A Short Biography of “La voce d’angelo”
Renata Tebaldi (Pesaro, 1 February 1922 – San Marino, 19 December 2004) Italian lirico-spinto soprano. Among the most beloved opera singers, she had one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. Her repertoire focused primarily on Verismo and Verdi roles.
Renata Tebaldi: Early Years & Debut
The daughter of a cellist, Teobaldo Tebaldi, and a nurse, Giuseppina Barbieri, Tebaldi grew up in Langhirano. She studied in Parma, taking piano and then singing lessons. Later, she studied with soprano Carmen Melis, who made a name for herself singing Verismo roles, at the Liceo musicale Rossini in Pesaro.
Tebaldi made her stage debut in 1944 in Rovigo, as Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele. In the next two years, she frequently sang in Northern Italy cities, especially in Verdi and Verismo operas as Otello, La bohème, L’amico Fritz and Andrea Chénier.
In 1946, she auditioned for Arturo Toscanini and was took part at the concert for the reopening of the Teatro alla Scala, which was destroyed during the Second World War. Other members of the concert were illustrious singers as Tancredi Pasero, Mafalda Favero and Mariano Stabile. It was in this occasion that Toscanini invented the epithet «voce d’angelo» («voice of an angel»). It was originally referred only to Tebaldi’s part from one of the two pieces she had to sing during the concert, the prayer from Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto, but it was later applied to her voice tout court.
In the next years, Tebaldi’s career flourished. She regularly sang those which were to become her eponymous ones, as Margherita in Mefistofele, Mimì in La bohème, the title role in Aida and Violetta in La traviata. Furthermore, she was renowned as a remarkable Wagner singer when she performed Elsa (Lohengrin, 1946) and Eva (Die Meistersinger). Tebaldi later abandoned these roles because she was not comfortable singing them in German.
Renata Tebaldi: International Career
In the first part of her career, Tebaldi was a favourite of both the Teatro alla Scala and of the San Carlo in Naples. However, from the mid-1950s, La Scala preferred other singers, first and foremost Maria Callas. Tebaldi therefore decided to continue her career in America. Although she initially rejected Rudolf Bing’s offer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, she finally gave in and made her debut in 1955. Tebaldi’s American debut dates to few years before, in 1950, when she sang Aida at the San Francisco Opera.
In the next twenty years, Tebaldi had a privileged relationship with the Met, to the point that she was known as “Miss Sold Out” (Bing, for his part, called her “Iron Dimples”). She performed there all her best roles, including Puccini’s heroines from La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West, Verdi’s Otello, La forza del destino, Simon Boccanegra, Falstaff, Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. She was also the one who suggested to stage Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur for the 1962-1963. Despite Bing’s personal dislike for this opera, it was performed – but it was not a huge success.
Renata Tebaldi: Alleged Rivalry with Maria Callas
The Tebaldi-Callas rivalry was one of the most fascinating subjects of the 1950s. This “rivalry” is strictly related to the contraposition between purity and beauty of sound (Tebaldi) and dramatic power and expression (Callas). Also, it has a wider meaning when considering that Tebaldi is the last representative of a golden tradition, while Callas is the embodiment of “modern” singing.
The rivalry began in 1951. Tebaldi and Callas were in Rio de Janeiro for a recital and the former did not respect the agreement to avoid encores, taking two of them. In the next years, the situation worsened, not as much because of the two singers’ fault, but for the exasperated partisanship of their respective fans.
In fact, a “rivalry” between Tebaldi and Callas had no reason to exist. First of all, their musical education was completely different, even antithetical. Tebaldi was trained by a Verismo singer, while Callas is connected with the 19th century tradition. As a consequence of their musical education, they also chose different repertories, which have only few intersections (Tosca, La Gioconda, La traviata). Lastly, the two singers’ voices are of a completely different kind: Tebaldi was a lirico-spinto who was not really at ease in coloratura and high notes, while Callas was a soprano drammatico d’agilità.
On a practical level, the “rivalry” benefited both singers from at least one (significant) point of view. As Tebaldi recalled, «it was very good for both of us, because the publicity was so big and it created a very big interest about me and Maria and was very good in the end».
Tebaldi and Callas reconciled in 1968, when the Greek soprano met her colleague in her dressing room after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur.
La traviata: 1953, Tebaldi, Protti, Poggi, Molinari-Pradelli
La forza del destino: 1955, Tebaldi, Del Monaco, Bastianini, Simionato, Siepi
La forza del destino: 1958, Tebaldi, Corelli, Bastianini, Dominguez, Christoff, Molinari-Pradelli
Tosca: 1959, Tebaldi, Del Monaco, London, Molinari-Pradelli
La Wally: 1968, Tebaldi, Del Monaco, Cappuccilli, Cleva
Classic Recitals (1964)
Christmas Recital (1971)
Tebaldi & Corelli – Great Opera Duets (1973)