(from the book “Paying homage to Renata Tebaldi” by Paolo Isotta – Edition by the Scala Theatre, 2002)
Our thesis is therefore that for such supreme artists like Miss Renata Tebaldi, song and enchantment are one and the same thing.
Enchantment, the melody sung, is the soul of singing. If conquered, it is stronger than the song itself, as we consider it. In other words: enchantment, that we identify as being the perfection of the sung melody, is so strong as to contain within itself the so called “expression” in its own right, hypothesizing that which the school of voice, generally speaking, commonly declares that “expression” not pushed to its extreme limit, but only elegantly alluded to. This is generally true in principle, and I insist on saying that this is true in principle because in principle it makes the comparison of Miss Tebaldi to other artists not wrong, but superfluous . The comparison is, in fact, superfluous since the thesis is proven to be true once you listen to Miss Tebaldi’s voice. In fact, all that is expressed by Miss Tebaldi's voice represents the apex of what is “expression”.
Those who have not understood Miss Renata Tebaldi’s art assert that she was more in search of a “beautiful sound” than of “expression”. What has been said above confutes from every point of view such a course interpretation. We have, instead, to overcome the barrier, to explain the question of a “beautiful sound”, as far as Renata Tebaldi is concerned. First of all, if we listen to the great artist, a “beautiful sound” is the basis of song, no matter what you have to sing, whoever you have to interpret. Still, again, excessive modesty and sancta simplicitas are mixed in the interpretation that Miss Tebaldi gives of herself. If it is true that a “beautiful sound” is the beginning, it is no less true that it is an acquirement. An easy acquirement, many of us could affirm. “Only one or maybe two such voices are born in a century!” said Riccardo Zandonai, the famous composer, when the great Carmen Melis, great both artistically and from a human point of view, brought to an audition with him the young girl, the piano student, who inspired by the keys imitated their sound vocally. It’s true, Renata Tebaldi started off with an incredible advantage. If she had been happy to remain as she was and taken the opinion of the great composer to be a point of arrival she would not have been different from certain protagonists of rapid careers we see nowadays. Rapid careers beginning and ending almost at the same time and, in general, starting with a vocal organ not in the least comparable to that of Renata Tebaldi. An incomparably favorable beginning, therefore, and then study. Profound, hard, but not “mad and extremely desperate”, fortunately for Renata and for us. In addition to the gift of her voice she had a serene and delicate character and an incomparable sense of personal dignity. Serene was her study as far as we know and serene her singing on stage though always a sacrifice, a gift, effusion; she declared to the writer that it was happy labour. “It was easy and quick for me”: and here one asks oneself if the prodigy was something beyond this, or if what was beyond was the tendency to minimize herself like angelic creatures do. Certainly we know that the time taken to memorize a new part was prodigious. But memorizing, let’s say, superficially, especially in singing, has always been and always will exist. “Putting the part in your throat” or “in voice” as we say in jargon, is something else. It is the study in depth whereby any note, then the musical phrase, then the entire piece on its own, then the opera in synthesis finds the perfect support of the voice.
So regular and very lengthy breaths accompanied Renata Tebaldi along her entire artistic path: although, at a certain moment, the implacable auto-analysis of her organism, and its artistic domination, lead her to cross the final threshold. She discovered an ulterior distension of her diaphragm and the definitive “point of support” for her breath. At that point the silvery tone became shining gold, the “girl” became “woman”. To the “girl” corresponded not only the afore mentioned tone but also a physical and psychological character which was fully Italian. That of the “woman” is majestic and full.
When you listen to the same scores interpreted by her in different periods it is hard to choose: each time you prefer the part you are listening to at the moment: They are miracles of Nature and of Art and incomparable in both cases.
.......her voice enchanted music lovers all over the world, from Reykjavik, in remote Iceland, in a memorable concert directed by Vladimir Askenazij, to the theatres of Japan, to Moscow where, welcomed as an icon of t“beautiful song”, she inflamed the public of the enormous Dvorietz Siesdov (Congress Hall) where the public was used to hearing sounds of a different nature.
More than any word, more than anything written is the historical weight that her great Desdemona, her tragic Tosca, her all consuming Mimi, her passionate Manon have assumed: examples for the future, indelible memories for those fortunate enough to hear the performance by that voice that possessed the sound of an angel and the heart of a woman. (Giannino Tenconi)
(from “memories of a listener” by Rodolfo Celletti 1987).
..........in the meantime, the acclamation that had greeted the romance of Rudolfo was calming and the “woman” was about to come on the scene. No one had paid attention to the imposing figure up till then, especially since she was seated, at the beginning of the story of Mimi. But when, spoken the first phrases, she explodes and comes to sing almost in the proscenium, I immediately thought that I had rarely seen a Mimi so beautiful. The song, in a certain sense transfigured her, giving her features an intense, passionate, luminous expression. I sensed an intimate participation, a sincere ardor, a sentimental effusion full of palpitation, rather than vibration. But then the voice. It was a voice for which you could use any adjective without risking contradicting yourself. The compactness, the sonority, the ring were as one with velvet, sweetness, warmth, languor: and her way of phrasing has never found an equal in any other voice.
In the meantime, on the 31st of January, 1955, Renata Tebaldi began, with Othello, her fabulous career at the Metropolitan of New York (a career due to which she is still considered as one of the stars of the great New York theatre). When she came back to the Scala in 1950-60, for Tosca and Andrea Chenier, I was unable to go and listen to her. It had therefore been years since I had heard her “live”. I had followed her career by way of her records, in Boheme and in Othello and found her beyond reach, perhaps even more so in Boheme than in Othello.
In 1985, on the radio, I happened to have to illustrate the character of Mimi using the records of the most famous singers, from Muzio to Albanese, from Favero to De Los Angeles, from Olivero to Scotto. In such a parade of personalities Renata Tebaldi was surpassed here and there with regards to some detail or other, but, without any doubt she was the queen.. This was not only due to her voice. Certainly, such a sweet and ample voice, which at the same time was so pliable with its refined and blended sounds and so warm in its expansions and its rushes, could not do other than delineate an absolutely exceptional Mimi. As far as the ring was concerned, such vibration, such richness and amplitude of sound in phrases like “the first kiss of April is mine” or in the duet with Marcello at the beginning of the third act! All things to create envy in the hearts of an infinity of Aidas, of Leonoras, of Santuzzas and of Fedoras of today, of yesterday and perhaps even earlier than yesterday.
And yet these sumptuous sounds, important, almost overbearing, that precisely due to their vigour would deform the character of any Mimi sung by any other singer by giving a dramatic quality that the meek, fragile sweet character of Mimi cannot support, in the case of Renata Tebaldi represent exactly that from which a Mimi is produced. A vocally unique Mimi in my opinion. Due to the extraordinary sweetness of the blend, you could think: Yes, also due to this; but let’s not forget expression. And here we come to the point. What makes, in my opinion, Renata Tebaldi a lyrical singer of historical stature is to be found in her capacity to insert, in the portrait of a character of an elegiac – sentimental kind, so many gradations of colour and intensity as to fill the entire palette that goes from light-lyrical soprano to dramatic soprano. This naturally together with a great voice, a great technique, smooth, clear, soft issuing of sound; implicit also is play of “slurs” and “portamenti” regulated with a skilful hand. And in fact the the play of “ slurs” and “portamenti” of Renata Tebaldi, trusted to an exemplary fluidity and a potent capacity of breaths, represent one of the most splendid pages of the vocal history of our century.