Soprano Tebaldi was one of the century's great voices

Appreciation

December 20, 2004

The soprano Renata Tebaldi, one of the most beloved opera singers of all time - Arturo Toscanini, hard to please, said she had "the voice of an angel" - died yesterday in the Republic of San Marino, her doctor said. She was 82.

At her best, in roles like Puccini's Mimi and Tosca and Verdi's Desdemona and Alice Ford, Tebaldi was a singer of overwhelming expressivity and matchless vocal allure; arguably, hers was the most sumptuously beautiful lirico-spinto soprano voice (one combining lighter lyrical and weightier dramatic qualities) to emerge from Italy in the 20th century.

Cooler heads could fault her for what often seemed incomplete technique, some strident full-voiced top notes when the vocal line took her above high B-flat, and occasional lapses in pitch. But most opera buffs and critics found it impossible to have a cool head when listening to Renata Tebaldi. She beguiled listeners with the sheer plumy richness of her voice, the melting legato phrases, the deeply expressive yet never maudlin emotional quality of her singing, the unearthly beauty of her floated pianissimo high notes, and the temperament she could summon in moments of dramatic intensity.

Tall and stately, she was a lovely woman, with creamy white skin, big blue eyes, and trademark dimples when she smiled. Rudolf Bing, the crusty general manager of the Met during Tebaldi's prime years, knew her demanding side. "Miss Renata Tebaldi was always sweet and very firm," he once said. "She had dimples of iron."

Singing always came first for Tebaldi. She never married and had no children. New York Times News Service

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