By Joel Kasow
PARIS, 20 DECEMBER 2004—The death of Renata Tebaldi leaves this a poorer world. Even
though she had not sung in public for almost thirty years, memories and a
significant recorded legacy are sufficient to enroll her in a pantheon of
20th century singers. Tebaldi was gifted with an exceptionally beautiful
voice, gleaming with light, so that her portrayals of numerous heroines
remain in the heart. Puccini was her calling card, with Mimi,
Butterfly, Tosca never ceasing to amaze the listener.
Aida stretched her as the high notes were never the easiest part
of her range, just as the Trovatore Leonora or Violetta disappointed
because of her lack of agility. Once past Act One of Traviata
singer and role fused. Her Desdemona also attained the summits.
Tebaldi never sang opera in a language other than Italian, so that we
have bits of her Wagner or Gounod in that language. There was more than
enough for her to sing without the difficulty of singing in a foreign
language. I remember her Met debut in 1955 when I heard her Mimi and
Maddalena, where the audience was overwhelmed by that voice. While never
an actress in the Callas mode, her attention to words within the flood of
golden tone was itself extraordinary. And though she lacked Callas’s
magnetic stage presence, her voice in itself created the drama.
vocal crisis in the 1960s caused her to withdraw for a period, after which
she returned singing a more dramatic repertoire than previously. The voice
had hardened, the top even more chancy, but on numerous occasions the
earlier Tebaldi emerged.
A lengthy recording career, exclusively for Decca, is marked by double
versions of a number of works, monaural and then stereo. The earlier
versions are to be treasured for the purity of the voice, though
conducting and supporting casts are not always ideal. The second versions
are variable depending on who was responsible for the engineering, though
I would certainly not want to be without either Bohème.
Virtually all Tebaldi’s recordings are in print, in various parts of
the Decca catalogue, and most are now available in the mid-price series.
All are recommended, but for a single cd giving an idea of Tebaldi from
start to finish, look for the CD in the series The Singers (467
915-2) which goes from the earliest aria recordings of the late 1940s to
duets with Franco Corelli and Chrismas songs recorded in the early
Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at