Renata Tebaldi

Born: 1922
Died: 2004

One of the greatest Italian sopranos of the post-war period, Tebaldi was often lined up as the rival of Maria Callas. She recorded many of her key roles for Decca.

A tribute by Gramophone's David Patrick Stearns

Suddenly, there she was – Renata Tebaldi – at the entrance of the rehearsal hall, not expected for this orchestral run-through but fully warmed up and singing on cue with that trademark sound and generosity of spirit that wasn’t some recording-studio creation but the full flowering of Italian opera singing through the centuries.

The occasion was a late-1960s Otello at Philadelphia Lyric Opera – an adoring haven for a singer with a strictly defined, conservative repertoire. While Maria Callas was the diva of the future, Tebaldi reaffirmed tradition. Though not one to probe the psychological depths of her characters, Tebaldi could, nonetheless, arrive at the same artistic end point as Callas. The grainy, black-and-white 1958 television video of La forza del destino from San Carlo (Hardy Classics) tells that story: Tebaldi moves, acts and sings with a conviction that her detractors claimed she lacked.

When listening to her Decca-label recordings, one is hard pressed to decide where her voice had the greatest allure. The tranquillity of her low-vibrato soft singing? Her enveloping, tactile fortissimos? Or the unaffected sweetness that made Verdi’s various Leonoras as guileless as they claimed to be? All of the above.

Recommended recording

Puccini Madama Butterfly

Sols; Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Tullio Serafin 

(Decca)

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