Renata Tebaldi

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Renata Tebaldi

Renata Tebaldi Madame Butterfly Bell Telephone Hour.JPG
Tebaldi as Madama Butterfly
Renata Ersilia Clotilde Tebaldi

(1922-02-01)1 February 1922
Died19 December 2004(2004-12-19) (aged 82)
Other namesLa Voce d'Angelo[1][2]
EducationConservatorio Statale di Musica "Gioachino Rossini"
OccupationOperatic soprano
Years active1944-1976

Renata Tebaldi Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (US: /təˈbɑːldi/ tə-BAHL-dee,[7] Italian: [reˈnaːta teˈbaldi]; 1 February 1922 – 19 December 2004) was an Italian lirico-spinto soprano popular in the post-war period and was especially prominent as one of the stars of La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera.[8] Among the greatest and most beloved opera singers, she has been said to have possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century, a voice that was focused primarily on the verismo roles of the lyric and dramatic repertoires.[9][10][11] Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini praised Tebaldi's voice as "la voce d'angelo" ("the voice of an angel"),[1][2] while La Scala music director Riccardo Muti summed up Tebaldi as "one of the greatest performers with one of the most extraordinary voices in the field of opera."[5]

Early years and education[edit]

Born in Pesaro,[12] Tebaldi was the daughter of a cellist, Teobaldo Tebaldi,[13] and Giuseppina Barbieri, a nurse.[14]:13 Her parents separated before her birth and Tebaldi grew up with her mother in the home of her maternal grandparents in Langhirano.[15][16]

Stricken with polio at the age of three,[17] Tebaldi became interested in music and was a member of the church choir in Langhirano.[14]:32 Her mother sent her, at the age of thirteen, for piano lessons with Giuseppina Passani in Parma,[18] who took the initiative that Tebaldi study voice with Italo Brancucci, a singing teacher at the conservatory of Parma. She was admitted to the conservatory at the age of 17, taking lessons with Brancucci and Ettore Campogalliani,[19] and later transferred to Liceo musicale Rossini in Pesaro taking lessons with Carmen Melis,[20] and on her suggestion with Giuseppe Pais.[21][22][23] She later studied with Beverley Peck Johnson in New York City.[24]

Italian career[edit]

Tebaldi made her stage debut as Elena in Boito's Mefistofele in Rovigo in 1944. Wartime conditions made for a difficult trip, with Tebaldi partly travelling by horse cart to Rovigo, and her return trip coming under machine-gun fire. Her early career was also marked by a performance in Parma in La bohème, L'amico Fritz and Andrea Chénier. She caused a stir when in 1946 she made her debut as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello alongside Francesco Merli as the title role in Trieste.[25]

Her major breakthrough came in 1946, when she auditioned for Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini was favorably impressed, calling her "voce d'angelo" (voice of an angel).[1] Tebaldi made her La Scala debut that year at the concert which marked the reopening of the theatre after World War II. She sang the "Prayer" ("Dal tuo stellato soglio") from Rossini's biblical opera, Mosè in Egitto, as well as the soprano part in Verdi's Te Deum. She was given the operatic roles of Margherita and Elena in Mefistofele and Elsa in Lohengrin in 1946. The following year, she appeared in La bohème and as Eva in Die Meistersinger. Toscanini encouraged her to sing the role of Aida and invited her to rehearse the role in his studio. She was of the opinion that the role of Aida was reserved for a dramatic soprano, but Toscanini convinced her and she made her role debut at La Scala in 1950 alongside Mario del Monaco and Fedora Barbieri in a performance conducted by Antonino Votto. This was the greatest success in her still young career and was to launch her international career.

Her voice was used for Sophia Loren's singing in the film version of Aida (1953).[26]

International career[edit]

Tebaldi with Giuseppe Di Stefano in Rome, 1960

She went on a concert tour with the La Scala ensemble in 1950, first to the Edinburgh Festival and then on to London, where she made her debut as Desdemona in two performances of Otello at the Royal Opera House and in the Verdi Requiem, both conducted by Victor de Sabata.

The Met[edit]

Tebaldi with a friend in New York, 1957

Tebaldi made her American debut in 1950 as Aida at the San Francisco Opera; her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on 31 January 1955, as Desdemona opposite Mario Del Monaco's Otello.[27][self-published source] For some twenty years, she made the Met the focus of her activities. For the 1962/1963 season, Tebaldi convinced the director of the Met, Rudolf Bing, to stage a revival of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, an opera that Bing said he "detested." Unfortunately, Tebaldi was not in top vocal form and cancelled performances, and, as Bing says in '1000 Nights at the Opera', "we had to do the wretched thing without her." Her Lecouvreur, however, was a practical move for the Met, as Tebaldi was "the greatest box-office draw since Flagstad", according to Francis Robinson, the then assistant manager in charge of ticket sales.[28]

One of the public's favorite Tebaldi roles is Minnie in Puccini's La fanciulla del West. When she made her debut in the role at the Met, she was told that, as all Minnies do, she would have to enter in the 3rd act on horseback. Tebaldi, who had a lifelong fear of horses, refused to go near the animal until she was sure he was safe. At her first rehearsal with the animal, Tebaldi approached him, patted his mane, and said, "Well, Mr. Horse, I am Tebaldi. You and I are going to be friends, eh?" Tebaldi conquered her fear and the performances were a success.[29]

She sang more at the Met and far less elsewhere. She had developed a special rapport with the Met audiences and became known as "Miss Sold Out", as the Tebaldi name on the marquee was thought to be a performance that could hardly be matched. She sang there some 270 times in La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West, Otello, La forza del destino, Simon Boccanegra, Falstaff, Andrea Chénier, Adriana Lecouvreur, La Gioconda and Violetta in a production of La traviata created specially for her. Puccini's Tosca became her most performed role at the Met, playing it 45 times. She was the Leonora in La forza del destino on the night that Leonard Warren suddenly died in a performance in 1960, and she was Adriana Lecouvreur on the night Placido Domingo made his Met debut in 1968. She made her last appearance there as Desdemona in Otello on January 8, 1973, the same role in which she had made her Met debut eighteen years earlier and became one of her signature roles.

A result of her years in the Met, as well as in America, was that she became a well-loved figure by the American operatic public. Tebaldi did not become a classical temperamental diva, but trusted her own artistic instinct. Rudolf Bing, referring to Tebaldi's demanding side, once famously said of her, "she has dimples of iron".[30]

Tebaldi and Callas[edit]

Renata Tebaldi, 1961

During the early 1950s, controversy arose regarding a supposed rivalry between Tebaldi and the great Greek-American soprano Maria Callas.[31] The contrast between Callas's often unconventional vocal qualities and Tebaldi's classically beautiful sound resurrected an argument as old as opera itself, namely, beauty of sound versus the expressive use of sound.[31][32]

In 1951, Tebaldi and Maria Callas were jointly booked for a vocal recital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although the singers agreed that neither would perform encores, Tebaldi took two, and Callas was reportedly incensed.[33] This incident began the rivalry, which reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, at times even engulfing the two women themselves, who were said by their more fanatical followers to have engaged in verbal barbs in each other's direction. Tebaldi was quoted as saying, "I have one thing that Callas doesn't have: a heart"[34] while Callas was quoted in Time magazine as saying that comparing her with Tebaldi was like "comparing Champagne with Cognac. No, with Coca Cola."[35] However, witnesses to the interview stated that Callas only said "champagne with cognac", and it was a bystander who quipped, "No, with Coca-Cola", but the Time reporter attributed the latter comment to Callas.[34] According to John Ardoin, however, these two singers should never have been compared.[31] Tebaldi was trained by Carmen Melis, a noted verismo specialist, and she was rooted in the early 20th century Italian school of singing just as firmly as Callas was rooted in 19th century bel canto.[31] Callas was a dramatic soprano, whereas Tebaldi considered herself essentially a lyric soprano. Callas and Tebaldi generally sang a different repertoire: in the early years of her career, Callas concentrated on the heavy dramatic soprano roles and later in her career on the bel canto repertoire, whereas Tebaldi concentrated on late Verdi and verismo roles, where her limited upper extension[32] and her lack of a florid technique were not issues.[31] They shared a few roles, including Tosca in Puccini's opera and La Gioconda, which Tebaldi performed only late in her career.

The alleged rivalry aside, Callas made remarks appreciative of Tebaldi, and vice versa. During an interview with Norman Ross in Chicago, Callas said, "I admire Tebaldi's tone; it's beautiful – also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice." Francis Robinson of the Met wrote of an incident in which Tebaldi asked him to recommend a recording of La Gioconda in order to help her learn the role. Being fully aware of the alleged rivalry, he recommended Zinka Milanov's version. A few days later, he went to visit Tebaldi, only to find her sitting by the speakers, listening intently to Callas's recording. She then looked up at him and asked, "Why didn't you tell me Maria's was the best?"[36] According to Time magazine, when Callas quit La Scala, "Tebaldi made a surprising maneuver: she announced that she would not sing at La Scala without Callas. 'I sing only for artistic reasons; it is not my custom to sing against anybody', she said."[37]

Callas visited Tebaldi after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in 1968, and the two were reunited. In 1978, Tebaldi spoke warmly of her late colleague and summarized this rivalry:

This rivality [sic] was really building from the people of the newspapers and the fans. But I think 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. But I don't know why they put this kind of rivality [sic], because the voice was very different. She was really something unusual. And I remember that I was very young artist too, and I stayed near the radio every time that I know that there was something on radio by Maria.[38]


Tebaldi's voice was reputed to be one of the most beautiful of the day,[9][10][11] with rich, perfectly produced tones. At the start of her career, her audition in bomb-ravaged La Scala's reopening was marked by Arturo Toscanini praising Tebaldi, calling her la voce d'angelo with enthusiastic "Brava!"s and applauds.[8] British musicologist Alan Blyth posited that in posterity, Tebaldi holds a position of being one of the last and best spinto sopranos of the last 50 years, due to Tebaldi's successors in the fach not having the right vocal equipment for her parts. Blyth attributed this in part to Tebaldi's recordings, and her live performances onstage. Tebaldi's voice added a frisson of urgency when she sang in an opera house. This was noted in two of her performances as Leonora in Verdi's La forza del destino, evident in a recording done at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1953, where conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos urged her to great heights of vocal and dramatic achievement, and a live video recording in Naples.[39] Montserrat Caballe remarked on an interview that Tebaldi, "She was our Aida, our Traviata, our Manon Lescaut. She was all the roles, and she was the most perfect human voice we ever heard", likewise, Robert Merrill and Licia Albanese commented on the sumptuous and beautiful quality of Tebaldi's voice.[40]

Tebaldi withdrew from performances in 1963 to restudy, made in part due to the emotional stress after eighteen years of singing. After thirteen months of reworking her voice, Tebaldi possessed an unmistakable metallic edge in her voice which only strengthened over the years. On her mid-to-later career, Tebaldi shifted from being a spinto to one with a near-dramatic sound. Adding La Gioconda in her repertoire, Tebaldi had chest notes carried high, bearing ample size and strength but little of the known beauty of Tebaldi's tone. Similarly, in her recorded Puccini roles at that time, one can't always count on the "floats" being easily produced or accurately pitched.[41]

Some critics of Tebaldi have commented adversely on her seemingly incomplete technique, sometimes she took on strident; full-voiced top notes when tackling material above the high B-flat, and occasional lapses on her pitch. For most audiences however, there was a sheer and deep richness of Tebaldi's voice, her melting legato phrases, the deeply expressive but never maudlin quality of singing, the beauty of her floated pianissimo high notes, and her temperament when dwelling in moments of dramatic intensity.[30] Tebaldi's often mentioned alleged rival, Maria Callas, said in an interview, "I admire Tebaldi's tone; it's beautiful – also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice."

