Born Feb. 1, 1922 in Pesaro, Italy
Died Dec. 19, 2004 in San Marino, Italy
Renata Tebaldi was an Italian soprano renowned for her angelic voice, her stardom at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Italy’s La Scala and her media-fueled rivalry with Maria Callas.
Tebaldi was considered to have one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century, relying on rich, perfectly produced tones. The late conductor Arturo Toscanini once said she had “the voice of an angel.”
Tebaldi made her debut in 1944 as Elena in Boito’s “Mefistofele” in the northern Italian town of Rovigo. She was soon performing in some of the world’s most noted opera houses and sang in a concert of arias conducted by Toscanini at the 1946 reopening of Milan’s La Scala, which had been damaged during World War II.
She made her London debut at Covent Garden as Desdemona in “Otello,” on the opening night of the Scala company’s London season in 1950, and returned to London in 1955 to sing “Tosca.”
Her American debut was in San Francisco in 1950 as Aida. She made her Met debut as Desdemona on Jan. 31, 1955; she also sang Desdemona in her final role there on Jan. 8, 1973.
In all, Tebaldi made 270 performances at the Met, invited back season after season as one of the opera house’s most popular singers. The Metropolitan’s late general manager, Rudolf Bing, called her “dimples of iron,” a reference to a sweet appearance that belied an iron will.
In 1976, Tebaldi retired from performing publicly and devoted much of her time to teaching. In a 2002 interview to mark her 80th birthday, she said she stopped singing while her voice was still powerful to avoid seeing “the mortifying season of decline.”