Italian soprano, famous not only for her superb voice but for her long-standing rivalry with Maria Callas. She was born in Pesaro in the Marche, on the Adriatic coast, on 1st February 1922, and died today, 19th December 2004 in San Marino. At the age of 24 she reopened La Scala, and in later years she was one of the stars of the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.

Renata Ersilia Clotilde Tebaldi contracted polio at three, meaning she had to concentrate on the indoor pursuit of music. After studying at Parma under Carmen Melis she debuted in Rovigo in 1944 with the part of Elena (Helen of Troy) in Boito's Mefistofele. She repeated it the same year in Parma and Venice.

She was picked out by the conductor Toscanini to be a highlight of the 1946 reopening of La Scala, Milan, after the War: he said she had the voice of an angel. She sang the solo in the Verdi Requiem. Tebaldi continued with the La Scala company, touring to Covent Garden in 1950, until she left in 1954 as a result of feuding with Callas, who had originally been taken on in 1951 as a substitute Aida for the indisposed Tebaldi.

Her American premiere was in San Francisco but it was her association with the Met that was legendary and long-lasting. She premiered there on 31st January 1955 as Desdemona, with Mario del Monaco as her Otello. Callas also came to New York, causing vociferous rivalry between their fans.

She had a strong and impressive voice, which never lost its beauty. She was regarded as perfect for Verdi and Puccini. In her early years some felt she might have sacrificed dramatic realism to her intense lyrical beauty. From 1963 she suffered a crisis, and retired temporarily to work on her technique. When she returned (first role being Mimì in La Bohème) she took on more powerful dramatic roles. Problems with her vocal chords led to her retirement from the opera stage in 1973 and concerts in 1976.

In the meantime the famous feud with Maria Callas, whose career had burned itself out, ended with a public and highly emotional reconciliation on 16th September 1968 after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur, and Callas had nothing but praise for her after that. This 1902 opera by Francesco Cilea had languished in the decades after its initial success, and since Cilea had been a great admirer of the young Tebaldi before his death in 1950, she later persuaded Rudolf Bing, director of the Met, to revive it for the 1962-3 season. It is therefore because of her that it is now well-known again.

Other roles for which she was renowned include Aida, Tosca, Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Ciò-Ciò-San in Madama Butterfly, Violetta in La Traviata, Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, Maddalena in Andrea Chenier, and Manon in Manon Lescaut.

Best summary and many pictures:
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera
BBC obituary:
Another biography:
Usually when I node a singer I try to listen to a recording of them: alas, I have none of Tebaldi!

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