Tebaldi herself mentioned that recording presented challenges for her, as she missed the stimulation of an audience, and her powerful voice would often cause sound engineers to insist that she turn away from the microphone at moments of climactic intensity.[42]

Personal life[edit]

Tebaldi enjoyed a beloved relationship with her mother, who helped nurture and was devoted to her career and well-being from an early age. Her mother's death in 1957 took on a huge blow to Tebaldi, whose grief was unbearable and took effort in going back to the stage.[41]

Tebaldi never married. In a 1995 interview with The Times, she said she had no regrets about her single life. "I was in love many times," she said. "This is very good for a woman." But she added, "How could I have been a wife, a mother and a singer? Who takes care of the piccolini when you go around the world? Your children would not call you Mama, but Renata."[10] She also wrote, "I started my career at 22 and finished it at 54. Thirty-two years of success, satisfaction and sacrifices. Singing was my life's scope to the point that I could never have a family."[5] Tebaldi had a short relationship with bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. A longer one with conductor Arturo Basile was formed in 1958, Basile reportedly saying his intentions of marrying but was ended by Tebaldi in 1962 due to Basile's behavior.[41]

Later years[edit]

By the end of her career, Tebaldi had sung in 1,262 performances, 1,048 complete operas, and 214 concerts.

Tebaldi retired from the opera stage in 1973 as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello in the Metropolitan Opera, the same role she debuted there nearly 20 years previously.[43] In January 1976, she retired from giving recitals, making her last one in New York's Carnegie Hall where she was overcome with emotion and had to return to perform after a few weeks in a successful but shaky performance. She received six curtain calls and standing ovations from the audience. She then moved out of her New York apartment, her home for many years during her stint in the Met and returned to Italy, where she gave her final public appearance in a vocal recital in La Scala in May 1976. She also made recitals around the globe, in one recital held in Manila with frequent partner Franco Corelli, Tebaldi's voice cracked in a Manon Lescaut aria, she then massaged her throat and genuflected to great applause from the audience.[44] Regarding her decision to retire, Tebaldi said that she stopped singing while she still had a powerful voice to avoid "the mortifying season of decline."[8]

She spent the majority of her last days in Milan. She died at age 82 at her home, in San Marino. She is buried in the Tebaldi family chapel at Mattaleto cemetery in Langhirano. At her death, audiences at Venice's La Fenice observed a moment of silence in her memory. Luciano Pavarotti said, "Farewell, Renata, your memory and your voice will be etched on my heart forever".[5]


Tebaldi won the first Grammy Award Best Classical Performance - Vocal Soloist in 1959 for her album Operatic Recital.[3] Their joint recording of Puccini's Turandot, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and starring Birgit Nilsson as Turandot, Jussi Björling as Calaf, Tebaldi as Liù and Giorgio Tozzi as Timur with the Rome Opera Orchestra won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1961.[4]

She became a member of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic as a Grand Officer in 1968 and a Knight Grand Cross in 1992.[6][45] She was also made a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France.[5]

Proclamation of the "Tebaldi day", announced in her honor on 11 December 1995 by Rudolph Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City.[46]


Garden in Milan dedicated to Renata Tebaldi

From February 2010 until 2013, the 15th-century Castle of Torrechiara – Langhirano – hosted within its rooms an exhibition dedicated to Renata Tebaldi. This “Castle for a Queen” unveils the many sides of this great diva, whose artistic and personal life remain on display. The items showcased followed her over the arc of time as she spread the world-class tradition of Italian lyrical art, all the way from the beginning of her career and throughout her artistic achievements. The exhibition is presented by the Renata Tebaldi Committee in collaboration with Superintendence of Environmental Heritage and Landscape of the province of Parma and Piacenza, the Regio Theatre Foundation of Parma and the Municipality of Langhirano and with the patronage of the province of Parma. On June 7, 2014, the museum dedicated to Renata Tebaldi was inaugurated in the stables of Villa Pallavicino in Busseto. Tebaldi has been awarded a star for recording in 1960 in Hollywood Walk of Fame in 6628 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California.[47]



  1. ^ a b c Maurizio Eliseo (2006). Andrea Doria: cento uno viaggi (in Italian). Hoepli Editore. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-88-203-3502-1.
  2. ^ a b "Singers on Singing : Renata Tebaldi". Hampsong Foundations.
  3. ^ a b "Renata Tebaldi". Grammy Awards.
  4. ^ a b "Erich Leinsdorf". Grammy Awards.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Opera singer Renata Tebaldi dies". BBC News.
  6. ^ a b "Tebaldi Renata, Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana" (in Italian). Palazzo del Quirinale. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Tebaldi". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "Italian Opera Soprano Renata Tebaldi Dies". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ a b Alfred W. Cramer (15 May 2009). Musicians and composers of the 20th century. Salem Press. p. 1483. ISBN 978-1-58765-517-3.
  10. ^ a b c Anthony Tommasini (December 20, 2004). "Renata Tebaldi, 82, Soprano With 'Voice of an Angel,' Dies". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b Libbey, Ted (2006). The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music. New York: Workman Publishing Company. p. 860. ISBN 9780761136422. editions:qyI8OX5Atr0C.
  12. ^ Carlamaria Casanova (1981). Renata Tebaldi: la voce d'angelo. Electa. p. 13.
  13. ^ Current Biography Yearbook. H. W. Wilson Company. 1956. p. 599. Her father was a cellist; he still plays in orchestras in Pesaro and Parma opera houses.
  14. ^ a b Victor Ilyitch Seroff (1970). Renata Tebaldi: the woman and the diva. Books for Libraries Press. ISBN 978-0-8369-8048-6.
  15. ^ Anne Commire (13 December 2001). Women in World History. Gale. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-7876-4074-3. Even before her birth, her parents had separated, and it would be a long time before Renata learned that her cellist father Teobaldo Tebaldi was not dead but had abandoned her mother Giuseppina Barbieri Tebaldi for another woman.
  16. ^ Kenn Harris (1974). Renata Tebaldi. Drake Publishers. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-87749-597-0. Tebaldi grew up with her mother, Giuseppina Tebaldi, in the home of her maternal grandparents. The soprano's father, Teobaldo Tebaldi, was a cellist who had separated from her mother before Renata's ...
  17. ^ Schuyler Chapin (10 October 1995). Sopranos, mezzos, tenors, bassos, and other friends. Crown. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-517-58864-2. Shortly before Tebaldi was born in the Italian city of Pesaro – coincidentally also the hometown of Rossini – her parents separated. As a result little ... What many people don't know is that at the age of three she was stricken with polio.
  18. ^ Eddy Lovaglio (2008). Renata Tebaldi: estatico abbandono (in Italian). Azzali. p. 15. ISBN 978-88-88252-38-4. ... studiare a Parma tutto il giorno da una nostra cugina professoressa di pianoforte, Giuseppina Passani, e tornare la sera al paese ...
  19. ^ Friedrich Blume (1979). Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik (in German). Bärenreiter-Verlag. p. 1818. ISBN 978-3-7618-0411-7. Renata Tebaldi stud, in Parma Kl. bei Giuseppina Passani mit der Absicht, Konzertpianistin zu werden, erhielt jedoch auf Grund ihrer ... So wurde sie im Alter von 17 Jahren Schülerin von Italo Brancucci und Ettore Campogalliani am ...
  20. ^ Renato Chiesa (1984). Riccardo Zandonai: Atti Del Convegno Di Studi Sulla Figura E L'Opera Di Riccardo Zandonai Presieduto Da Fedele D'Amico E Organizzato Con La Collaborazione Dell'istituto Trentino-Alto Adige Per Assicurazioni: Rovereto, 29-30 Aprile 1983 (in Italian). Edizioni Unicopli. p. 51. ISBN 978-88-7061-884-6. il canto e l'arte scenica viene nominata Carmen Melis – alla cui scuola, al Conservatorio di Pesaro, si formerà Renata Tebaldi
  21. ^ David Ewen (1 January 1978). Musicians since nineteen hundred: performers in concert and opera. Hw Wilson Company. p. 862. ISBN 978-0-8242-0565-2. Meanwhile she continued her vocal studies with Melis and, on Melis's suggestion, with Giuseppe Pais
  22. ^ David Ewen (1957). Living musicians: Supplement. Supplement. H.W. Wilson Company. p. 156. ... vocal study followed at the Parma Conservatory, and afterwards she became a pupil of Carmen Melis ; later study of operatic roles took place with Giuseppe Pais.
  23. ^ Saturday Review. Saturday Review Associates. January 1955. p. 42. Giuseppe Pais is her only other singing coach, who even now from time to time "checks" on her voice Her dramatic coaching, Tebaldi says, she owes mainly to Melis.
  24. ^ Anthony Tommasini (January 22, 2001). "Beverley Peck Johnson, 96, Voice Teacher". The New York Times.
  25. ^ Harold D. Rosenthal (1966). Great singers of today. Calder & Boyars. p. 194.
  26. ^ Tony Crawley (1 June 1976). Films of Sophia Loren. Citadel Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8065-0512-1.
  27. ^ Dr. James Myron Holland Ph.D.; James Myron Holland (27 August 2012). Singing Excellence and How to Achieve It: The Consummate Art of Glorious Singing. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 144–. ISBN 978-1-4797-0464-4.[self-published source]
  28. ^ "OLD ACQUAINTANCE : Renata Tebaldi: A Diva Ages Gracefully : A stubborn streak has carried the soprano of the 'steel dimple' into a retirement free of regrets". Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ "Renata Tebaldi". Soprano Central.
  30. ^ a b "Soprano Tebaldi was one of the century's great voices". The Baltimore Sun.
  31. ^ a b c d e Ardoin, John; Gerald Fitzgerald (1974). Callas: The Art and the Life. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-011486-1.
  32. ^ a b "The Callas Debate". Opera. September–October 1970.
  33. ^ "Renata Tebaldi". Encyclopedia of World Biography. The Gale Group Inc, 2006. Reprinted on Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  34. ^ a b Stassinopoulos, Ariana (1981). Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-25583-5.
  35. ^ "Diva Serena, Time, November 3, 1958
  36. ^ Robinson, Francis (1979). Celebration: The Metropolitan Opera. Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-12975-0.
  37. ^ "Exit La Callas", June 9, 1958, Time
  38. ^ John Ardoin (writer), Franco Zeffirelli (narrator) (1978). Callas: A Documentary (Plus Bonus) (TV documentary, DVD). The Bel Canto Society.
  39. ^ "Renata Tebaldi". The Guardian.
  40. ^ "Copy of GREAT OPERA SINGERS discuss Tosca". YouTube.
  41. ^ a b c "Voice of an Angel". Opera News.
  42. ^ "(The) Great Renata Tebaldi". Gramophone.
  43. ^ "Renata Tebaldi, Soprano". The Scotsman.
  44. ^ "A grand Verdi Requiem by PPO". PressReader.
  45. ^ "Tebaldi Renata, Grande Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana" (in Italian). Palazzo del Quirinale. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  46. ^ Italian language
  47. ^ Renata Tebaldi- Hollywood Walk of Fame

External links[edit]