“She could sing the telephone book and I’d pay to see her” might as well have been written about Renata Tebaldi. In fact the first time I ever heard that phrase was in reference to her and I could not agree more.
I must admit to being somewhat biased as the voice of Renata Tebaldi has been with me in some form or another since I was 13. 'O Soave Fanciulla' from La Boheme was the first time I heard her, partnered by Carlo Bergonzi and because of this recording a door opened in my life that has never closed. I fell in love. She could phrase like no one on earth and everything she sang seemed to me somehow right.
|Renata Tebaldi - Desdemona|
She has often been described as lacking temperament or character in her recordings and I think this is unfair. While Tebaldi rarely seemed to alter her interpretations of a character once she worked them out, on listening to them one wonders about the need to. Of course, one could be blown away by the drama and unpredictability of Callas, but with Tebaldi, all the expression and passion are still there, only expressed with a more beautiful tonal colour, with plenty of warmth and lashings of morbidezza.
You only have to witness some of the surviving film footage of her in action to realise the depth of her commitment to what she was singing and her natural beauty and poise. There are quite a few complete performances of her in various roles available and some beautiful Bell Telephone Hour appearances of her singing arias in colour, and a classic La Boheme with Jussi Bjorling which I've posted before.
If I really had to choose a favourite recording I admit I would have a very hard time. I can narrow it down to four if I absolutely had to: her stereo Tosca, Otello, Andrea Chenier and Manon Lescaut, all with Mario Del Monaco, her frequent recording partner. But then I think of the other studio recordings of hers and have to start again, do I include La Fanciulla Del West, her Aida and Butterfly as well? Or what about La Forza Del Destino, the Trittico operas and Adriana Lecouvreur? It all gets too difficult.
What I do know is that we are fortunate enough to have Tebaldi's well recorded legacy which no doubt will continue to enthrall new generations with her amazing voice. My one regret is that I was not born early enough to have been a witness to this truly great artist.
This video is of what must be her definitive role in many people's eyes, Desdemona from Verdi's Otello. This is from Berlin on September 1, 1962 and Tebaldi is in superb voice. Just listen to the final phrases and you will here what true beauty is.
Happy birthday Renata Tebaldi, you truly deserve your place in the pantheon of the greatest singers ever.