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This week she received one of the few operatic honors not yet accorded herthe opportunity to open the Met season. In the title role of Tosca, opposite Mario Del Monaco as Cavaradossi and George London as Scarpia, she looked statuesquely handsome in velvet gown and jeweled tiara, was more than ever the creature of low-banked passion whom an Italian colleague calls a "diva serena."
Champagne & Coke. Tebaldi's eminence in the world of international opera is made the more striking by a shortage of competition. Only Callas, Milanov and Italy's great mezzo, Giulietta Simionato, rank with her in the grand tradition. Below the leaders there is a substantial reservoir of fine veteran singers, all of them capable of turning in consistently competent and often inspired performances. They include Victoria de los Angeles, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Antonietta Stella, Eleanor Steber, Sena Jurinac, Lisa Delia Casa, Irmgard Seefried, Leonie Rysanek, Risë Stevens. Backing them up is a promising and fast-rising crop of newer stars: Lucine Amara, Anna Moffo, Gloria Davy, Leontyne Price, Birgit Nilsson, Anita Cerquetti, Aase Nordmo-Lovberg, Rosalind Elias, Irene Dalis.
Yet somehow, whatever the achievements of the oldtimers or the promise of the newcomers, opera fans invariably return to the bubbling controversy about just two singersTebaldi and "The Other One" (as Tebaldi partisans coldly dub Callas). Comparing them role by role, aria by aria is one of the more fascinating operatic pastimes. As far as The Other One is concerned, she considers all these comparisons idle. She and Tebaldi are simply not in the same league, Callas explained to a TIME reporter last week, because Tebaldi's repertory is so much smaller. Said Callas:
"My admiration of her is of the fullest, and I am happy for her success. If I hear her sing well, I am the first to cheer her. But I live in another world. She is a vocalist of a certain repertoire. I consider myself a sopranoone who does what they used to do once upon a time. My repertoire, by God's will and nature's blessing, is complete. I have contributed to the history of music. I have taken music that has long been dead and buried and have brought it back to life again. If the time comes when my dear friend Renata Tebaldi will sing, among others, Norma or Lucia or Anna Bolena one night, then La Traviata or Gioconda or Medea the nextthen, and only then, will we be rivals. Otherwise it is like comparing champagne with cognac. Nochampagne with Coca-Cola."
Opera in the Throat. There is no denying the greater variety of Callas' fantastic repertory (although Tebaldi actually claims 36 operas in hers), or her immense superiority as an actress. But if Callas indeed has a champagne voice, it is also true that champagne can all too easily go souras many an operagoer can testify who has heard Callas on an off night. Tebaldi, perhaps because she attempts less, rarely sings an unpalatable note.