LA TINA, A TENOR AND A BELOVED LITTLE DOG

Six years after the accession of Renata Tebaldi to the throne of the Metropolitan in New York, as the queen voice, also Franco Corelli, the hero coming from the Marche region, was called at the Met, where he would become a star by singing in 19 different roles for 375 evenings often along with “Miss Sold-out”. Tebaldi was given that nickname because of her success at the box-office: this would mainly happen for “La Gioconda” by Ponchielli, “Bohème” by Puccini and “Adriana Lecouvreur” by Ciléa.

As for the last two operas, it is worth quoting two details which speak volumes about Corelli’s total concentration before he went onto the stage. He was so abstracted that he was completely isolated from the rest of the world and even forgot to comply with the most essential scenic tasks. So Tina Viganò, Tebaldi’s personal assistant, had to follow him almost onto the stage and remind him to take Mimì’s bonnet, the one which the tenor had to pick out from his jacket in the fourth scene of act one to sing “E tu, cuffietta lieve…”; while in Cilèa’s opera, she had to check he would pin on his chest the violets which would cause Buillon’s jealous investigation in act two.

Well, when Tina asked Corelli: “Maestro, have you got the bonnet (or the violets) with you?”, he used to reply absent-mindedly: “Which bonnet?! …which violets?!”. At that point, the prompt friend intervened and saved the situation.

A funny detail is related to the behaviour of New II, Tebaldi’s poodle. He was really intelligent and had an authentically histrionic temperament. In fact, for a suitable minimum wage he would appear at the Met both as Marschallin’s toy in the opera “Rosenkavalier” and in the lap of a number of Musettas. When he entered the scene, the audience spontaneously murmured: “Wow, Tebaldi’s dog!”.

Before their performances, both Corelli and Tebaldi needed to warm up their incredible voices with a number of vocalisms: at that point, from the soprano’s changing room you could hear New’s yapping as he was fully concentrated on imitating his owner’s exercises. He used to continue with his “uuuuuuwoooah, uuuuuuwoooah…” until furious Corelli came up half-naked at the door and imperiously ordered to that son of a… (or even worse) to stop bringing him out of tune. For a few moments the tenor-dog remained in silence then he consciously returned to his exercises along with his celebrated owner: “Uuuuuuwoooah, uuuuuuwoooah…”. He was also admirably in tune. But of course he was, with such models!

Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni 
August 2013