Renata Tebaldi: A glimpse of Paradise

So strange the veil that descends when death takes a loved from your view and access. I used to call her a lot, and especially loved being one of the hundreds, I kid you not, HUNDREDS who would call her to be remembered on her birthday, Feb. 1.
I so miss hearing her very melodious voice and cadence….. ” Aprile “, or ” Che bello, Millo” with the double L so gorgeously rolled. She was so incredibly hypnotic as a person and a performer. She and Muzio and Ponselle are the voices that enchanted me as a child and informed my ear. I so miss this great artist and great friend…… trust me, one smile and you are dazzled.
This then is the first little article I will write in my collaboration with GBO, given that last month was that of this great lady’s birthday, and I dedicate it to her. I would come to meet this amazing, towering artist in the late fall of 1984 shortly before my debut at the Met. I had been singing “Ernani” in Cardiff, a spectacular city in the musically and vocally rich country of Wales.  My family had just joined me and we were traveling to Italy to sight see a bit, and to try and lift our spirits as our beloved Grandmother had just passed away. A Mr. Carl Battaglia and John Ritter both had written to her on my behalf if she would greet me, and allow me to present homage personally to her and would she perhaps agree to work with me….. dreaming of this chance……Stunning news: She said “Si!”
She said let’s meet in Milano, and off I went to meet the idol of my  youth, as a youth of 26. I remember being completely unprepared by her sweetness and real candid speak. She was very gracious and had been a great source of comfort to me as well about my loss. Precious Tina, Renata’s great friend opened the door and my life that already had been so changed by “knowing” this voice in records and performance would change forever getting to know her personally and with great pride being able to call her friend and mentor. I stayed for a little over an hour, and left with a coveted invitation.
We agreed to meet in the summer of the following year. I would go on to my debut at the Met and my “arrival” so to speak as a young artist. That summer could not arrive fast enough. I had been in Fano having a series of lessons with my voice teacher, the fabulous Rita Patane’, and she said you are totally ready to sing for her and she sent me off….. I took a pianist friend of both Renata and I and off I went to San Marino, to be the first person she ever coached.
Humbly, she was going to see with me, if she liked coaching…. needless to say she was superb. A natural teacher, very astute and accurate and quite wonderful in showing by example. We worked this first time on “Andrea Chenier” and I was struck immediately by her intensity. The face was so alive and emotional and the words as she insisted they be, were immediate and profound. She had the ability to make you “care” about her… if she is tossed to the ground in an opera, as in Otello, or for example as Aida…. your first instinct and frankly the entire house, is to run and help her.
She had a madonna purity, a feminine sense of beauty and a radiance and strength. Very unusual combination. She inspired from me a “real” woman, a Magdalena of real pathos, and sincerity and as she showed by her face and comportment, she showed me she was indeed a very fine actress.
One fabulous episode was when we were in a break. She had been suffering an acute bronchitis, but inspired by the pianist who had helped her learn so many roles, she began to sing when he played  “La vergine degli angeli…..” and there in this little church, in the dead heat of summer, we were all transported by her voice to that paradise few of us will see before we die. A place of great harmony and beauty, and searing
I began to weep, and as she rose in music so did my emotions. ” e ne protegga!”…….. and the last note vibrated for what seemed like an eternity in the large and beautiful church acoustic. Then total awe and silence. I wept uncontrollably and went to hug her…… at her feet. She allowed me to cry, and I said :this is the most beautiful…. it is the most gorgeous, it affects me so very deeply.”…in between crying…. and like some giant serene angel she murmured back to me, comforting…… ” I know…”
I loved it….. she knew what God had given her, how she had lived in perfect sacrifice and commitment to that Stradivarius that was her body and throat….. her complete discipline….. and she knew what it meant to me to hear it so close and be transported by it…. she knew she always protected the great gift God had given her, yet gave it freely and generously. We would begin a great friendship that lasted until the day she left this earth for a place she knew very well…the paradise she allowed us to glimpse every time she sang.
For me, in death, even as in life she remains for me undiminished. A North Star for all singers who search for truth and beauty in their sounds that they use in service to the music and God. A beacon of love and a font of inspiration she remains today, brighter and even more necessary today to implore Italy and all it’s leaders and it’s glorious people not to abandon one of it’s greatest gifts to the world.
Music and the Arts created and gifted in prodigious talents to the world by ITALY. God bless you Renata Tebaldi, a woman forever remembered for the love you gave in sound and in personal beauty……


  1. Patricia

    Its very good when an artist start to open files, chapters of their own lives and show us a6 very human and emotional picture of their personal vivency.
    I loved to read it because it takes us to another level of knowledge of our estimate artists.
    I love Mrs. Millo as well6 I love the Mme. Tebaldi’s voice.

  2. Claude Michaud

    I was very lucky i saw Tebaldi live 4 times.
    I saw her in Otello in Montreal on June 21, 1966 with
    Del Monaco and Gobbi and also in two recitals also
    in New York at the Met in La Gioconda with Bergonzi.
    She the best singer i have ever heard, also i still remember
    her beautiful smile with her dimples, she was very beautiful, like a Madona. When she died a part of me died.
    Thank God that she has many recordings to remember her by.
    There will never be another Tebaldi.

  3. Alessandra Marc

    Aprile, thank you so much for the journey you have just shared and allowed me to take with you here! Your writing is so lovely and mesmerizing in and of itself! I never met this goddess, and I thank you for the beautiful insight!
    With Gratitude & Humility,
    Yours, Alessandra Marc

  4. Gary Madison

    Aprile, I met you in 1985 and worked on a production of Aida you sang that year in Baltimore. I was assistant music director, coach and wrote/designed the surtitles. I am a devoted Tebaldi fan and grew up wearing out her recordings, her early Butterfly and Aida being my favorites. I had not heard you sing before the Baltimore Aida and at the time I was unaware of your association with Tebaldi. The first time in rehearsal I heard you sing the end of Ritorna Vincitor, “numi pieta del mio soffrir”, I had a moment in paradise as you describe above. Tears welled up in my eyes and I turned to a chorus member and said “this is the new Tebaldi.” Of course, you were the “new Millo”, but the clarity and the intensely beautiful timbre of your voice reminded me of those cherished early Tebaldi recordings. Thank YOU for those moments in paradise.

  5. Thomas Booth

    My first time at the Met, getting out of the cab and seeing the beauty of the House, and then hearing a wonderful cast, Tosca with Tebaldi, Anselmo Colzani, Domingo, in the spring of 1968. She was grand, with a glorious sound and presence – truly a Diva and what a way to hear one’s first performance at the Met! It was the only time I heard her in person, and am very glad I was able to experience it.

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