In May 1946, when Milan’s venerable La Scala theatre reopened after World War II, conductor Arturo Toscanini selected Renata Tebaldi then 24, to sing music by Rossini and Verdi for that watershed concert. ‘Ah, la voce d’angelo’ – the voice of an angel – was Toscanini’s reported verdict. In her heyday, she was known as ‘La Superba’. At the Metropolitan Opera where she was utterly adored, she was, less poetically, ‘Miss Sold-Out’. Her stage career lasted some three decades and she retired in 1976 at the comparatively early age of 54.
The items on the 1949 recital were first issued by Decca on 78rpm, later collected on LP. The 1955 recital was issued on two ten-inch discs in February and May 1956 then issued collectively on an LP in November 1958.
Giulietta Simionato, the great mezzo-soprano, commented, ‘Hers was a voice we shall never hear again and none shall ever equal – and all thanks to Decca’, the record label with which she had an almost exclusive relationship. Her first studio recordings (tracks 1–6 here) were made in Geneva near the end of 1949. These were released on 78 rpm, and then on a long-playing record. Her first recordings of complete operas came in 1951, with ‘Tosca’, ‘Madama Butterfly’ and ‘La Bohème’. Her conductor, for all of these sessions, was Alberto Erede who, although only thirteen years older than Tebaldi, was experienced on the international scene. These signature roles which also included Desdemona in Verdi’s ‘Otello’, were recorded twice (the second time in stereo), with little or no deterioration in her voice. The studio recitals from 1949 and 1955 are particularly valuable for their inclusion of arias from operas that Tebaldi never recorded in their entirety (‘Faust’, ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, ‘Lodoletta’, ‘Guglielmo Tell’ and ‘Cecilia’), although she sang all of these roles on stage.
Those who heard Tebaldi live remarked that her studio recordings did not do her full justice but they were best-sellers for Decca and continue to remain artistically and commercially viable today.
Aida: Ritorna vincitor!*
Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida*
Faust: Come vorrei saper … C’era un re … Ah! e strano poter* (Air des bijoux, sung in Italian, transl. De Lauzières)
Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo*
Manon Lescaut: In quelle trine morbide*
Tosca: Vissi d’arte*
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi, amor+
Le nozze di Figaro: E Susanna non vien … Dove sono i bei momenti+
Adriana Lecouvreur: Ecco, respiro appena … Io son l’umile ancella+
Adriana Lecouvreur: Poveri fiori+
La Wally: Né mai dunque avrò pace+
Lodoletta: Ah! il suo nome … Flammen, perdonami+
Guglielmo Tell: S’allontano alfine! … Selva opaca+
Cecilia: Per amor di Gesù porgete il core (L’annunzio)+
Cecilia: Grazie, sorelle (La morte di Cecilia)+
Renata Tebaldi, soprano
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande*
Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma+
Recording Producer: Victor Olof
Balance Engineers: Arthur Haddy (1–6); Gil Went (7–15)
Recording Locations: Victoria Hall, Geneva, 21–22 November 1949 (1–6); Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, August 1955 (7–15)
‘beautiful tone, musical feeling, sincere utterance … for these qualities she was supreme among her contemporary Italian sopranos … Especially lovely are Mimi’s arias: the first has a melting tenderness and a youthful freedom about the high As, and the Farewell has everything cared for and an unusual warmth of feeling. The “Un bel di” must be among the best on records; beautifully phrased, responsive to every development of the imagination, and sung with this exceptionally fine lyric voice in its best condition.’ 1949 Recital (tracks 1–6) Gramophone
‘[Tebaldi’s] very brilliant, forward, and gorgeous tone is hardly less dramatic [than Callas] … Tebaldi’s sensitive, beautifully sung account of this expressive and tasteful music [Refice] is more than welcome … All in all, a most successful and enjoyable record, with a forward, brilliant recording to match Tebaldi’s tones.’ [tracks 7–11] Gramophone
‘one of the best and most interesting operatic recitals to appear for some time’ … ‘exquisite soft and controlled singing … [the Mascagni aria] is sung with beautiful tone and great pathos by Tebaldi.’ Gramophone
‘the Italian opera arias (especially two from ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’) are utterly exquisite’ Gramophone