Renata Tebaldi, the Italian soprano renowned for her angelic voice, her stardom at New York's Metropolitan and Italy's La Scala and her media-fueled rivalry with Greek-American...
ROME Renata Tebaldi, the Italian soprano renowned for her angelic voice, her stardom at New York’s Metropolitan and Italy’s La Scala and her media-fueled rivalry with Greek-American soprano Maria Callas, died yesterday. She was 82.
Miss Tebaldi, who died at her home in San Marino, a tiny, independent republic in north-central Italy, was considered to have one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century, relying on rich, perfectly produced tones. “Farewell, Renata, your memory and your voice will be etched on my heart forever,” tenor Luciano Pavarotti said yesterday.
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La Scala music director Riccardo Muti praised Miss Tebaldi as “one of the greatest performers with one of the most extraordinary voices in the field of opera.”
Miss Tebaldi, who was at her peak in the 1950s, was recalled for her renditions of Puccini and Verdi with a voice praised for its purity of timbre and exceptional range of color and shadings.
For years, opera fans devoured details of what they perceived as a prima-donna duel between Miss Tebaldi and Callas, and La Scala devotees were divided into two camps much as Milan’s soccer fans are hotly split over the city’s two soccer teams.
Miss Tebaldi made her debut in 1944 and soon was performing in some of the world’s most noted opera houses, including a concert of arias conducted by Toscanini at the 1946 reopening of Milan’s La Scala, which had been damaged by World War II bombs.
She made her London debut at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden as Desdemona in “Otello,” on the opening night of the Scala company’s London season in 1950. She made her Met debut, as Desdemona, in 1955, and that was also her final role there, in 1973.
In all, Miss Tebaldi made 270 performances at the Met, invited back season after season as one of the opera house’s most popular singers. The Metropolitan’s late general manager, Rudolf Bing, called her “dimples of iron,” a reference to a sweet appearance that belied an iron will.
As early as 1950, Callas’ competitive attitude toward Miss Tebaldi, the then-reigning prima donna at La Scala, had already begun. When Miss Tebaldi did not quite succeed in her first “La Traviata” at the Milan theater, Callas called her a “poor thing.”
When asked about the supposed feud, Callas said simply they were friendly but were very different as singers. In 1968, when Miss Tebaldi sang a Met opening-night “Adriana Lecouvreur,” Callas visited the Italian backstage after the performance. A photo taken at the time shows the two women embracing warmly.
Callas’ husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, once suggested the “feud” was a cynical move to boost record sales, with both divas playing along.
In 1976, Miss Tebaldi retired from performing publicly and devoted much of her time to teaching. In a 2002 interview to mark her 80th birthday, she said she stopped singing while her voice was still powerful to avoid seeing “the mortifying season of decline.”
Miss Tebaldi never married. A memorial service will be held tomorrow in San Marino, and another memorial will likely also be planned in Milan.