Salvatore Licitra’s death on a Vespa – an operatic tenor dying cruelly in his prime.

Salvatore Licitra (1968-2011)

It was a tragedy for his family and for the opera world when the 43 year Sicilian-Swiss tenor died on Monday after spending nine days in a coma after an accident on his vespa scooter a few days before he was to be honoured in his family homeland of Sicily.

It is reported that he may have suffered a brain haemorrhage whilst riding his vespa with his girlfriend who was unhurt – a sadly poignant exit for one of the opera world’s great hopes. As a brain haemorrhage survivor and an Italian opera enthusiast, I am doubly moved by this.

I never saw Salvatore Licitra live but listening to the sadly rather small number of his recordings, it is obvious that he had a glorious Italianate voice used with real sensitivity and musicality and that he was especially gifted at singing pianissimo – not always a noted quality in tenors. He was only 43 when he died – really just at the beginning of his vocal prime – and if he may never have had that final “squillo” (ringing high notes) that so thrilled us all in the voice of Luciano Pavarotti, his was a formidable instrument that was still to reach its full maturity.

He was also, so people say, a very charming, lively and unassuming man whose capacity for fun was so poignantly illustrated by that last Vespa ride. I know, only too well, how it is possible to be feeling on top of the World just before the lights go out – I suspect he was laughing just before he lost consciousness – I hope so. Like many survivors, I feel a touch of guilt that I survived whilst he died, but it is a lesson to everyone to enjoy themselves now here in the present tense because none of us know when the curtain will fall.

Here he is in one of his best roles singing the two tenor arias from in Puccini’s Tosca, with handy Japanese subtitles, and then, just because I can’t resist hearing it again, O Sole Mio.

The World is not so full of great tenors that we could afford to let this guy go.

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