Opera soprano star Tebaldi dies after long illness at 82

RENATA TEBALDI, the Italian soprano who was one of the biggest stars at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Italy’s La Scala, died yesterday. She was 82.

The soprano died at her home in San Marino, a tiny independent republic in north-central Italy, after a long illness, said her doctor, Dr Niksa Simetovic.

Ms Tebaldi was considered to have one of the most beautiful Italian voices of the 20th century, relying on rich, perfectly produced tones. She was also renowned for her supposed rivalry with the fiery Maria Callas. For years, opera fans devoured details of what they perceived as a prima donna duel, and La Scala devotees were divided into Tebaldi and Callas camps much like Milan soccer fans are hotly split over that city’s two soccer teams. The two women, at their peaks in the 1950s, had sharply contrasting temperaments.

However, much of the supposed rivalry with the Greek-American diva was actually whipped up by the media. After her retirement, Ms Tebaldi told an interviewer she had never considered Callas a rival.

Tebaldi made her debut in 1944 as Elena in Boito’s “Mefistofele” in the northern Italian town of Rovigo. Soon after, she began performing in some of the world’s most noted opera houses and sang in a concert of arias conducted by Arturo Toscanini at the 1946 reopening of La Scala, which had been damaged by World War II bombs. The maestro later remarked she had an “angel’s voice.”

Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing had a different nickname for Ms Tebaldi, calling her “dimples of iron,” a reference to a sweet appearance that belied an iron will.

Ms Tebaldi sang in La Scala’s 1946-47 season and appeared there frequently from 1949 to 1954, playing roles that included that of Puccini’s Tosca and Verdi’s Desdemona.

Ms Tebaldi was born on February 1, 1922, in Pesaro, an Adriatic resort.

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