Support independent arts journalism by joining our Patreon! Currently $5/month.

About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mimi!

Vissi d'arte: Renata Tebaldi as Floria Tosca
© 1959 Decca/Universal Music Group.
The Met's current revival of La Bohème coincides with the 115th anniversary of Puccini's opera, which premiered on February 1, 1896. Today is also the birthday of Renata Tebaldi, the creamy-voiced Italian soprano who was one of the great voices of the 20th century.

After a long career on the stages of Europe and America, Tebaldi retired from singing opera performances. Fortunately she was a prolific artist at the height of the LP and stereo boom, recording many operas. Some of them were core repertory (Tosca (1959), Don Carlos (1965).) But she also recorded a variety of verismo operas (La Wally, (1968) Adriana Lecouvrer (1961) that are rarely seen today.

Here's a quick guide to five great recordings featuring Tebaldi.

1) La bohème (Decca, 1959)
This is one of the better recordings of Bohème in the catalogue, and definitely belongs in the top three. La Tebaldi's second recording of the opera features her as a sweet, smooth Mimi, her voice well matched with an all-star cast of Bohemians. (Where else but this recording would you find Carlo Bergonzi (Rodolfo), Ettore Bastianini (Marcello) and Cesare Siepi (Colline) sharing an apartment?

2) La Gioconda (Decca, 1967)
Almacore Ponchielli's classic potboiler is well-served on this sweeping set, the best studio recording of this underperformed operas. This Gioconda features the familiar pairing of Tebaldi with Carlo Bergonzi. Her "Suicidio!" in Act IV is everything that aria should be. Lamberto Gardelli conducts, showing his expertise in Italian repertory.

3) Turandot (RCA Living Stereo, 1959)
Tebaldi never recorded the role of Puccini's ice princess, but she was a heart-warming, melting Lìu on two different recordings. The better one is the Erich Leinsdorf set from RCA, which features the "Battle of Sweden" matchup of Jussi Björling and Birgit Nilsson in the Riddle Scene. But the best moment is Tebaldi's heart-rending "Signor, ascolta," complete with theatrical sobs that do not sound fake or forced.

4) Otello (Decca, 1960)
Herbert von Karajan's first studio recording of Verdi's Shakespearean opera is the recording to test your stereo on (or to leave on "repeat" if you can't stand your neighbors.) Thanks to John Culshaw's engineering, this classic Vienna recording of the opera features fine sound effects and the "aural theater" that was a Decca hallmark. Tebaldi is paired with Mario del Monaco (for the second time) as the murderous Moor. This is an essential set.

5) Aida (Decca, 1959)
Another pairing of Tebaldi and Bergonzi, with von Karajan conducting and John Culshaw manning the controls. This Aida is 52 years old, and it remains a benchmark recording of Verdi's Egyptian opera. Tebaldi's big voice is up to the challenge of "Ritorna vincitar!" and "O, patria mia," but it is the experience of the Vienna players slamming through the Triumphal March that you'll never forget.

Footage of Renata Tebaldi and Jussi Björling as Mimi and Rodolfo in Act I of La bohème.

Trending on Superconductor


Share My Blog!

Share |

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats