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Monday, September 5, 2011

Obituary: Salvatore Licitra, 1968-2011

Salvatore Licitra in La Forza del Destino.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2006 The Metropolitan Opera.
Tenor Salvatore Licitra, who was severely injured on Aug. 27 while riding his Vespa motorcycle in Ragusa, Sicily, has died. He was 43.

The singer was riding on his scooter when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and crashed into a brick wall. He was not wearing a helmet. He was was rushed to Garibaldi Hospital and moved into the intensive care unit with serious injuries to his head and chest.

Mr. Licitra lay in a coma for nine days. He never regained consciousness.

Born in Bern, Switzerland, Mr. Licitra fell into opera singing after a brief career as a graphic designer. A student at Carlo Bergonzi's voice academy in Bussetto, Italy, he made his debut there in 1998 in Un Ballo en Maschera. Later, he was hired by Riccardo Muti for a production of La Forza del Destino at La Scala and his rise to fame was complete.

Mr. Licitra rose to fame in New York when he substituted for Luciano Pavarotti in a 2002 performance of Tosca. Mr. Pavarotti had cancelled his appearance two hours before curtain. The charismatic tenor made a strong impression as Mario Cavaradossi, and the press started referring to him as a logical heir to Mr. Pavarotti's crown.

The singer made a specialty of Verdi heroes: Radames in Aida, Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino, and King Gustavo in Un Ballo in Maschera. Armed with a sturdy instrument and dynamic stage presence, the singer also appeared in new productions of Puccini's Il Trittico and Tosca. He was then hired  to sing Turiddu in the traditional pairing of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. 

When another tenor cancelled, Mr. Licitra added the role of Canio in the later opera, singing both tenor roles in the famous pair. Earlier this year, Mr. Licitra was booked to sing the title role in the company's revival of Ernani next February. He pulled out of those performances in July. Marcello Giordani will sing the part, splitting the six performances with fellow tenor Roberto Lo Blasio.

Mr. Licitra is survived by his parents, his brother, and his girlfriend, who was riding on the scooter when it crashed. She was wearing a helmet.

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