February’s Singer of the Month: Renata Tebaldi

The glorious one with the voice of an angel:  Renata Tebaldi

One of the most beautiful Italian voices ever to grace the stage, Renata Tebaldi was born in Pesaro on February 1, 1922.  In memory of Madama Tebaldi’s birthday, having fallen just a few days ago, I decided to implement a new section to this blog called, “Singer of the Month.”  It is only appropriate, knowing my devotion to the old-school and to Italianante singing, that Renata Tebaldi be the first singer featured in this new section.  Every month, I will select a singer or artist of the past or present who has contributed their talents to the field of opera, in one way or another.

Tebaldi was one of those voices that is unforgettable.  Madama’s voice was liquid, lush, filled with vibrancy, with a burnished middle voice, a magnificent upper range, and the power of a hundred chariots.  Her charisma and musicianship combined with her God-given gift, not only made her famous in her day, she remains a true example for any young singer who wants to understand what the “real deal” is.

She studied at the Conservatorio di Musica Arrigo Boito, in Parma with Carmen Mellis and made her debut in 1944 in Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele” as Elena. In 1946, when La Scala reopened, she partook in that concert under Toscanini’s baton and subsequently sang Mimi and Eva in the 1946-47 season. From 1949-1954, she sang regularly at La Scala in roles such as:  Maddalena in Andrea Chenier, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Desdemona in Otello, and La Wally.  She soon made debuts in London and in San Francisco as Aida.  In 1955, she became a prima at the Metropolitan Opera, where she remained for 20 years.

Tebaldi’s voice was capable of nearly anything.  Not only did she perform the “lirico spinto” repertoire, she also delved into such roles as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Spontini’s Olympia, and Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco, showing a tremendous versatility and range.  Her Forza del Destino is the stuff of legend and I, of course, have a personal devotion to her understanding of Puccini’s repertoire, most specifically Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, and Mimi in La Boheme; not to mention Angelica in Suor Angelica.

If you’ve never watched or seen, or heard her, for that matter, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!? Her elegance, her mannerisms–a true lady–the way in which she used her hands, the beauty of her persona were all aspects that made La Tebaldi what she was, an artist of true value. Her voice lingers in one’s mind and heart, and her’s is a historical lexicon of recordings that we as operagoers, historians, and afficionados must make sure to preserve and introduce to those too young to have known about her.  On this anniversary of her birth, on behalf of all who loved her and continue to, “Madama, we remember…we can never forget and we fight that your legacy continue, that your art, as you saw it and understood it so intimately, be preserved as it were, now and always.  In grand devotion, we thank you.  Grazie mille, Brava!”

Elegance personified: a true diva, private, respectful of her art, and authentic

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was lucky i saw that beautiful lady
    4 times live – She had a beautiful voice,
    a lot power also a beautiful woman.
    I will never forget her radiant smile (dimples) They don’t make them like this anymore.

    • You are right, Sir. They don’t make them like that anymore….she was a force unto herself. She would have greatly appreciated your comment, I’m sure. xo

  2. I was very fortunate to have seen our beloved Renata 33 times between the last 2 years at the “Old Met” on Broadway just south of Times Square in NYC, and then in Lincoln Center. She was larger than life to many of us, college kids who would buy standee tickets for her performances weeks in advance. She would always stop to greet the mob outside the stage door as she pulled up in her limo, and then after the performance, she sat and signed every program that was thrust at her through the car window. She gave kisses on both cheeks and a huge smile followed by “Ciao” to each of by by first name when she knew it. Her stage performances weer riveting and full of emotion, reducing many to tears in gratitude for her great successes. Other times, tears because she did not hit the note as we all hoped. She was special and there will never be another like her.

    • You were lucky to have seen her so many times. I saw her in Montreal in Otello
      with Del Monaco and Gobbi, 2 recitals
      and at the Lincoln Center in La Gioconda
      with Carlo Bergonzi. When she died i was
      so sad. I have all her stutio recordings
      and most of her live recordings (she has a lot) I was in New York when she was
      at the record store to sign the album of
      La Gioconda but i missed it i only found out the next day. From the pictures i saw she looked like a movie star. There is no sopranos like her anymore. Golden age of opera is gone.

      • Well, I think the reason we don’t have singers like this anymore because teachers and coaches have lost track of what the “old school” is. Tebaldi was taught a specific technique, along with other singers like Muzio, and Ponselle. We don’t hear this anymore at the Met, and so young singers have no role models to hear, unless they are privy to singers of old. I do think there are a few singers remaining who belong to this school, like the late Pavarotti, and Madame Millo, for example, but the problem is that opera houses and directors are casting singers who have non-italianante voices in Italian roles. Tebaldi probably would have freaked out had she heard half of the people singing her repertoire. It is up to us to continue the legacy that she promoted and adhered to. Perhaps the tide will turn sometime in the future and we might return to what is authentic.


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