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Subject: Tebaldi and the Death of Magic
From: Articon 1 <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Mon, 20 Dec 2004 06:56:48 EST

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I am somewhat late in adding my note of sorrow to the passing of Renata  
Tebaldi. Reading the many thoughtful and unusually heartfelt postings caused me  
to consider again this beloved artist’s significance, both insofar as her 
innate  qualities were concerned, but also her effect upon a generation of opera  
Personally, I’ve always felt that Tebaldi was a far more complex and  
interesting artist than either her fanatics or her detractors – to say nothing  of 
her biographers or her critics – have given her credit for being. I think  this 
derives from the fact that she had the advantages and disadvantages of  
becoming in the public mind the “anti-Callas.” Thus, if Callas was the iconic  “
Kuenst Diva,” then Tebaldi, her ostensible rival, was cast as the ultimate  “
Stimm Diva.” Two more artificial and misleading categories have never been more  
successfully foisted upon the public. But they were fun, ideally hip sounding, 
 exotically foreign and their use gave an air of experience, erudition and  
superiority to their user. Best of all, the distinction symbolized by Tebaldi  
vs. Callas filled columns. Books were written by fans. Books were written by  
detractors. And somewhere, as whenever fans take hardened positions, the truth 
 was lost.  
I actually never found Tebaldi to be lacking dramatically. Not one bit.  And 
I am not just writing in the thrall of her very late Gioconda. For example,  
her early CHENIER recording is just as marvelously insightful dramatically. And 
 counter to all trends, it is precisely her use of the words that moves me 
most.  Her “parlato” made her, for me at least, the most delicate Puccini 
soprano (in  spite of her enormous vocal riches.) Indeed, it is far more her way 
with texts  than the undeniable opulence of her voice that made Tebaldi such a 
complete  artist. The song recitals are jewels. The TOSCAs are wonderful – 
listen to the  final scene and then try to make a case for “la voce dell’angelo.” 
She was far  more than that. Such epitaphs are far too confining, no matter 
how well  intended. She was a diva – neither Stimm nor Kuenst – simply a diva, 
and the  world is poorer for her passing. 
Now to my second line of thought: Tebaldi sang in a simpler, less  skeptical 
age. Love for her was unabashed and unqualified among her fans. To her  fans, 
her voice brought unashamed tears. She was idolized. Read her contemporary  
biographies; they bespeak an era long past – not only as regards the  
personalities on the stage, but I would argue, of the personality of the opera  
We often hear that today the great stars are non-existent. I would posit  
instead that the fan-base is no longer there. In our sophisticated age adoration  
is suspect. Enthusiasm is deemed ignorance. Accusations are made on the list 
of  “excessive positivism;”  and rather  than being met with proud 
admissions, such accusations are met with denial. “No  I am not positive. Just read in 
the archives to see how many singers I hate.”  Clearly, negativity is to be 
achieved at all costs: one’s reputation in the  hierarchy of operatic wisdom lies 
in the balance.  
When Tebaldi, Merrill, Tucker, Bastianini & Co. were in the  ascendance, 
respect and admiration were not equated with ignorance and lacking  experience. So 
they had the incalculably valuable psycho-spiritual aid of our  affection. I 
would argue that we helped lift them to the heights they achieved.  Today, in 
an effort to appear far too “world weary” to be impressed, we deny our  
potential stars this type of support. Lone voices of love and fandom are shot  
down, or advised to temper their affections. And I think the result is that we  
have diminished the potential for grandness in today’s opera singers. Certainly, 
 a limited number of singers are allowed a bit of adulation for a limited 
time;  but once that time has passed, disdain and disappointment are the proper  
responses to be affected by the operatic cognoscenti. The kind of lifetime  
support once enjoyed by Tebaldi & Co. is unthinkable. It would reflect far  too 
poorly on our selves. 
I miss Tebaldi. And I miss the culture is which she and her generation  were 
allowed to work their magic. We no longer believe in magic. 
MIchael Blevins  /ARTiCON

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