World-class tenor and operatic star Salvatore Licitra will no longer shine on the stage. His beautiful voice is now just a memory to his many fans and followers.
Italian singer Licitra replaced Luciano Pavarotti in “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on two hours’ notice on May 12, 2002, receiving critical acclaim for his performance. Life was not the same again after that fateful break.
During his first Taipei visit in 2004, not long after Pavarotti announced after performing one last time the role of Cavaradossi in the Puccini opera “Tosca” that he was retiring from the opera stage, the good-looking Licitra admitted he had this ambition to succeed Pavarotti as a recognized voice.
“I met Pavarotti last summer,” the then 36-year-old Sicilian said seven years ago. “I watched him in ‘Tosca’ in Berlin. I went backstage afterwards and introduced myself.”
Aware the young and very promising tenor replaced him at the Met when he fell ill, Pavarotti told Licitra: “Many years ago, I was in the same situation like you.”
Pavarotti once filled in for Giuseppe di Stefano, a tenor who often sang with Maria Callas in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” and his career took off from there.
“I hope to make a good career,” said Licitra in 2004. “I am still working at it.”
Licitra cited his need to concentrate and study a lot to arrive at his envisioned “big success.” Tenors with glorious careers like Pavarotti and Placido Domingo were his role models.
The then rising star, recognized as “the fourth tenor” after the Three Tenors in the opera world, remarked almost with premonition of a fairly short career that his big regret had been his wasting of seven years learning from two women, one a soprano and the other her teacher. He sought daily voice coaching from them.
“I joined seven competitions and lost all of them,” he said, pointing out the failures of his early mentors.
Licitra started singing quite late at age 19. He knew nothing about the opera until then. He could not even read scores. His mother heard him vocalizing one day and urged him to go and take singing lessons. At that time he was working as a graphic artist.
His career began turning around after he met Carlo Bergonzi in 1996. This tenor teacher told him: “You have to follow your voice and instinct. Forget about technique.”
“In two years,” recalled Licitra, “he let me start my career.”
Licitra began doing a repertoire which included Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and “La Forza del Destino.”
The Berne-born Italian considered himself “a lucky man” for being able to work immediately with maestro Riccardo Muti in five productions.
Bergonzi, a famous Verdi interpreter, prepared him for “Un Ballo in Maschera.”
“But I made my more profound study with Riccardo Muti,” said Licitra. “I learned from him that it is important to follow the score… what the composer writes. Composers are geniuses and I follow their suggestions.”
Licitra, who considered himself “basically an opera singer,” revealed: “In the future, I hope to sing in ‘Turandot.’”
When prevailed upon to give a sampling of his golden voice, Licitra sang “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s three-act opera.
Licitra had the reputation of a true spinto tenor with rare talent and unusually strong voice to inherit heavier roles like Cavaradossi in “Tosca.” His avid fans in Taipei remember him particularly for singing a repertoire singers with less stamina would shy away from.
Licitra, whose leading fans included his proud mother and his then lawyer fiancée, said to be willing to wait for him in Rome while he went places singing, commented during his Taipei visit in 2008 that he sang in “Duetto,” a crossover CD recording he did with Argentinian tenor Marcelo Alvarez for Sony Music in 2007, because he wanted to make young people interested in opera and not just pop music.
The artist, acclaimed for his appearances at the Met, La Scala and Arena of Verona, added: “Opera should be seen as a live spectacle in a theater.” In his opinion, a movie and a DVD or CD performance could not compare with what was shown live on the opera stage.
Asked how he took care of his voice, Licitra replied: “I go to the mountain to ski. I sleep. Or I go to the beach to swim.” He also revealed his love for blazing a trail on his motorbike.
Licitra crashed his scooter onto a wall in Modica in southern Sicily on Aug. 27. He was not wearing a helmet.
After he was flown to a hospital in Catania for surgery, he remained in a coma until his death on Sept. 5.
His family agreed to make his organs available for transplant, said a BBC news report. He was only 43.