Licia Albanese, a great soprano of...well, not the last generation, but a couple of generations back (she was 105, after all) died last week. Stuck in the middle of her obituary is this detail, which shows just how dedicated and serious one has to be to make it to the august stage of the Met:
Miss Albanese also collaborated with some of the most eminent male singers of her time, whose names evoke a grand bygone era. Among them were Jan Peerce, with whom she partnered many times at the Met, and Ezio Pinza, a notorious trickster who made one of her swan songs even more difficult than normal:
"I remember a 'Bohème' broadcast when I kept smelling something terrible in the final scene, where I was dying," Miss Albanese told The New York Times in 1989. "I kept singing, but in between I would whisper to everyone, 'My God, what is that smell?' And finally at the end, Pinza pulled a herring out from under my pillow."
If you're interested in hearing her non-herring-related singing, here she is at 76, playing the aging soprano (how'd they think to cast her?) Heidi Schiller in the concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, with a younger singer, Erie Mills, singing along as a ghostly version of her younger self. By this point her voice wasn't nearly what it once was, and she'd long since stopped performing in operas, but I've always loved this recording (the show is about aging, retired performers struggling through their old numbers at a party to celebrate a soon-to-be-demolished theater, so it works perfectly).