Rudolf Bing, general manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera Company, is not given to discussing his dreams, but it has been whispered that he is haunted by a recurring nightmare. In the dream he is Prince Paris, lost atop a papier-mâché Mount Ida on the Met's stage. He is surrounded by three goddesses who insist that he choose the fairest of them by handing her an apple (Golden Delicious, supplied by Sherry's Restaurant). The goddesses, of course, are the three reigning sopranos who, season after season, vie for favor at the MetZinka Milanov, Maria Meneghini Callas and Renata Tebaldi.
The choice is harrowing. In the dream, Bing hems and haws, but a decision must be made. The three divas' pet dogs advance on him. Zinka's spitz, Nickie, growls; Maria's poodle, Toy, nips at his ankles; and Renata's poodle, New, crouches to jump. "Choose, choose, choose!" sing the divas, to some nightmare melody that sounds like Alban Berg played backwards.
Bing wakes up, screaming.
Waking or sleeping, diplomatic Rudi Bing would rather stage the whole Ring Cycle with a company of midgets than publicize a preference among his three dazzling prima donnas. For sheer beauty of voice, the prize might go to Milanov, who at 52 still offers many a superb performance. For excitement, versatility and dramatic power, the apple would easily go to Maria Callas. But for sustained excellence of singing, it would go to Renata Tebaldi.
The three personalities are as different as their vocal specialties. If the award of Bing's dream were ever to take place, Soprano Milanov, a buxom, outgoing, hearty woman, would probably take a bite out of the apple. Soprano Callas would coolly accept it as her due and have it mounted in diamonds. Soprano Tebaldi, if she followed form, would place it on her dressing table amid her collection of toy animals. On the surface, at least, Renata Tebaldi is that rarest of phenomena in the posturing, wigged-and-powdered world of grand operaa soprano without apparent temper, temperament or obtrusive ego.
Angel Voice. Much has happened to bolster her ego in the twelve years since Toscanini boosted her to fame by making her part of the great, emotion-charged concert that marked the postwar reopening of La Scala. The Maestro conceded that she sang with "the voice of an angel."
Legions of operagoers agree. In Italy her appearances regularly touch off frenzies of acclaim the like of which the country has not seen in 30 years, since the heyday of Claudia Muzio. Since she made her U.S. debut (in San Francisco) eight years ago, every house she has sung to has been sold out, and her Bohème at the Metropolitan two seasons ago drew surging, partisan crowds that choked traffic around the house until 2 a.m. Some 30 cities in this country are bidding for her services at a top price of $5,000 per recital. Her American recording royalties alone from the 23 titles released by London yield her $30,000 a year.