Angel Voice and Evil Rumours

If la Scala did not hesitate to open its doors wide to Renata Tebaldi in 2002, it was only to pay tribute to that young star in progress, who hade been called by Toscanini along with other voices of solid reputation for the second inauguration of the theatre in May 1946. The revered maestro himself had personally guaranteed for Tebaldi when he called her “angel voice” from the podium, a nickname which would mark her career for the following thirty years.

Giving that name to a sound source which sounded heavenly in many ways was certainly legitimate, yet it should also be recognized that other equally suggesting aspects of Tebaldi’s personality were not represented in complete fidelity such as her unusual richness of harmonics or the grandeur of her cavata, which suggested earthly healthy and sensuousness rather than heavenly serenity. In short, that voice evoked sumptuously baroque images rather than soft blue nuances and gold backcloths: doomsday trumpets played by archangels wearing armours covered with gemstones and silk and velvet drapery.

The 2002 tribute was paid to her glorious eighty years of age; a moving and fervent celebration wishing for a further appointment to come. It would have been the fourth in the succession of birthdays that had been celebrating Tebaldi exceptionally in the legendary Milanese area after her still wonderful seventieth birthday and her seventy-fifth, which had revealed her as more physically fragile yet radiant.

That time, thanks to Riccardo Muti, she was called to place seals on the doors of the theatre, still in its post-war architecture, so that it could undergo a radical restructuring, which was certainly functional but perhaps disrespectful of the traditional structure, so to speak, in Toscanini’s style.

However, Tebaldi had been granted the halo in that fateful 1946 for her performance of Verdi’s Te Deum. She sang solo, as specified by the composer himself in the score, in the triumphant piece In te speravi accompanied by the chorus and a muted trumpet.

Therefore, Tebaldi’s heavenliness was all due to Toscanini’s appreciation even though there were iconoclastic rumours. In fact, someone affirmed (and many others echoed them without knowing the truth) that such flattering qualification had no other source than an indication by Verdi, who, in the score, (but, had they read it for real?) had literally destined that solo part to a …A voice from the sky, that is, by doubtless induction to an angel voice.

In truth, Tebaldi used to be quite offended by this misrepresentation. Yet, we believe she can finally have a laugh about it all, as if to seal pardon which, in the words of Patroni-Griffi in Prima del silenzio (Before the silence), “should be asked for those too many people who mislead the others by abusing apparently convincing words with fallacious seductive force”.

Anyway, Tebaldi was given her nickname by none other than maestro Toscanini and she has deservedly remained the “angel voice” from then up to now and from here to eternity…

Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni