, you want me to put more voice in? He said, No you shouldn't because you are sick girl, you know, "Traviata." Has a TB too. She's very sick. [Say? So?] you should [unintelligible] the last act when she's dying. You cannot scream.
Studs Terkel Here's a very healthy girl, Licia Albanese, only singing sick girls.
Licia Albanese Always [laughter]. No, when I sing Manon, Puccini, it's very healthy girl.
Studs Terkel There's something, coming back to Toscanini again, something he said here during this a drinking song. What did he say now? He wanted champagne champagne.
Licia Albanese Well yes he wants something at a very gay, very gay. Said the first act of "Traviata," you should feel to have champagne, to see champagne all around. And that's what he picked up the music. You know, he used to give ideas and that's the right, 'cause giving ideas you can start to do things in the right way. So we were so fortunate to have him giving ideas. Now nobody gives ideas to anybody.
Licia Albanese And I want to give ideas to new and young singers.
Studs Terkel Now what is it you say, what about if we may for a moment, something just said. The conductor, let us say a conductor today, a conductor today living and working. Doesn't he, he doesn't do what Toscanini did.
Studs Terkel You said [be giving?] ideas, h just conducts--
Licia Albanese A little. You know who to give some ideas because he used to love Toscanini is Fausto Cleva.
Studs Terkel Cleva?
Licia Albanese He's a conductor Metropolitan.
Studs Terkel He was a protege of Toscanini?
Licia Albanese He's won-- well, yes he was friend with Toscanini, but he's one perhaps [they did?] the artist when we have rehearsal with him. This is the only one. But sometime he has so, you know, so much to do. It's too much; they have so much to do. They have one hour rehearsing this opera and then next hour they rehearse some Wagner. That's too much.
Studs Terkel Here again we come to the same trouble you spoke of earlier, the singers being rushed. Too much is happening.
Licia Albanese Too much, yes, too much. No rest.
Studs Terkel Too much [pressure?].
Licia Albanese And then who has mind and a heart should take things a little slow, and that's what I am. I take things slow but I want to do things well. And I don't care to rush. If they rush me, I start to be upset and I'm not a upset type. I'm very quiet and calm and I want to be [calm?].
Studs Terkel Here's Madame Licia Albanese, you've given us a portrait of an artist, of you, who will not be rushed no matter how hectic the times are. Course the--
Licia Albanese No.
Studs Terkel The art is important. Perhaps a little reminiscence now of your girlhood, of your young, of your childhood beginnings since you mentioned Bari--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Licia Albanese Well I'll tell you--
Studs Terkel Always the singer?
Licia Albanese Right away. No. Well yes I did start young. But we, the only instrument we just learn, soon we are born in Bari, is the piano. All family, every family, everybody. So we were six kids kids, so, and then we start to play piano and I was I was just one of the youngest. And we dance. We love every kind of dance, you know Charleston, and [that time?]--
Studs Terkel The Charleston? Is that so?
Licia Albanese When I was a kid but I learned that too. Waltz and mazurka, every kind. And once step I remember that time and my three brothers, they loved the jazz.
Licia Albanese [Unintelligible], yes they had jazz and they they built their own drum, you know, they did a lot of good things and they used to invite us in this and to dance and to make everybody happy and because we were really well-known in Bari to just I don't know the family Albenese family was a very gay family and we used to sing to dance and to entertain. Friends, cousins--
Studs Terkel Albanese means what? The name Albenese means something doesn't it? Albanese?
Licia Albanese Well we have Albania close there.
Studs Terkel Ah, that's- ah, yeah, maybe.
