Renata Tebaldi Live!

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Otello (2), Butterfly, Adriana, Manon Lescaut, Schicchi, “Regata veneziana,” Aïda. 25m. B&W.


Because of unsurpassed tonal beauty, Tebaldi arguably was the leading international non-coloratura Italian soprano of the century. After a vocal crisis of the early 1960s the voice lost some of the attributes that made it unique, but she acquired enough of what she previously lacked to become a viable verismo soprano. This video gives us both Tebaldis: the greater earlier one and the still potent, thinner, more glamorized, later one.

The tape opens with a rushed, unnuanced, perfunctory “O mio babbino caro,” a bad start to an increasingly excellent program. Then comes a televised, orchestra-accompanied concert from 1959. Here is the great Tebaldi, a gorgeous woman, even if forty pounds heavier than a decade later, producing a stream of such beautiful sound as to be hardly comparable to her later self, no matter how successful her “second” career. She does little except stand there and sing, with not much interpretation–but she is not dull. (Any hearing of the pirate recordings of her in-person performances of that time, or a viewing of her Forza from 1958, will immediately dispel any thoughts of dullness or lack of temperament.)

This concert starts with “Io son l’umile ancella.” Tebaldi does not have Olivero’s interpretive depth, but as soon as you get past that impediment, you realize the aria could not be sung any better. The same is true of the next two selections, “Un bel dí vedremo” and “In quelle trine morbide.” Then comes the highlight, “Salce, salce” and “Ave Maria,” Desdemona being perfectly suited to her voice and temperament during this period (the Forza Leonora being only slightly less so). Here is singing that is elegant, refined, tonally scrumptious and passionate, but passionate in a controlled manner that an Olivero, a Scotto and perhaps even a later Tebaldi could never understand. During the “Ave Maria” there are candid films of Tebaldi in later life listening to her earlier self and finding the experience most agreeable.

Next we are back with the later Tebaldi for a portion of “O patria mia” in which the high C is muffed, but this was never the best part of her voice. (Like Ponselle, Tebaldi was a famous Aïda who rarely sang the role in an opera house–such can be the impact of role identification through recordings.) The video ends with one of the songs from Rossini’s cycle “La regata Veneziana,” and it is the only piece from her later (teased-hair) period that really bears comparison to her earlier work. Since there is so little footage of Tebaldi, these mementoes are that much more precious!–Joe Pearce, President of The Vocal Record Collector’s Society

“This tape is the best way to see Tebaldi again and to remember her.”–Steve Cohen, The Delaware Jewish Voice and The Philadelphia Jewish Times