TEBALDI AND VERDI

Desdemona, the offended angel

She is the sad wife of the Moor of Venice, the clearest example in this philosophy of that mix of angelic traits and sacrificial willing which is typical of many heroines of Opera in the 19th century. Desdemona marked the beginning of the collaboration between De Sabata and Tebaldi at the Alla Scala Theatre in 1949 and in 1955 also the audience in New York fell in love with a Tebaldi at the top of her vocal splendour: «Beautiful to see… looking like an ancient Florentine portrait… a true musician for skilfulness and taste» as Olin Downes wrote about her on the ‘New York Times’. Through these words he confirmed the still prevailing opinion that no other singer has ever been so aware of Verdi’s will. The author, in fact, wished that this creature would be able to express “calm and aristocratic passion”. So, it is no surprise, that Verdi entrusted her with the most beautiful music among his latest.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

 

Violetta, the fallen angel

I am convinced that no artistically aware performer has ever underestimated the difficulty of choosing a key to interpretation among the opposite ones proposed by the protagonist of “Traviata”: the lofty lady of the Parisian demimonde of the mid-19th century or the unhappy creature in whose vicissitudes the musician had sorrowfully seen the sad story of his woman?
No doubt that Tebaldi chose the second point of view and from her first approach to the character in Catania in 1957 to the last rehearsals at the Met in 1957, she enriched her performances with painful truth through a skilful interpretative evolution which in time purified the heroine from any naturalistic wrong feature. I think that the most suitable comment to that Violetta is the one by Alberto Pironti, who talked about heavenly voice and «pureness of the timbre, warmth of the overtones, flexibility of the phrasing along with wide volume, sound fullness, richness in vibrations, quality accompanied by a typically lyric temperament, free from passionate violence and exaggerations» even though the romantic and desperate emphasis expressed in the aria “Amami, Alfredo” should be highlighted.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

Alice, the impudent angel

Nobody could deny that “Falstaff” is mainly an ensemble opera to be coordinated by way of technically fierce and musically fanciful harmonization. When she debuted in “Falstaff” in 1949, in Lisbon, Tebaldi brought to the scene a very pleasant Mrs. Ford, a delighted angel of marital devotion, playing impudent tricks (when not even naughty) if threatened by laughable traps in her peaceful family life and, why not, hurt in her female vanity. It was not difficult for Tebaldi to stand out not only for her perfect performance in collective parts, but also for the elegant reply to Sir John (‘Ogni più bel gioiel mi nuoce e spregio… mi basta un vel legato in croce, un fregio al cinto e in testa un fior’), not free from sweet malice, and even more for the farcical clouding of sounds anticipating the tragedy solved at the end by the most graceful sound lightening allowed by the cavata. Finally, on the scene, as anticipated by Sir John Falstaff in his letter, her beautiful face really shone “like a star over immensity”.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

 

In ‘Messa di Requiem’, the penitent angel

Sung between 1950 and 1951 under the conduction of an exceptional trio of maestros (Toscanini, De Sabata and Guido Cantelli), brought even to London through the Alla Scala Theatre and Paris through the San Carlo, Verdi’s “Requiem” made Tebaldi’s voice stand out wonderfully in a vocal texture needing precious pianissimos and legatos, excellent portamentos and echo effects. The impact of the full and velvety cavata took advantage of an absolutely extraordinary transparency: although it was anchored to human truth and earthly pains, it accomplished the miracle of suggesting heaven.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

 

 

Aida, the angel of nostalgia

Renata Tebaldi decided to play Aida for the first time at the Alla Scala Theatre in 1950 when Toscanini himself convinced her by explaining that the Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt was not different from a sad creature wounded by existential nostalgia. 40 years later, Carlo Majer echoed Toscanini: «…her vocal line is that of a dove trying in vain to get out of the monumental rooms of the palaces in Memphis: a flight to up above, a fall and then another flight…In the night over the river Nile we find her alone with her homesickness…Tebaldi solves the uncertainties of this character using a really intelligent balance of timbre and colour instead of dynamic contrasts. Sometimes, it seems she proposed tone on tone musical nuances: she was great».
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

 

Giovanna d’Arco, the warrior angel

The celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Verdi’s death gave Renata Tebaldi the opportunity to sing in Naples in the role of the warrior patron saint of France. She proved to be perfectly at ease in a role which suggested vocal transfiguration to her in the final apotheosis. Yet, she was just as admirable in the cabalettas typical of early Verdi: she created a personal interpretation of them, exalted in the moving pages of the heroine’s death.
That “Giovanna d’Arco” earned Tebaldi incredible comments from both the audience and the critics: «intensity and control of a great and rich voice; especially memorable in the pianissimos» wrote Howard Taubman on the ‘New York Times’ on 2.7.1951. As for the performances in Paris at the Opéra, Denis Hermant of ‘France-Soir’ reported that the whole theatre «seemed to have acquired Mediterranean traits. People acclaimed in excitement…. Exquisite Tebaldi had to suspend an aria of the prologue and managed to finish it only when the audience had calmed down».
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

Leonora di Vargas, the wounded angel

Tebaldi, was remarkable also in the role of Leonora, the protagonist of “La forza del destino”, which she sang in 1953 in Florence for the first time under the superb direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos. Just to give an example of the enthusiastic reviews which followed those performances, we will quote the one by Rodolfo Celletti: «The elegance, ductility and coherence with which Mitropoulos lets Tebaldi spread sorrowful and heavenly sounds in slow and easy tempos suggest a much more genuine Verdi than the flat, rowdy, hasty and falsely-tragic one we are usually inflicted. …Tebaldi stands out not only for the quality of her voice but also for her passionate, moving and vibrant interpretation».
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni

 

 

 

Maria Boccanegra, the peacemaking angel

 

The Genoese heroine entered Tebaldi’s repertoire only in her American performances although the singer loved this character, sweet and authoritative at the same time, as a doge’s daughter was expected to be. From the very first performance in San Francisco in 1956, Tebaldi kept this role in her repertoire until all 1969. The soprano expressed her preference for this female protagonist through her beautiful voice, which spread melodiously like a balm over the wonderful pieces opening the first and the last act of the opera.
Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni