Notations for an informal biography (Chapter II)
Renata Tebaldi was born in Pesaro, in an apartment on Via 20 Settembre, on 1st February 1922. It was 5:00 pm and in the firmament Aquarius dominated.
Her father, Teobaldo, was from Pesaro and boasted some noble ancestry, so as it would seem to be confirmed by the elegance of his tall figure. He was lanky, perhaps not handsome, but alas, gifted with experienced, virile charm. A professor of violoncello in orchestra, he had been a grenadier in the 1915 – 1918 war. Injured, he spent his convalescence in Langhirano, in the Parma Region, and there he got to know Giuseppina Barbieri, “Peppina”, who served as a volunteer nurse. She was tiny and gracious, with delicate features, a tiny nose, with a sweetly rounded chin and high cheeks. She did non boast a coat of arms (her family shared the task of managing the modest post office in Langhirano, between the mountains that lead from Parma towards la Spezia) but she knew how to avail herself of wise qualities as a good daughter in town. She embroidered knowledgeably, she took care of her home’s economics, and perhaps, carried out melancholically, even the vain maturing of time just to marry. The work as a volunteer nurse maybe arrived well timed to break the course of a destiny resigned to tight horizons.
Then, in the hospital, she cared for the young Tebaldi, an artist of substance and culture, with dedication. He was a few years younger than her, it’s true, but he was pleased to marry her, almost as if such a wise decision should serve to save him from an experienced vocation of sentimental restlessness; and the couple went to live in Pesaro where she soon became pregnant with their first child; but, even sooner, she had to realize that, upon re-entering the city and the theatrical environment, the young violoncellist, without much resistance, had fallen into the arms of local sirens.
Peppina gave birth to a daughter, Renata, and as soon as the little one in swaddling clothes was able to affront a trip, she preferred to continue alone on the road back to Langhirano, relying only on the help of her father’s family. To make ends meet, she embroidered fine bridal trousseaus for women hopefully more fortunate than her.
The little girl believed her father to be dead until she was ten years old. Mother, uncles and aunts, and grandparents knew how to supplement most positively any want, succeeding, as was said, in making her overcome the impasse of infantile poliomyelitis. Then, as good or as ill fated as it could be, the resentful intervention of a classmate made Renata learn the truth. She wrote on impetus a letter to her resurrected father who, unexpectedly, returned to the nest, newly faithful to his wife for the “time of a rose”, that which the French measure in the “period of a morning”. He found in Parma a second life companion, and more or less hidden, divided his time between two families.
In the house of Langhirano, he continued to enjoy the beautiful benefits of a grown daughter, and paternity never meant responsibility, good guidance, loving attention: when at a distance, when nearby she was worth to him only satisfaction without cost.
Renata suspected something.
Almost eighteen, the most positive evolution of her musical studies, (first in piano, then in voice, unbeknownst to her mother who feared the ambiguous prospects of a theatrical career; finally exclusively in voice at the Conservatory of Pesaro) propitiated her young hopes. But in mid-1940, lightning of the Italian belligerence plunged upon everything with the Second World War.
Teobaldo once again wore the grenadier’s uniform, and stationed in Parma, he had another fatal meeting with a young widow, living with her as a wife. It did not take long for his wife to hear of the news and she foretold the permanence of this new relationship. Dejected, she was unable to call upon the inborn strength that had helped her so much in the past. An almost insuperable depression threatened her mental health. Insomnia dominated her nights and those of her inexperienced and dismayed daughter. And who knows if all this didn’t contribute to assume with knowing pain the filial song of Gioconda, as Renata was able to express in performing years later.
Once he left for the front, the two women heard no more from Teobaldo. Only at the end of the war they were informed, in the least difficult way, that he had returned unharmed to Parma to resume his extra-marital liaison.
Now, whether or not it is within our right as observers of the earthly events of a great personality, what more can we add? It is possible that betrayal in Teobaldo, an unstable artist’s soul, was not a mere exercise in virility but something unconsciously necessary, as for many, in the search of his own sexual identity, beyond the plane of small village normalness to which contrarily Peppina’s culture was tied, raised in a stability of life unknowingly preclusive of any evolution.
Yet, in the long run, even he was able to be faithful, when he remained tied to the same woman, first cohabiting, and then, remarrying as soon as he was widowed of Peppina.
Condemning is completely comprehensible when done by adolescent children. As adults, on the other hand, the opportunity to understand and respect those which, more often than not are suffered existential choices, should be taken. And Renata Tebaldi would even be able to do this!
Between the end of the 1950’s and the beginning of the 1960’s she was already a consecrated diva in the lyrical theatres half the world over. In 1957, she overcame with difficulty the trauma of losing her mother, when, it became precious to have the closeness of Tina Viganò, a young fan who transformed herself for Tebaldi in an irreplaceable governess, from here to eternity as one could say, extending her protective shadow until the final day of life of the one time idol. Renata was advised that her father’s health had foreseen a fearful moment and she, without pause, went to his bedside. He then recovered, and, for many years, the daughter Christianly honoured her father as she did with her mother.
There was not a lack of opportune experiences for love that, however, reserved for her, unjustly, not few bitter moments and disappointments. What never betrayed her was instead the incredible relationship reciprocally established with her audience, where the admiration for the artist was proportionate to a rare sort of affection, respectful of one another’s roles and even protective to the point of making her more than everyone’s fiancée, American style, almost a sister and a friend in a formation of friends – admirers so as to claim to explain, it has been said by many, actual principles of sociology.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni