She was born in the Adriatic fishing town of Pesaro, but grew up at the home of her mother’s family in Langhireno near Parma. Thus her youth is associated with the two places in Italy that have made the greatest contributions to Italian music. From Pesaro and Parma came Rossini, Verdi and Toscanini – to mention only three, and in their footsteps came the student who was to become the supreme Italian singer of her time. At the age of seventeen she entered the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma, where she made her debut as Helen in Boito’s Mefistofele (significant, since her recorded portrayal of Margherita in that opera is one of her finest). Later she studied at the Rossini Conservatory with the famous pre-war soprano, Carmen Melis, a famous Aida and Tosca and also the first Marschallin in Italy.
Immediately after the war, at the re-opening of La Scala in Milan, Toscanini chose the young lirico-spinto, Tebaldi, to appear with him. After La Scala, she sang all over Italy – at the San Carlo in Naples, the Rome Opera and in Bologna, Turin, Parma, Catania and Florence. In the latter city, she graced the famous Maggio Musicale in Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth and Spontini’s Olympia. At Pompeii she sang Cleopatra in a special performance of Handel’s Julius Caesar.
In 1950, she made her triumphant debut at London’s Covent Garden with La Scala in performance of Verdi’s Otello and the Requiem, both conducted by Victor de Sabata. In that same year she made her American debut at San Francisco in Aida with Mario del Monaco. She went on to great successes in Rio de Janeiro and at La Scala where she opened several consecutive seasons. In her singing of Verdi’s Joan of Arc she overcame tremendous prejudice against the work and won her way into the hearts of the public. Her long-awaited Metropolitan Opera debut was in a revival of Otello in January, 1955, again with Mario del Monaco. Her success was immediate and overwhelming.
At the beginning of her career she specialized in the fragile heroines of the lyric soprano repertoire and was particularly renowned for her Mimi and Desdemona. Her voice then began to take on the dark, more dramatic timbre of maturity, and she became the perfect Tosca, Aida, Leonora (La Forza del Destino) and Maddalena (Andrea Chenier). One of her favorite parts was Adriana Lecouvrer, and this opera was specially revived for her in Chicago and New York. For its opening season at Lincoln Center in 1966, the Metropolitan announced a revival of La Gioconda starring Miss Tebaldi, and her success in this opera was tremendous.
During the first season she sang more than fifteen performances in a role which Lilli Lehmann claimed was the most difficult ever written for dramatic soprano. Next season Tebaldi returned to Italy to star at the San Carlo in Naples in a production of the same opera, and this market one of the greatest personal triumphs achieved by an Italian prima donna in our time.
Tebaldi starred as Adriana Lecouvrer in the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera 1968-69 season and scored an immense personal success.
About her Christmas Album
If there were such a thing as a word game pairing famous opera stars with important holidays, Renata Tebaldi would surely be Christmas.
The warmth of her personality and the radiance of her smile alone would make her the obvious choice. For those who know her, there are more intimate qualities that undoubtedly count for the warmth and luminescence – the kindness, generosity, and graciousness, that make her a most considerate colleague, a valued friend and an idol worthy of adulation.
Miss Tebaldi herself made up the programme for the Christmas album, and it is interesting that her choice of repertoire reveals a real understanding of the true significance of Christmas.
Firstly, it is a religious festival celebrating the birth of Christ (Adeste Fideles, Panis Angelicus, etc.), and secondly, it is a festival for children (Wiegenlied, Mille cherubini, etc.).
In these times of super-commercialism, how refreshing it is to be brought back to the essential holiday by such a lovely messenger.The programme seemed so appropriate and its message so perfectly expressed in the opening carol of rejoicing, that we purposely repeated Adeste Fideles as a finale as well.
It is Miss Tebaldi’s wish, and ours, that this record will be a source of joy to all members of all families at the Christmas Festival. (- from the liner notes to the album).