Tenor Salvatore Licitra dies at forty-three, after injuries sustained in a motor-scooter crash in Italy; artist manager Merle Hubbard.
© Gregory Downer 2011
Bern, Switzerland, August 10, 1968 — Catania, Sicily, September 5, 2011
Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, who rose to international acclaim following an unexpected Met debut in a 2002 performance of Tosca in which he sang the role of Cavaradossi as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti, died as a result of injuries sustained in an August 27 motor-scooter accident in Sicily. He was forty-three.
Licitra reportedly experienced a cerebral hemorrhage that caused him to lose control of his scooter while traveling in the city of Modica, near Ragusa, and suffered severe head and chest injuries as a result of the accident. He underwent emergency surgery at Garibaldi di Catania hospital in Sicily, but he had been in a coma since August 30.
Licitra was born in Bern, Switzerland, to Sicilian parents, but came of age in Milan. Initially it seemed that the tenor was destined for a career as a graphic artist, but at the age of nineteen, after competing in the Concorso Voci Verdiane in Busseto, Licitra began studying with Carlo Bergonzi at the Orchestra Arturo Toscanini's academy in Parma. Licitra made his stage debut in a 1998 student performance of Un Ballo in Maschera at Parma's Teatro Regio. Later that year, he sang in performances of Ballo, Rigoletto and Aida at the Arena di Verona festival. An audition for Riccardo Muti the following year resulted in the tenor's singing the role of Alvaro in a new production of La Forza del Destino at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. In June and July of the same season, Licitra returned to the Arena di Verona, where he sang the principal tenor roles in performances of Tosca and Madama Butterfly, and in March 2000, he returned to Milan for well-received performances of Tosca.
Licitra continued to garner acclaim in European houses as one of the leading exponents of the Italian repertory's spinto roles. He opened the 2000–01 season at La Scala, again under Muti's baton, as Manrico in a performance of Il Trovatore — an opera that had not been performed at the Milanese house in more than two decades — and, during the same season, proceeded to sing in Verona, Rome, Vienna, Lisbon and Turin, in addition to making his United States debut in November as a guest soloist at the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Opera Gala in New York.
Licitra had been previously scheduled to make his Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2004–05 season, but his unexpected substitution for Pavarotti on May 11, 2002, effectively jump-started his international career and established him as a stylistically authentic, if inconsistently refined, interpreter of the vocal traditions of the Italian repertory.
In addition to debuts in Europe's major cultural capitals, Licitra's stateside career subsequently took him to Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles. His repertoire eventually grew to encompass the roles of Ernani, Macduff, Don Carlo, Fanciulla del West's Dick Johnson, Luigi in Il Tabarro, Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur, Canio in Pagliacci, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and the title role in Andrea Chénier.
After that attention-grabbing Met debut, Licitra sang just sixty-five performances in five seasons with the company. Among the highlights of his relatively brief Met career was his appearance in a 2005 company gala dedicated to Mirella Freni, in which the tenor joined the diva in a duet from Adriana Lecouvreur. In 2007, Licitra sang Luigi in Il Tabarro in Jack O'Brien's new Met staging of Il Trittico, as well as in Il Trittico's subsequent presentation as part of The Met: Live in HD series. The tenor was scheduled to sing Manrico in the Met's 2009 premiere of David McVicar's Il Trovatore staging, but he withdrew before rehearsals began.
On the soundtrack for Sally Potter's 2001 film The Man Who Cried, the story of life in an opera troupe in 1930s Paris, Licitra provided the vocals for Dante Dominio, the neurotic Italian tenor played by John Turturro. The Man Who Cried soundtrack, which included admirable Licitra performances of "Je crois entendre encore," "Di quella pira" and "E lucevan le stelle," was released by Sony, which also issued several solo albums by the tenor (The Debut, 2002; Forbidden Love, 2006) as well as a live concert at the Roman Colosseum with fellow tenor Marcelo Álvarez (Duetto, 2003) and a complete Il Trovatore from La Scala, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Among Licitra's available DVD performances are a 2003 Berlin concert with Kent Nagano and Radamès in Nicolas Joel's Zurich Opera staging of Aida.
Licitra's last performance at the Metropolitan Opera was on April 16, 2011, when he sang Cavaradossi in the company's revival of Tosca. On July 30, the date of his final performance, he sang Cavaradossi in a Ravinia Festival concert performance of Tosca with Patricia Racette and Bryn Terfel. This month, Licitra had been scheduled to perform the title role in Ernani in a tour of Japan by the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.
New York, New York, January 9, 1937 — August 4, 2011
Hubbard began his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he worked as a rehearsal administrator from the 1950s through the 1970s. After his years at the Met, Hubbard went into artist management, working first with manager Herbert Breslin and then on his own. Among the artists Hubbard discovered and nurtured was soprano Renée Fleming, whom Hubbard first heard when she was a student of Beverley Johnson at Juilliard.
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