Don Carlo, Un ballo in maschera, La Rondine, Giovanna D’Arco, Turandot, L’Arlesiana, La Gioconda, Cavalleria Rusticana
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor
Decca, 1964 (2006)
Renata Tebaldi was unquestionably one of the leading sopranos of the 20th century and this album, recorded under the baton of an unjustly underestimated conductor, Olivero de Fabritiis, is an exhaustive collection of some of the roles that Tebaldi has performed on stage in their entirety (as La Gioconda and Mefistofele) and other that exist only as excerpts recorded in studio (as Turandot). The major part of the album is devoted to arias written by composers with whom Tebaldi’s name is commonly associated: Puccini and Verdi, with few arias by Ponchielli (Suicidio! from La Gioconda), Mascagni (Voi lo sapete, o mamma from Cavalleria rusticana) and Cilea (Essere madre è un inferno from L’Arlesiana) and it is a journey through Italian music between 19th and early 20th century.
When Tebaldi recorded this album (1964) she was almost in the final part of her career, but her voice still possesses its slightly burnished colour and it is not worn out as in recordings of few years later as in the album of arie antiche conducted by Richard Bonynge. Apart from antiquated habits that reminds of a musical tradition that has found in her its last and perhaps the most remarkable representative and from some intrinsic limits of her voice (the tessitura of Turandot reveals her limited high register), what is really enthralling is her way to sing tragic roles, that in several of these arias find the perfect expression of grief (as L’altra notte in fondo al mare from Mefistofele and Morrò, ma prima in grazia from Un ballo in maschera), but that she usually sings without being carried away by sentimental excesses. The intensity of her feelings is always balanced by an inner strength that in a certain sense contradicts the disturbance of Margherita (L’altra notte in fondo al mare), the hopelessness of Gioconda (Suicidio!) and even the trepidation of Amelia (Ecco l’orrido campo), but that fixes the uniqueness and freshness of her interpretation in the listener’s mind.
Another “contradiction” is that the album is not sombre and its dramatic scenes do not afflict the listener as they might have with a different, more “concrete” singer. The lyricism of Tebaldi’s voice suggests instead a certain brightness, although her emotional participation to the vicissitudes of her heroines is out of question as it is possible to hear in the uniform tragedy that characterizes Essere madre è un inferno (L’Arlesiana), in the gracefulness of Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (La rondine) or in expressive details as the tragic ending «che mai più non vedrà» from Morrò, ma prima in grazia or the sorrowful «di me pietà» from L’altra notte in fondo al mare.
O ben s’addice questo torbido cielo from Giovanna d’Arco is a sort of exception. Tebaldi sings this excerpt – taken from an opera that (unusually) she recorded twice and contributed to relaunch in modern times – with determination and a kind of masculine strength that, if on the one hand suits to the French leader, on the other hand it is another, very good example of the psychological firmness with which she usually endows her characters.
This is not the only fine album recorded by Renata Tebaldi that hands down her glorious voice and many others can be listed that are as good as this, but it has so many hints of inspiration that it really deserved to be mentioned – and heard.