Licia Albanese Maybe my, my grand, grand, grand, grandfather, father came from Albania. Who knows? We are just opposite them. With a clear, clear weather we can see the mountains of Albania, and I'm sure I never find out, so you know you need time to find out where you come from. And really I don't care, too [laughter]. So, and then we start like that. And when I had, I was 12 years old, my oldest sister used to sing so well with a dramatic voice. So I start to sing with her some duet, so [unintelligible], just light opera. We used to love operetta most in opera. And then my teacher, the pianist came one day and heard me behind the door, and he said, Oh, you have a beautiful voice. Why don't you study and surprise your father for his birthday? I said, No [won't sing?]. My sister sings. I don't know how to sing. He said, Please will you sing something? And then I sing it "Vissi D'Arte. " So my father [I?] don't know why, he just want me to take to Naples and he did. But I was just really young, 12 years old. So he did take me and say, Why didn't you take the oldest girl? Because it's really she had a beautiful, she played the piano beautifully, my oldest sister. So he said, No no, I see you are the type to become an artist, an operatic artist. Say, Why me? I don't have an idea, I don't care. I want to become a toe dancer--
Licia Albanese Which I loved so much. I used to go, you know, without shoes dancing all around the house. And then after I loved so much drama. I loved that so much but then my father want to make me an opera singer and just to be obedient I say, Okay I'll do what you want. And I study in Bari, we had a teacher there. But after two years he died and I left and he said to me, Please when I die you just got to Milano and finish your studying and sing. So I did. But with any idea I didn't care. I was a very quiet girl. In the family really, nobody knew me. They thought if we were five kids instead we were six.
Studs Terkel You are so quiet.
Licia Albanese Yes I was so quiet nobody ever saw me around. When I start to dance or to go around with my brothers, I was young, very young and I never talked to and never say a thing. I always quiet since I was born my mother used to tell me and I was two years old or three and she used to leave me on the sofa that I was after four year- four hours I was sleeping. I was all the time sleeping in which I love to sleep. I still love to sleep [laughter]. So and then I left for Milano. In Milano I study four years more and then I start my career. Nineteen thirty-six I start, '37 the full career and then 1940 I came in this beautiful country--
Studs Terkel This story you tell--
Licia Albanese And I got stuck with a man; I married him. I had [the nice boy?]--
Studs Terkel You got stuck with a man and you married him?
Licia Albanese Yes [laughter]. So you know I never want to marry because I want to do something in my career to become somebody which my father taught me to do. So I want to keep my promise to him, so and then I find a nice man and he's really a successful man in New York. And he's a good, good man; big heart. And I have a boy seven years old.
Studs Terkel So you have a domestic life--
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel As well as an artistic life?
Licia Albanese I love it. And you know, I know how to cook too.
Studs Terkel And you're the cook--
Licia Albanese know?] On top of all that! Oh, I love it! I love to cook! And I do that when I have time.
Licia Albanese [Now run?] in the kitchen and you just go over to your music. Sometime the music really fills your head and is so much; that is too much. I have to go into the kitchen, so and then I cook.
Studs Terkel And so as you're cooking you're singing too?
Studs Terkel You just rest there.
Licia Albanese I just think what I'm doing because I have to make a good meal for my husband and for my boy.
Studs Terkel This is, your story then of a young girl, this is almost the opposite of the usual story. The usual story the girl wanted-- she was born to sing.
Licia Albanese Yes.
Studs Terkel In your case you were actively pushed into it.
Licia Albanese No, I didn't care, really I didn't. Now I love it.
Licia Albanese Now is really part of my life. But really since I start [even?] until 1940, I say, Why I have to sing? Ah well I like a sing, everybody likes it. But so my father wanted, I had to make him happy. That was my idea.
Studs Terkel But since '40 the love of it grew inside you so much.
Licia Albanese Yes, grew, grew so much really, and I like to teach and like if I have time I would love to. When they ask me if I start to give some lesson, I don't have time, see?
Studs Terkel Working all the time.
Licia Albanese I have so much and then you know sometime I have not to sing, I stay home and I have to think of my husband and my home and my child.
Studs Terkel Licia Albanese, we started with Puccini, "Butterfly," and we come you've given us the story of you and your feelings about opera singing. The great artists have influenced you, notably Maestro Toscanini. Your feeling about Giacomo Puccini.
Licia Albanese Yes. [Unintelligible] so much.
Studs Terkel You see, even though he's dead, he's still with you.
Studs Terkel Now I say to you, Madame Licia Albanese, thank you very much for being our gracious guest.
Licia Albanese Thanks to you. It was really wonderful to be with you today.